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Monday, February 12, 2024

10 Things We Learned from Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ Commentary Track

16 years after the faux trailer debuted as part of Grindhouse, Eli Roth finally delivered the feature version of Thanksgiving. There were no leftovers, but among the special features on the slasher’s home video release is an audio commentary by Roth and producer-writer Jeff Rendell.

Here are 10 things I learned from the Thanksgiving commentary…

'Thanksgiving' 2023 - Eli Roth Finally Carving Up His 'Grindhouse' Spinoff!

1. The concept dates back to the filmmakers’ childhoods.

Thanksgiving is based on Roth’s faux trailer from Grindhouse, but its origins date back even further than 2017. Best friends since kindergarten, Roth and Rendell grew up in Newton, Massachusetts (about an hour from Plymouth) watching horror movies together.

Inspired by a pivotal theatrical viewing of Silent Night, Deadly Night circa 1984, they longed for a definitive Thanksgiving slasher in the vein of the other holiday horrors.

“We just started thinking of like, ‘What if there was a Thanksgiving slasher movie? You could put someone in an oven, and there was a killer pilgrim, and someone was dressed as a turkey and they get decapitated,'” Roth remembers. “We were probably 12 or 13 years old.”

2. Characters are named after old classmates.

Several characters were named after Roth and Rendell’s high school classmates, requiring permission from their real-life counterparts.

“We had to get their permission. So kids we hadn’t talked to in 30 years at least, and we’re like ‘Hey, you didn’t really know us, but we really like your name,'” explains Roth.

“More often than not we couldn’t even go directly to them, so we had to get a go-between to then approach the person,” adds Rendell.

“Scuba” Dybing (played by Gabriel Davenport) is the most notable name borrowed from an old acquaintance. “Everyone was trying to get us to change the name, but we didn’t want to do it,” notes Roth.

3. A descendant of the real John Carver appears in the film.

Thanksgiving‘s killer dons a mask of John Carver, the first governor of New Plymouth Colony. Amanda Barker, who plays ill-fated diner waitress Lizzie, happens to be a descendant of the real-life historical figure.

Although she resides in Canada, the actress is a Hanover, Massachusetts native — which explains why her Boston accent is so convincing.

4. An early draft featured a decapitated head landing in a tuba.

Reporter Hank Morton’s (played by Yusuf Zine) name spawned from a character named Mort in an earlier draft of the script. Rendell reveals, “There was a tuba player, Mort, when it was a bit less serious, and a head landed in it.”

“I forgot!” Roth replies. “If you had reminded me of the head going into the tuba with the tuba player, I would have shot it. Well, hopefully we get to do a sequel.”

The commentary was recorded weeks before the film opened in theaters, but now we know that a sequel is officially in development for a 2025 release.

Thanksgiving Nell Verlaque

5. Nell Verlaque was chosen out of 600 actresses.

Roth struggled to find the right actress to play final girl Jessica Wright until Rendell discovered Nell Verlaque among roughly 600 audition tapes.

“I couldn’t find the lead girl,” Roth mentions. “There was always something that just wasn’t right about the actors that were being proposed. And then Jeff was like, ‘What about Nell Verlaque?’

Rendell recalls, “That night, I remember I wanted to just go to sleep. I was totally exhausted, and I just went, ‘Well, I should be a professional here and just plow through.’ And I watched all the rest of the auditions in that night. The second I saw her, I texted Eli on WhatsApp and said, ‘Dude, you need to call this girl.'”

Roth concurred. “Nell came in and she was absolutely the girl.”

6. Mute Witness influenced the film.

In addition to the holiday slashers you’d expect, Roth cites Mute Witness as a big influence on Thanksgiving, particularly when the kids are wandering around the empty high school.

“The empty hallways, the long shots, the loneliness, and just they’re walking into this sense of danger, and the way we just linger on the shot of the doors closing,” Roth expounds. “I knew when we scouted the high school exactly how I wanted to shoot this sequence.”

The House by the Cemetery, Predator, Cruising, The Shining, and Carrie are among the other titles the filmmaker references throughout the commentary.

7. Dewey the cat has a previous horror credit.

Dewey the cat was played by Tonic, who was one of several felines that shared the role of Church in the 2019 adaptation of Pet Sematary. Roth lovingly refers to him as “the Leonardo Di-Cat-prio of cats.”

Not a Scream reference as some had surmised, Dewey is yet another nod to Massachusetts. “If you are from Boston, you will know what Dewey means. If you’re not, ask someone,” Roth teases.

He may be referring to Dewey Square, a central intersection in downtown Boston, itself named for the only Admiral of the Navy in U.S. history, George Dewey. Dewey is also a phonetic pronunciation of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) used as slang in some areas.

8. The cosmetology room was not in the script.

The cosmetology room — in which a group dialogue scene and a memorable chase sequence take place — was not written in the script. Rather, it was a serendipitous discovery in Ontario’s Waterdown District High School where filming took place.

“We’re scouting at this high school, and there’s this room where they have cosmetology. The kids literally learn cosmetology. That was never in any draft,” says Roth. “So we thought, ‘Well, why not set it here?’ And then later, when Jessica’s being chased, she runs in the room with all the heads. It just was such good foreshadowing.”

Thanksgiving Blu-ray Eli Roth - killer pov

9. The killer was played by multiple people, including the real actor behind the role.

It’s not uncommon for movie slashers to be portrayed by stunt performers, with the actual actor behind the role only playing the part after being unmasked — but that was not the case with Thanksgiving.

“We kept switching the killer. We had a bunch of different people playing John Carver, because I didn’t want anyone to guess. Everyone kind of took a turn playing the killer, so you wouldn’t be able to read the body language.”

Patrick Dempsey played John Carver in the cosmetology chase and during the dinner scene. Milo Manheim, who plays Ryan, plays the clown that decapitates the turkey mascot during the parade. A sous chef was hired to play the killer as he prepares the human turkey. Stunt performer Alex Armbruster handled the dangerous moments throughout the film.

John Carver’s voice was provided by Canadian actor/filmmaker Adam MacDonald, who’s best known for helming Backcountry and Pyewacket. He previously collaborated with Roth on Be Mine: A VR Valentine’s Slasher, which MacDonald directed and Roth wrote and produced.

10. Roth was able to use the Misfits’ music after appearing in Danzig’s movie.

Roth was able to secure the Misfits’ horror-punk classic “Where Eagles Dare” to play over the film’s end credits after appearing in Death Rider in the House of Vampires, a film directed by iconic frontman Glenn Danzig.

“Big special thanks to Glenn Danzig and the Misfits. Glenn, he gave me the song. We didn’t have money,” Roth explains. “I had acted in his vampire movie as Drac Cassidy, and he’s like, ‘Hey, man, if you want to use a song in a movie.’ And I’m like, ‘Actually, I wanna use ‘Where Eagles Dare.’ I love this song so much. I love the energy.”

As the song says, Danzig ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch.

Thanksgiving is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

The post 10 Things We Learned from Eli Roth’s ‘Thanksgiving’ Commentary Track appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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