Last November, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect Thanksgiving horror film — a movie to bridge that awkward time between Halloween and Thanksgiving. After much consideration, I awarded the dubious honor of best Thanksgiving horror film to “ThanksKilling” (2008), a low-budget sleaze-fest about a homicidal turkey.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m a glutton for turkey-flavored punishment, and there are a surprising number of Thanksgiving-themed horror movies out there. So, to kick off November, I’ve decided to subject myself to four more of the most appetizing films the sub-genre has to offer.
It should probably go without saying that most Thanksgiving horror movies are pretty bad, at least if you’re judging them by the same standards you would do with a mainstream horror. Instead of trying to find a “good” movie, my goal is to find a movie that’s memorable, weird and, most importantly, fun. I’m looking for turkey puns, Thanksgiving-themed murder weapons and dinner table drama that rivals Toni Collete’s monologue in “Hereditary.” But most of all, I’m looking for a movie that will help my horror-loving month find something to love about Thanksgiving.
4. “Ghost Note” (2017) — directed by Troy Hart
I don’t understand how a movie about a blues musician-turned serial killer-turned-ghost ranked this low on this list, but here we are. “Ghost Note” has a lot going for it — a Thanksgiving seance, an impromptu musical number about unrequited teen love and a villain who looks like a rejected Cenobite design — but it doesn’t manage to be nearly as interesting as its premise suggests. We follow a generic goth teen who accidentally awakens the aforementioned blues ghosts while staying with her grandmother over Thanksgiving break. Cue edgy teen dialogue, questionable acting and plenty of intentional goofiness, but a shocking lack of blues ghost action. There are a couple of decent kills and some passable scares, but “Ghost Note” nevertheless fails to make the most of its ridiculously fun premise.
3. “Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County” (1998) — directed by Dean Alioto
What’s scarier than being forced to spend Thanksgiving with your dysfunctional family? Having to spend Thanksgiving with your dysfunctional family while under assault from aliens, according to Dean Alioto. In this made-for-TV mockumentary, the McPherson family is tormented by extraterrestrials on Thanksgiving day. Nosebleeds, malfunctioning blenders and the world’s most awkward game of Go Fish ensue (in that order) as the McPhersons fight for their lives… and then sort of give up and go eat leftovers. The MVP here is the alcoholic mom who puts down her wine glass maybe twice during the 90-minute runtime. And I haven’t even mentioned the parade of increasingly ridiculous “expert” interviews that punctuate the movie. Jokes aside, “Alien Abduction” is an entertaining found footage film that gets bonus points for being not just sufficiently Thanksgiving-themed, but enjoyably weird as well.
2. “Pilgrim” (2019) — directed by Marcus Dunstan
I was pleasantly surprised by “Pilgrim,” a Blumhouse production about a troubled family that hires a group of pilgrim reenactors to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. Because this is a horror movie, the reenactors take their jobs a bit too seriously and decide to teach the family what it truly means to be thankful by attempting to murder them. For the first hour, the film feels very much like a middle-of-the-road mainstream horror, with an array of unlikeable characters and dialogue that isn’t quite bad enough to be funny. However, Peter Giles saves the film in his role as Ethan, the villainous scenery-chewing pilgrim reenactor whose performance gets increasingly over-the-top as the movie continues. It all culminates in an unhinged gorefest full of corny one-liners, buckets of blood and a few killer (pun intended) twists. Despite its slow start, “Pilgrim” is a fun romp with a dark sense of humor and a fantastic third act.
1. “Blood Rage” (1987) — directed by John Grissmer
“Blood Rage” is a slasher about a preteen boy who kills a couple at a drive-in theater and frames his twin for the crime. 10 years later on Thanksgiving Day, the innocent twin escapes his mental institution, and the murderous twin takes the opportunity to go on a killing spree. This movie has it all: carving fork kills; soap opera star Louise Lasser drunkenly shoveling cold Thanksgiving leftovers into her mouth and a killer who says, on four separate occasions, “It’s not cranberry sauce.” (In each case, it is, in fact, blood.) This is an ’80s slasher perfection filled with gore, teased hair and teenagers having sex in impractical locations. Adding to its charm are the gruesome practical effects by Ed French, known for his work on cult classics like “Sleepaway Camp” and “The Stuff.” Sure, there’s no plot to speak of, but it sure is fun. I can easily see “Blood Rage” becoming a new holiday tradition.