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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Smart Grindhouse: How ‘Thanksgiving’ Reminds the World that Slashers Have Brains Too

There’s something funny about Thanksgiving. And yes, that goes beyond the very intentional comedy that comes from watching copious amounts of blood spill from the human body in ways that defy nature and gravity. Eli Roth’s latest pulls a magic trick that genre stalwarts like George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper, or John Carpenter pulled on a relatively routine basis during their prime decades: Thanksgiving makes the audience scream and laugh while simultaneously poking and prodding them.

Three years into the decade, our cup runneth over with horror films that speak about more significant issues or satirize. But that commentary comes from painstaking affairs about trauma, either personal or the collective anguish the world feels after suffering through a pandemic. That’s not a knock on those films but rather an observation. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom says that films interested in more than just scares these days feel more like a dentist visit than a day at an amusement park. Thanksgiving bucks that trend and reminds those who believe “elevated horror” is a thing that the genre’s versatility helps it pack messages in any subgenre it chooses. And that, yes, even slashers with grindhouse DNA are timely, poignant, and intelligent. 

Spoilers for Thanksgiving. Obviously. 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving doesn’t hide its intentions or targets up its sleeve. Eli Roth’s latest rips its inciting incident from real life and, through violence, shows how ridiculous Americans get on Black Friday. He juxtaposes that scene with a Thanksgiving dinner that celebrates the Holiday for all of five seconds before turning into a discussion about the day after the Holiday. A moment about graciously acknowledging one’s blessings morphs into one of greed; the characters present show theirs while they banter about utilizing the town’s collective avarice. It’s as subtle as an axe to the throat, but one look at the real world helps Thanksgiving maintain its effectiveness.

We’re practically living in Dawn of the Dead territory, as Black Friday begins earlier every year. Twenty-twenty-three saw America jump the shark when retailers turned Black Friday into an entire month. To say nothing of stores putting out Christmas paraphernalia days before Halloween even graces our presence. Weirdly, we occupy a moment where Thanksgiving is the Christmas pregame. It’s hard thinking about how thankful we are for what we have while coveting or plotting for what we don’t. Turning Black Friday into Black November only makes that more challenging. Thanksgiving acknowledges those contradictions without, pun very much unintended, making a meal of it. 

It’s hard envisioning a version of this story where Sony writes Roth a check with multiple commas for his mediation on the Holiday and what it means in a world where everything is for sale. Horror is always Hollywood’s safe bet. It costs studios relatively nothing, and that low price gives creatives enough rope to hang themselves and any cast member they choose. It is a scary movie, after all. Thanksgiving focuses its commentary through that lens while never brow-beating anyone there strictly for the body count. How do selfishness and desire shape families? How far are we willing to go for the almighty dollar? Do lives matter when half-priced televisions and waffle irons are on the menu? And, of course, how our consuming urge affects even seemingly idyllic small towns. 

Thanksgiving 2023

Horror often houses filmmakers who possess big ideas with commercial shrewdness. Romero understood that a drama scolding his fellow Baby Boomers for exchanging their ideals for purchasing power and more stuff than they ever dreamed might not work at the box office. Especially if it’s made by the same guy who directed Night of the Living Dead ten years earlier. Instead, he nested those ideas within a zombie movie that put butts in seats. Carpenter and Debra Hill made Halloween their treatise on an insidious behavior born in the suburbs. Through American Psycho, Mary Harron dissected the ’80s economic culture that still haunts us as both the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Then there’s Brian Yuzna’s Society, which tackled the metaphor about the rich eating the poor and made it literal in ways words can’t appropriately do justice. 

All those films, including Thanksgiving, have their own sense of humor and flavor of violence. Some underplay the satire, while others make it inescapable. They all desire that viewers enjoy the rollercoaster and all the emotions from the ride while hoping they see themselves or the world differently when the ride ends. That task may sound tall, but it’s one horror routinely accomplished on the big screen since the days of black-and-white pictures that cost a penny.

Thanksgiving doesn’t come with the trappings critics and some audiences associate with “smart” horror. But neither did the movies mentioned above this paragraph nor the countless others not mentioned because there’s only so much space. Those movies retained their punk rock sensibilities and became part of the genre canon. Some even broke through the mainstream and got love from those who usually dismiss scary movies. Whether Thanksgiving rises to that level, one day is for future writers to wrestle with and fight about. As it stands, current devotees just got a brand new holiday slasher from a unique voice. Roth and his writing partner, Jeff Rendell, took a throwaway idea from almost 20 years ago and made it more intelligent than it looks.

Wes Craven said Night of the Living Dead showed him that “a horror film can go as deep as you’re capable of taking it so long as you scare the sh*t out people.” Thanksgiving doesn’t go as deep as that film, but it hits its target and leaves an indelible scorch mark. Doing it while winking at the audience is just an added bonus. 

The post Smart Grindhouse: How ‘Thanksgiving’ Reminds the World that Slashers Have Brains Too appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3789083/smart-grindhouse-how-thanksgiving-reminds-the-world-that-slashers-have-brains-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-grindhouse-how-thanksgiving-reminds-the-world-that-slashers-have-brains-too

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