Why Doesn’t Thanksgiving Have a Worthwhile Horror Movie Yet?
A horror classic seems to have found every other holiday on the calendar.
For whatever reason, horror is just better around the holidays. Something about tying a murder spree to a specific, otherwise innocent date just makes it resonate that much more. Linking the carnage — however tangential — to a standout calendar holiday is half marketing scheme, half legitimate use of the occasion. Set your movie on Christmas, people will be reminded to watch (and buy) your movie every year. Set your movie on November 10 or April 4 or whenever, and people will let it pass by. The iconography of a holiday also lets filmmakers tap into deeper, moody symbolism — the faceless killer dons a Halloween mask to blend in and yet become more menacing.
But what about Thanksgiving? It’s a perfect holiday for a horror movie, and yet every year, it’s ignored. Which is odd, because damn near every other holiday has gotten the horror treatment at some point.
John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween wasn’t merely a holiday film; it essentially invented the slasher subgenre. Carpenter knew that its connection to trick-or-treating — a tradition already meant to screw with perception and identity — gave him a head start to freaking you out. Michael Myers stalking babysitters wasn’t specific to the actual holiday, but the tone was set.
Slasher film Black Christmas tried to do the same for late December. Written and directed by Bob Clark, the man behind the non-horror yuletide classic A Christmas Story, tells of a group of unsuspecting girls terrorized by a killer around the holiday season. Whereas Halloween played its macabre holiday straight, Black Christmas flipped that notion into an ironic, bloody take on end-of-the-year cheer. And the calendar is littered with these things. The original My Bloody Valentine, New Year’s Evil, Leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day, sort of. Hell, you can take a date that isn’t even a real holiday and make it into a horror touchstone — a dozen Friday the 13th movies can’t be wrong.
And then there’s Thanksgiving, primed for the taking. Not that directors haven’t tried. Even horror aficionados would be hard-pressed to remember obscurities like Home Sweet Home, a 1981 movie about an escaped mental patient going on a killing spree on Thanksgiving, or 1987’s Blood Rage, about a twin trying to frame his other twin for murder on Thanksgiving after being sent to an asylum. Other Thanksgiving-set horror movies like Intensity, Boogeyman, [Kristy](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristy_(film), or the aptly titled short film Thanksgiving are equally forgettable.
Quality is one thing; satire is another. We may have reached the point of no return. The proverbial piss has been taken out of the idea, spoiling the opportunity to make a plausible horror movie about the holiday.
2008’s Thankskilling is a self-referential send-up whose merits can be explained by simply stating that the poster promises “Warning!!! Boobs in the first second!” and whose tagline is “Gobble, gobble, mother fucker!” You can’t take it or its non-sequitur sequel, titled Thankskilling 3, seriously. Other than that the most high profile send-up isn’t even a movie. Eli Roth’s fake trailer, Thanksgiving, for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse project, is a parody whose genius lies in the fact that it uses the tropes of the holiday to satirize the very proliferation of holiday-based horror movies. Damn thing practically salted the earth behind it with its low-fi genius.
But Thanksgiving is still a holiday rife with the potential for horror-based terror — same as any high-stress family-claustrophobia occasion. Togetherness is great until you realize there’s a stealth killer on the loose. The hope is that some filmmaker will sit down this Thanksgiving, bow his head in prayer, and imagine how the carving knife could land in his exposed neck.