★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
The Last Thanksgiving is a gory ’80s style slasher film that works on the decidedly soft premise that the Pilgrims succumbed to cannibalism to make it through the first Thanksgiving, and their descendants continue that tradition 400 years later. It delivers well on the hyper-violence, but it falls rather flat with character and plot. This is an empty calorie Thanksgiving feast.
Directed by Erick Lorinc
A note to Cannibal weirdos. Don’t play with your food. Don’t pontificate and villain-splain everything. It will be your doom.
The Last Thanksgiving occupies that very narrow space in pop-culture, the Thanksgiving horror movie. Thankskilling is an awful movie, and is still probably the most recognizable of the very small sub-genre, whereas Christmas as we noted in our Podcast Episode CXIV is really well stocked for horror thrills. There is even a running gag in this movie about how there aren’t any good Thanksgiving songs. Well, you can say the same about Thanksgiving horror films as well. I suspect this movie leaps to the front of the line of top Thanksgiving-themed horror movies, but that’s more of an indictment about the sub-genre than it celebrates the quality of the film. It’s a very small sample size. Sadly, this movie falls just a little shy of crossing over the barrier from meh to worthwhile.
It gamely tries. It plays it straight, for the most part, but its attempts at character building, where real humor can occur, backfires because it makes you care less about the characters. Director Lorinc clearly loves the genre, and you can feel him manipulating the expectations, but he, unfortunately, couldn’t craft any substantial meat for the skeleton of the plot.
The story revolves around the crew working at Derry’s Famous Fish and Grits, where the entire staff is working on Thanksgiving. None of them really want to be there, so the young boss, Mr. Pearl (Nicholas Punales) promises to let them all go home for the day if nobody shows up while they finish cleaning. Unfortunately for them, a customer, Paulette (THE Linnea Quigley) does show up, so the crew stays on while she orders her dinner.
A man, Kurt Brimston (Matthew McClure) shows up, looking for work, and he is assigned to follow the cranky and frustrated Lisa-Marie (Samantha Ferrand) around as a work shadow. Kurt, though, is part of a long line of descendants of pilgrims, who have been capturing and eating people who don’t show enough proper respect for Thanksgiving, and he is scouting the diner for victims.
When his sister Maggie (Laura Finley) arrives, she joins Kurt in the diner and they break out their cutlery and start attacking the staff. Their deformed and brutish brother, Trip (Michael Vitovich) is their backup, hiding in the white panel step van in the back. This is the strongest part of the film, feeling much like a home-invasion and the crew bravely fights back, but they aren’t the hardened killers that the Brimstons are. Of course, the deviants also brought along a jammer… so, classic trope… no phone service.
Some of the victims are killed outright, but some are captured and brought back to serve as part of the Thanksgiving feast where Kurt’s sister Cordelia (Tristan Petaschnick) waits to carve them up. The third act is a pretty unfocused mix of trapped house plus villain exposition dumping. It is revealed that their ancestor, Abigail Brimston, turned on their indigenous contacts, and served them up as food as well.
The movie does do a fairly decent job of keeping you guessing about “who is gonna get it next.” And after the blood spatters stop, I was a little surprised at who was left standing (barely) at the end. Other points of originality can be awarded to the presentation of the Brimston family, who are for the most part very attractive people (good genes, those Pilgrims), except for Trip who is the Leatherface of this crew. The Sawyer family, this is not. But their hubris brings them down, too much monologuing and reliance upon deadly traps will undo your best Thanksgiving plans.
The acting, particularly in the first act and particularly with the supporting cast, is very awkward and stiff. Too much yelling, and when actors yell without emotion, it’s really annoying. The character motivations are paper-thin and lean too heavily on stereotypes. Then again, the acting is about on-par with the ’80s slasher movies that this takes its cues from. Credit, where credit is due, however. For at least half of this cast, this is their first IMDB credit, and on that level, it’s pretty impressive. The acting here is about a half step above the Friday the 13th or Slaughter High level, but not at the Halloween level. The cast has their moments, but there are times where another take would have done them some good. It was great to see Linnea Quigley in the cast, and she’s a pro’s pro, and I’m glad to see her in a role where she doesn’t have to take her top off.
The blood and guts effect work was stellar for a movie with this tiny budget. The camera stayed on the shot and the makeup team was on point. The sound effects team was also making it sufficiently crunchy and squishy. The action leading up to the gory bits, however, was comically arch and felt out of place with the savagery of the attacks. There are so many moments where somebody is holding a knife behind their back, obvious to anybody who cares to look. And the preferred method of attacking is the double overhand chop, with ridiculous wind-up motions. Here comes the fastball! CHOP CHOP CHOP! Bad slasher technique for sure. And that goes for BOTH sides. When the victims get their opportunities they do the same thing they too go for the two-handed plunge.
Another element that seemed off, was the pilgrim mask that Trip wore. It really wasn’t scary enough. I know that it pays homage to all the masked slasher films from days of yore, but this one… kinda laughable. In truth, it was the whole clan that was monstrous, and they probably could have done away with the masked pilgrim aspect. There is a fleeting glimpse of what Trip looks like, but you don’t get a good handle on what he looks like underneath. It is also a bit of a bait and switch move from the poster, which honestly needs an upgrade.
This will probably find an audience. People who have a fondness for an old school cheesy slasher will enjoy this, I would bet. But the times and the expectations of the average horror fan has changed a bit. There’s a semblance of a good kill-by-numbers grindhouse film here, but let’s see if Mr. Lorinc can dial it back a notch and let the action flow naturally next time.
The Last Thanksgiving was showing at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival. It does not have a release date yet for streaming and it is not yet rated, though a film like this is likely to go straight to streaming without one. I would qualify this as a hard R rating due to lots of gory violence.
Let’s end on a positive note: It has a great tagline:
After this year… there can’t be another.