Thanksgiving Director Eli Roth Knows The Power Of 'Slightly Ridiculous' Kill Scenes [Exclusive] 

For a holiday slasher that took 16 years to officially get off the ground, Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" may wind up having perfect timing (read /Film's glowing review here). Based on the faux trailer sandwiched in between Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 2007 double-bill exploitation experiment, "Grindhouse," audiences that were perplexed back then may be ready to embrace a gory, fully self-aware whodunnit with an axe-wielding killer pilgrim as its centerpiece. 

Like a perfectly cooked turducken, "Thanksgiving" is a horror movie, a murder mystery, and a teen dramedy all rolled into one. Set in Plymouth, Massachusetts (where else?), it's also a mostly funny send-up of corporate greed and so-called "Massholes" who don't take too kindly to being picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome fashions. (One almost expects cameos from Boston brats Sully (Jimmy Fallon) and Zazu (Rachel Dratch) during the opening scene depicting a calamitous Black Friday riot.)

While not nearly as hilarious as "Saturday Night Live" when it's in top form, Roth manages to walk the line between comedy and horror thanks to a few well-placed, unexpected moments and a smattering of juicy one-liners. A few faults aside, the pacing and rhythm of "Thanksgiving" moves at a satisfying clip that treats the gore gags and quick dialogue quips with the same level of respect. They don't always land, but Roth continues to show an understanding of how to make you cheer and wince at exactly the same time.

The art of tension and release

In a wide-ranging interview conducted by /Film's Bill Bria, Roth spoke about his view on how rare it is for horror and comedy to actually pair well together. "It's never scary enough to be a horror movie, and it's never funny enough to be a comedy," said the director. "But I do believe that you can have humor as a release valve in a horror film." 

In Roth's breakout flesh-eating feature "Cabin Fever," the filmmaker's penchant for the bizarre was already present. When a backwoods kid starts yelling "Pancakes!" and then proceeds to do karate kicks, the moment feels downright Lynchian. Roth also breaks the tension in his feature film debut by appearing in a quick cameo as a clueless stoner. In "Thanksgiving," the killer John Carver takes a moment to feed the cat of one of his victims who is now laying dead and bloody on the living room floor. 

Roth's barometer for deciding when to add a little humor is based on whether or not it's something that could actually happen in real life. 

"I feel like if I was in this situation, would I make that joke? Yes. Then I put it in the movie. And sometimes you go too far. In the editing, you're like, 'This person has so many one-liners. They seem like they're the star of the movie.' I'm like, 'You're right. We've got to pull that back.'"

Knowing how to strike that balance is key, even if I would have liked to have seen more scenes with that cuddly cat on a purely personal level. 

Enjoy the violence

Some of the death scenes in "Thanksgiving" border on the truly disturbing, particularly one involving the character Kathleen (Karen Cliche), an evil stepmother who is baked alive in a sequence that makes good on one of the kills from the original "Grindhouse" trailer. Others are shockingly hilarious and hit that difficult balance between horror and comedy precisely on the nose (quite literally, in fact during one of the film's best moments).

That element of surprise was something at the forefront during filming, according to Roth:

"I want the kills to be awesome and amazing and brutal, but they're also a setup for the ones that are like, 'Whoa, I didn't see that coming. That was rough.' Sometimes, if you have a kill that's just left-of-center and is slightly ridiculous, the audience loves it. They applaud. It's great. I think it allows them to enjoy the violence if it's just a little bit skewed and a little bit insane."

After being pestered for years by horror heads desperate for a fully fleshed-out version of "Thanksgiving," Roth has finally gotten the opportunity to make his own holiday-centric horror film. It's also allowed him the chance to create something in the vein of one of his personal all-time favorite slashers, 1980's "Mothers Day," a positively wacky film that features some pretty ridiculous kills of its own. 

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