Pass the gravy, “Thankskilling” is a B-movie holiday treat stuffed full of silliness but satisfying enough to dig into year after year.
Though not everyone would agree, many would suggest that the holidays can be murder. From making the trek to one’s final destination (and back again) to tolerating the relatives to surviving the day’s gut-busting dinner, what should be a relaxing four-day weekend could become a life-threatening test of the senses.
Yet adding insult to injury is something altogether more, and director Jordan Downey’s 2008 film Thankskilling does precisely that, replacing a potentially cinematic slice of pumpkin pie with a sinister portrait of the autumnal turkey holiday.
Sure, there are several horror movies you can watch on Thanksgiving, ranging from pretty good to awfully bad, but most would argue that Thankskilling is considered THE quintessential turkey time genre staple.
The film tells the ridiculously uncomplicated story of a demonic, foul-mouthed turkey who is resurrected and sets his sights on terrorizing a handful of college students visiting their homes over Thanksgiving break. Casually familiar with one another, these teens will take advantage of a carpool that will get them home for the holidays. Still, once there, they’ll find themselves relying on one another to survive the baneful beak of the terrible turkey.
The concept is novel enough, but THANKSKILLING is otherwise overdone by the screenplay’s insufferable dialogue, which is unbelievably unimaginative, and the characterization of the film’s protagonists remains surface-level at best or stereotypical at worst.
Meanwhile, the physical effects are frequently more laughable than the killer’s murderous quips.
Add to that the film’s relatively bloodless kills as amateurish, and Thankskilling could be a hard sell for those who take their genre films seriously.
The kill shots are consistently quick, to the point, and devoid of any subtext that would make them truly innovative. They do little more than propel the plot forward. At the very least, the gore reminds the audience that the film’s conclusion isn’t long in coming.
If the movie’s body count is any gauge, each of the picture’s two-dimensional victims is simply an announcement that the potty-mouthed, relatively flightless bird’s onslaught of terror is closing in.
And the fowl, for its part, appears to kill effortlessly. If only it could execute a humorous joke as efficiently.
And yet, the film possesses a cult following as treasured as any holiday tradition.
Thankskilling, then, isn’t entirely for the birds.
Like the holiday itself, Thankskilling makes generous use of the traditional side dishes that accompany a standard horror film.
The production itself is low budget – likely to make more use of the few resources that it has – which includes casting unidentifiable actors looking to break into the competitive industry of entertainment.
Each of the young stars perfectly embodies the picture’s stereotypical characters: Johnny the jock (Lance Predmore), Darren the nerd (Ryan E. Francis), Ali the slut (Natasha Cordova), Billy the goofball (Aaron Ringhiser-Carlson), and Kristen the girl next door (Lindsey Anderson).
The movie’s characters and casting seem so inextricably in sync with that of the many genre slashers that have come before it that viewers are likely to overlook the unforgiving superficiality of their personalities, developed as they are through pedestrian dialogue and even poorer acting.
So, for those looking for what could be viewed as a tongue-in-cheek parody of genre filmmaking, Thankskilling may actually hit the spot.
It checks a number of boxes one has seen (gleefully) checked in the past, including gratuitous naked breasts, an unexplainable origin story for the villain, and a mid-film montage within which the would-be heroes study and prepare to defeat the unassailable monster against a backdrop of foreboding synth pop.
It also includes Turkey Vision. Yes, even if ripped from Sam Raimi’s own playbook, the audience will momentarily see the world through the eyes of a cantankerous turkey via the magic of Turkey Vision.
The movie manages to posit itself into the company of other classic 1980s slashers, including Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street – and more – with some of its homophobic rhetoric and other culturally insensitive slurs that wouldn’t make it past the MPAA’s scrutiny today. There’s even an unnecessary joke at the expense of the unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey.
Like the movie’s central premise, nothing is too off-limits for the film’s screenplay (co-penned by Downey with Brad Schulz, Kevin Stewart, Tony Wilson, and Grant Yaffee).
Unfortunately, what appears to be off-limits for Thankskilling is any legitimate sense of dread from start to finish. At all times, the murderous bird is only frightening at the very moment that it kills, always accomplished through some amateur sleight of hand in the video editing process.
When captured on the screen, the killer turkey is no more realistic than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and that’s likely the point. The picture never takes itself too seriously and doesn’t demand the audience do so either.
It’s a rather delicious opportunity, in all honesty.
For those familiar with the film’s infamy and curious to confirm or contradict its reputation, the movie plays less like a creatively witty parody of holiday-themed horror movies and more like a film written, filmed, and edited by some college friends conveniently home for the holiday weekend with some time to – well – kill on Black Friday and perhaps the Saturday after, but no more than that.
Thankskilling is not the traditional Hallmark Channel fare that reflects every manner of personal life through the prism of Christmas, cueing the snowfall in the final moments of the film, just before the two protagonists ultimately realize their love for one another.
And perhaps that’s what makes the movie memorable, even endearing, to those who see it.
Frankly, one would be shocked to discover that the film wasn’t shot in two days on a budget of $3.5 thousand, even if it looks like it was.
And strangely, despite its execution, the movie is at least mildly concerned with the role of family during the holidays, which can be a terrifying ordeal for many.
Cut through the hearty white meat and the even more flavorful dark meat of the film, and one will find that Thankskilling is concerned with those annual promises we make to spend time with those near and dear to us …
… And the implicit promise that we – like the movie’s diabolical, perverse turkey – will come back next year.
Perhaps that’s the bad news.
Perhaps that’s the good news.
Unlike its many Hallmark-hued imitators each year, Thankskilling exists as another creature, more satisfied to keep audiences riveted to the screen by its banality than by its assurance of a happy ending.
For that reason, the film’s true worth may only be measured by those fully stuffed – like a turkey – with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and that decadent turkey, much later in the evening on Thanksgiving night.
Luckily, Thankskilling won’t put the viewer to sleep like those Hallmark holiday-themed films frequently do; we have the Thanksgiving turkey dinner’s tryptophan for that.