Eli Roth tempted our appetites for Turkey Day horror with his 2007 Grindhouse fake trailer. Sixteen years later, he's back with a full-on slasher feast, returning to his roots. Thanksgiving is a straightforward, straight-up slasher movie, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment. Roth joined us to discuss the most disturbing movies he's ever seen, the moment he and the Thanksgiving cast found out star Patrick Dempsey was named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive, nailing the New England accent, and where he'd love to take holiday horror. Plus, the importance of creating fully formed characters, which Roth points out, "It doesn't make the movie bigger budget. It doesn't cost more. It's just time and energy. You're not just thinking of the kills and getting to the next one. I want people to live in the world of Thanksgiving, populated by these fun characters. I think that's what makes it a classic when you do that." And thus, a new holiday classic was born. Read our full interview with Roth below.
You have a high tolerance for gore, what's the last thing you saw that actually unsettled you?
It's weird because it's more psychological things that unsettle me. The gore doesn't quite get me anymore. I love it, and it's a great magic trick, but when I watch a movie that is really, really deeply psychologically upsetting, that's what disturbs me. The end of Bicycle Thieves was so sad. So when a movie can get me, I'm always really, really impressed. I'm like, "Hats off to that film."
What's the trifecta of your most disturbing films? What gets you?
I mean, the movies that really disturbed me into making Hostel were The Vanishing, Takashi Miike's Audition, and Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Those were really disturbing. I saw a film called Aniara that I loved. That's a Swedish film that was crazy and weird, and really got me thinking about a lot of things. I know it's based on a famous poem, and it's a really fantastic idea. The ship just goes off into space and loses contact. It's supposed to be a quick ride to the station, and goes off course, and then the people just slowly go insane. Then it cuts to ten years, fifty years, a hundred years, a thousand years later. It's really disturbing, but it's kind of beautiful.
Patrick Dempsey stars in Thanksgiving, he was also just named this year's Sexiest Man Alive. He has a New England accent in Thanksgiving, which is apparently his natural accent. I feel like none of this is a coincidence.
It's crazy. For Patrick to be that sexy and have a Boston accent really makes sense. I'm surprised it didn't go to Rick Hoffman. I still vote, it should have gone to Rick. Very sexy. But yeah, it's hilarious. He didn't tell any of us, and our chat group blew up last night when. And then I just found out today the strike ended, and I texted Patrick. I was like, "It was your sexiness. Your sexiness ended the strike because we need you out there promoting Thanksgiving." When we talked about the character, he said, "Do you want me to do it with a light New England accent?" And I said, "I'm from there. So it tortures me when someone does the accent wrong because it's a very difficult accent to do."
And he goes, "No, I'm from there too, I grew up in Maine. And I wanted to do a little bit more of a light Lewiston, Maine accent, a little bit more like that, like a soft New England accent." He says, "When I became an actor and I went to New York City, they said, 'You have to lose that accent or you're never going to work.' So I worked with a vocal coach to lose my accent." I asked, "Have you ever done this in a movie before?" He says, "No, I've never used my natural accent in a film before." So this is really how Patrick Dempsey talks. It's great.
It is the debut of the real Patrick Dempsey.
It is, but also what I love about it is it really gives you kind of a small hometown feel. This isn't a big-city cop. This is like a local sheriff in a town where the worst thing that's ever happened is a parking ticket, and now he's got a deal with this rampaging killer. There's something about that accent that's really grounding. It's kind of blue-collar. It makes you feel like you're in a small New England town. That was the vibe I wanted for the movie. And look, I grew up with these guys, so I always wanted to see them. Every Boston movie with accents is about criminals or fishermen, and I just wanted to see a bunch of Massholes in a slasher film. Is that so wrong? I wanted to see how they would deal with Jason or Freddy.
Those were some of the most fun moments.
