It sounds like a tourism marketing department’s dream: A short video about Thanksgiving in Plymouth that has attracted more than 20 million views. But while the trailer for director Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” was a YouTube hit leading up to last Friday’s successful theatrical release, the movie appears to be something of a nightmare for local officials.
Newton native Roth – best known for his series of “torture porn” “Hostel” films – is not likely to be toasted at a Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce get-together, despite the mostly positive reviews “Thanksgiving” is receiving from critics starving for a holiday horror film that is as wickedly funny as it is gory.
The synopsis makes it clear that Roth was not interested in telling anything close to a traditional holiday story: “An axe-wielding maniac terrorizes residents of Plymouth, Mass., after a Black Friday riot ends in tragedy. Picking off victims one by one, the seemingly random revenge killings soon become part of a larger, sinister plan.”
The movie’s tagline is “This November, there will be no leftovers.” The killer wears a John Carver mask, a nod both to the first governor of Plimoth Colony and the movie’s abundance of sharp objects used as murder weapons.
In one scene, a server in a diner notices the mask on a countertop and exclaims in a spot-on Boston-South Shore accent, “It’s a John Cah-va mask!” Let’s not quibble over the fact that there are no diners in Plymouth.
In a publicity featurette, Roth revels in movie’s mayhem. “Anytime we do a death, we try to truly make it a classic kill,” he says. “We take it very seriously.” He adds in another short on the “legend” of John Carver, “The most that happened in this town before was a parking ticket, and now there’s a killer on the loose.” (Who knew Roth was familiar with residents’ complaints about Park Plymouth?)
The many death scenes are elaborate, sadistic, and gruesome enough to stretch the limits of an R rating. It’s standard Roth fare, except with a Pilgrim theme. You can see all the gore for yourself at the Regal theater complex in Kingston if you’re so inclined, but it might be best to go on an empty stomach. (Spoiler alert: That’s not a turkey being served up as the main course.)
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder,” says one terrified teen as the body count rises. “We need to stop him.” The “Plymouth East” shirt she wears is a clever geographic joke.
It’s not surprising that Thanksgiving parade organizers said no thanks to “Thanksgiving” several years ago when the movie outfit was scouting locations, specifically a downtown parade scene. After all, this is a town where a store sign of the wrong hue can send some officials into a tizzy. Most of the filming was done in Ontario, Canada. Port Perry, the town that substitutes for Plymouth, doesn’t look much like the real place, but once the fake blood starts flowing no one is likely to notice. The trailer, however, does include a violence-free drone shot of “America’s Hometown.”
Then-town manager Melissa Arrighi and former schools superintendent Gary Maestas were quoted in an Old Colony Memorial story saying that they were open to the idea of cooperating with the filmmakers, but parade organizer Olly deMacedo was a hard no. He and others were apparently afraid the movie would leave a bloody stain on the town’s image. Had it been filmed here, the production – budgeted at $15 million – would have poured a lot of money into the local economy. And, in the end, most viewers are going to associate it with Plymouth, Mass., anyway. But Plymouth’s loss became Port Perry’s gain.
The idea for the movie goes back to a phony “Thanksgiving” trailer Roth made for the Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez double feature “Grindhouse” in 2007. The new film stars Patrick Dempsey, who in a bit of good timing for box office potential, was just named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for 2023. Sexy Dempsey is joined by TikTok star Addison Rae, Gina Gershon, Jalen Thomas Brooks, and Rick Hoffman, whom we’re certain steals every scene he’s in. Fans of the inexplicably addictive TV series “Suits” will recognize Hoffman as hard-driving lawyer Louis Litt, easily that show’s best character.
Yes, people who aren’t horror fans may proclaim “Thanksgiving” a turkey. Others will have a bone to pick with the gratuitous carnage. But from the “any publicity is good publicity” angle, Plymouth’s turn as a movie setting is no small potatoes.
Mark Pothier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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