Thank you. Yeah, the Massholes were pretty terrific. And what's funny is Mika Amonson, who plays Lonnie from Hanover in the blue jacket, his Boston accent was perfect. And I said, "Dude, are you from Toronto or Boston? How are you doing it so well?" he says, "Well, I watched The Departed probably 600 times. I saw it when I was a kid." His whole life's dream was to be a Boston guy in a movie. He watched The Departed, he watched The Town. He watched everything to learn the accent. Amanda Barker, who plays Lizzie, works at the diner, she's from Hanover. She has a wicked accent, and it turns out she's an actual blood relative of John Carver. We had a descendant of the real John Carver on set actually getting attacked, and her face was stuck to a freezer by our killer, John Carver. She couldn't believe it.
You couldn't have made up a cooler name for the slasher than "John Carver," but that's a real guy.
When Jeff Rendell and I made the Grindhouse trailer, we always thought the killer was a pilgrim. We called him The Pilgrim, and that was his name forever. Jeff was doing the research, and he said, "You're not going to believe who the first governor of New Plymouth Colony was. His name is John Carver. Is there a better name for a slasher than John Carver? He was the governor on the Mayflower." Apparently a nice guy. He died at 43, but he did have some kids, and one of his relatives is now in the movie! But as soon as we heard that, we're like, "That's it. That's fate handing you this gift." How can you not run with that? John Carver.
We grew up in Massachusetts and never learned about him. So it's funny that Jeff learned it just from doing history research into Plymouth and going there. He went to the Cordage Museum and learned everything about the town, and the underground tunnels, and Cordage Park, and where the oldest brick is. All the stuff that's in the movie is all factual police research that Jeff did when he was writing it.
Well, shoutout to Jeff, that's awesome.
Yeah, it was amazing. Jeff and I were serious. We have two friends at the police department, Pete Chew and Brett Labelle. So we named Chew and Labelle after them, and we asked them to take us through how someone would upload a photo, block a cell signal, how would they live stream? We had the Boston Police take us through all the different things the killer does in the movie, including how it would happen and how they would react.
You guys have basically been thinking about this concept since you were kids, are there any kills that you thought of back then that actually made it into the final film?
Oh, yeah. When we were twelve years old, we thought if you have a scene where there's a Thanksgiving parade, and there's someone dressed in a turkey costume, and they get decapitated and stumble around like a turkey with their head cut off, that was something we always wanted to do, and it's in the final film. We always wanted to roast someone in an oven to make a human turkey, that was always the joke, but we thought, "How do we get to that?" We needed to write the movie to that moment without the audience rolling their eyes, where people are just genuinely horrified. And I think we did it.
A kill thought up by twelve-year-olds, and it worked magnificently. It was great.
You never love things the way you do when you're twelve. Your favorite movie, your favorite band, that crush at school. When you're twelve, thirteen, or fourteen, the intensity with which you love stuff and movies, just never leaves you. I want to always conjure that enthusiasm of my twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year-old self when I'm making a movie. You just become that little kid again for that moment. It's beautiful.
I'm always trying to make the twelve-year-old version of myself go, "Fuck yeah, that's awesome!"
Yeah. It's true. And then you're still trying to. You love things so passionately and so intensely. And even the cast will say, they're like, "How are you young? Also, you're this mix of a fifty-year-old and a fifteen-year-old at the same time." So that's kind of the fun. I like writing dialogue for seventeen-year-olds because I'll write the scene the way I think it should be, and then now all my friends have teenage kids, so I'll sit down and talk with the kids and rewrite the scenes with actual seventeen-year-olds, so it feels authentic. Kids will tell you the truth. They know, and they want it to be good.
When you take the time to talk to young people and when you take the time to do the research in the writing, that's where all the great stuff comes from. The first time the actors read the script, they're like, "How do you know how we talk? You're not supposed to know these things." I told them, "Yeah, I got the cheat codes. I know what an NPC [non-player character] is. I'm putting it in the movie." I think it keeps you young. I'm also very interested in pop culture and how it changes, language, what words catch on and what phrases there are. It's fun to put that stuff in the movie. I don't want it to feel like old guys wrote it. I want it to feel contemporary, young, and fresh. The only way you do that is by actually sitting and talking with real teenagers, and then if they go, "This sucks, this doesn't make sense," you work on it until you get it right.
Amazing. I love that you actually took the time to do that.
I think that's what makes a movie a classic. The reason Scream is Scream is because we love those characters. We remember the characters, remember the lines. There were other horror movies that came out with the slasher films. I don't remember anyone in those. I remember the actors, and I remember the kills, but I don't remember the characters and dialogue the way Kevin Williamson wrote them in Scream. The way Tarantino does. He cares about every line from every character. There's a French film I love called Diva by Jean-Jacques Beineix from 1981. There are no minor characters. Every character is so cool, and so interesting, and so weird, and so well thought out. Those are the movies I love. When you watch True Romance, no matter who's in the movie, when they pop up, it's an interesting, well-thought-out character.
So the nerd is going to have some edge to him, the derelict kid who's selling alcohol to the teens. McCarty, he's going to have an edge to him to really make them 360-degree characters. That's the work, putting that thought into the writing. It doesn't make the movie bigger budget. It doesn't cost more. It's just time and energy. You're not just thinking of the kills and getting to the next one. I want people to live in the world of Thanksgiving, populated by these fun characters. I think that's what makes it a classic, when you do that.
If you're going to turn this into a franchise or a series, what would the next step be, what does that look like? Are we doing different holidays? Are we staying in this world?
I mean, I'd love to cross-pollinate holidays. I have so many different ideas, and my brain goes to a lot of strange places, as you can imagine, but we're so close to the movie coming out that I almost feel like I'm going to jinx it. The only way we get a sequel is if everyone comes out and sees it opening weekend, and the movie's a hit. If the movie makes money, then they'll say, "What do you want to do next?" And I'd love to do another one. Jeff is like, "We just finished this one, why don't we just wait a couple of years?"
I'm like, "No, no, no, let's go right away." So we're going to have to figure out what that is. We have a bunch of ideas, and I think you just kind of go with your gut. We'll see it with audiences, we'll feel it out. What worked? What didn't work? What do we try? What do we not want to repeat? What's our favorite part of it? We have a lot of different ways, different stories, and different things we could do, but I would love to continue it. But I only want to do it if I can top the first one. We don't want to rush it and have the franchise suck.
If we don't have to wait sixteen years, then it's going to be a win for us. If it takes ten years, we'll say that was pretty fast.
Thank you. Yeah, that's true. Ten years. It's twice the speed of the other one.
If you were to choose another holiday to give the slasher treatment, which would you pick?
There's no killer Easter Bunny movie. I'd love to do that. That would be fun.
I would watch that. Killer Easter. Is it like a slasher Easter Bunny?
I'm not saying anything more. No one's taking my ideas.
That's all we get. That was our Easter egg, and that's it.
That's it. Exactly.
What's the best horror thing that you've seen recently?
Gosh, I haven't watched a horror movie in forever. I thought Skinamarink was great. I mean, I know they made that movie for $15,000, but I haven't seen anything. When you're making a movie, you almost don't have time to watch anything, so I sort of also feel like if I'm watching other horror movies, it starts to mess me up a little.
I finally saw The Nun. I hadn't seen that, and I was working with the editor, so I watched and I thought was great. I really enjoyed it. It's scary, creepy, fun. I like Corin Hardy very much. And that was probably the last. I haven't seen The Nun II. I've seen nothing. Oh, actually, I saw Five Nights at Freddy's. I enjoyed it. It wasn't scary, and I don't play the game, but I like the creativity. I thought it was beautifully shot. I thought the characters really look good, the animatronics were great. I thought the death, where the girl got bit in half, was beautiful. I enjoyed it, it was a really fun film. I had a great time watching it.
I just liked the world. I liked the characters and the colors. I grew up going to Chuck E. Cheese, so I appreciated it.
Now maybe you can take some time to watch some movies. Go watch When Evil Lurks. I think you'll dig it.
Yeah, someone recommended an Argentine film that's on Shudder! Is that it?
That's the one.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Someone literally just texted me about that. They're like, "Go watch When Evil Lurks." Yeah, that's the one I want to see.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.