ThanksKilling (2008/2011) 0
Eight and a half minutes into the DVD audio commentary for ThanksKilling, writer/director Jordan Downey says, “I think that in the end, that’s why people enjoy ThanksKilling— because it puts a smile on their face. It sounds really cheesy, but if you watch this movie and you know what you’re getting when you go into seeing it, it’s hard for you to not find something in this funny.” A moment later, co-writer Kevin Stewart counters, “There’s definitely some haters out there that hate every second of it.” Count me firmly in the latter category. ThanksKilling is what you get when a couple of college kids with $3500 to burn decide that there just aren’t enough movies like Troll 2 or The Room in the world, and set out to make one of their own. In practice, though, it plays more like Beavis and Butt-Head handed in a holiday-themed slasher flick as their final project for Mr. Van Driessen’s art class.
Since the object here is to poke fun at every single cliché that has ever appeared in a low-budget post-1968 horror film, we start off with a flashback establishing the awesome antiquity of the evil force about to be turned loose. It’s 1621, shortly after the first Thanksgiving celebration at Plymouth Colony, and a Pilgrim woman (Wanda Lust, from Cock Smoking Grannies and MILF Does a Brotha Good) is being chased through the woods by something. She’s also topless, markedly contrary to character, and for absolutely no reason but to provide an excuse to emblazon, “WARNING! Boobs in the first second!” across the top of the DVD cover. The topless Pilgrim is quickly caught by her pursuer, and… He’s a turkey. A talking, hand-puppet turkey with Jordan Downey’s pitch-shifted voice, and a turkey who’s apparently seen A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 a few thousand times too many, but a turkey just the same. The turkey kills his quarry with an axe (never you mind how he grips it), and then we’re off to the present day.
We’re also off to some college in New England (stood in for by some college in Ohio), which has just dismissed its last round of classes before the Thanksgiving break. That means football jock Johnny (Lance Predmore, of Hellementary: An Education in Death), twitchy nerd Darren (Ryan E. Francis, from Saturday Night Pillow Fights), drunken galoot Billy (Aaron Ringhiser-Carlson), imbecile skank Ali (Natasha Cordova), and boring prude Kristen (Terror Firmer’s Lindsey Anderson) are free to raise hell for four whole days— with a brief pause to stuff themselves full of food with their families tomorrow afternoon, of course. What’s that? Oh, hey— you’re right! It’s the Athlete, the Scholar, the Fool, the Whore, and the Virgin! I don’t suppose their Wednesday night party destination is that cabin Johnny’s cousin just bought?
In fact, we never learn exactly where the kids are going, because they never actually get there. Instead, Johnny’s Jeep overheats en route, forcing them to camp overnight in the woods. Those would be the woods around the lost Pilgrim enclave of Crawberg, where legend has it, a powerful Indian medicine man was once dishonored by the white settlers. In revenge, that shaman created a zombie turkey with an instinctive drive to destroy the Crawbergers and their descendants. Darren, naturally, is familiar with the tale, but his companions aren’t buying, no matter how many books on the subject of the Thankskilling Massacre he claims to have read. Meanwhile, a dog belonging to a crazy old coot named Oscar (the intriguingly named General Bastard) goes wandering through the same woods, and relieves itself on a tiny souvenir totem pole. That, inevitably, reawakens the shaman’s zombie turkey after 505 years of dormancy, and it butchers Oscar’s collie before running off in search of bipedal victims. Oscar, meanwhile, arrives on the scene just as the killer bird is making its getaway, and he vows an undying vengeance of his own when he sees what it did to his pet.
For some reason, the turkey does not immediately begin laying into Johnny and his friends, even though Billy is lineally descended from one of its original victims. Oh, it stops by their campsite, to be sure— and shits all over Billy’s sleeping bag so that everyone knows it was there— but evidently it’s concerned enough about Oscar that it doesn’t want to stay in the area. With that in mind, it hitches a ride from a passing driver, kills him, and drives on ahead to whatever town the camping kids call home. Then it lies low until Thanksgiving to commence its killing spree in earnest. First it exterminates Johnny’s family, then it kills Ali and her latest boyfriend in mid-coitus, then it swings by Kristen’s house to take out her sheriff father (Chuck Lamb, from Vacancy and The Mitchell Tapes, the closest thing ThanksKilling has to a professional actor). After the latter murder, the turkey skins Sheriff Roud’s face in order to pass itself off as the dead man. Of course, the trail of bodies finally convinces the remaining kids that Darren was right about the Crawsberg Devil Turkey, and they too dedicate themselves to its destruction. Apparently there’s this ritual, involving a talisman, a back-masked Satanic incantation, and burning at the stake…
Again from the DVD commentary track, here’s Jordan Downey explaining in a nutshell why ThanksKilling is such a totally worthless piece of shit: “Our rule with ThanksKilling was: comedy first, horror second… We didn’t care how we were going to make you laugh.” Okay, stop right there. You want to make another Troll 2, another The Room? Then that’s exactly the wrong attitude to take. The way you make a film like those is to strive with all your might for something better, and to miss the mark completely. Troll 2 and The Room are deservedly bywords for badness, but you know what? Claudio Fragasso and Tommy Wiseau put their fucking hearts into those awful-ass movies. They might have failed in every way imaginable (in fact, there’s really no “might have” there), but they absolutely did care how their audiences would react, and they absolutely did care about how they were going to produce those reactions. Setting out to make campy crap and not giving a shit where the laughs come from is how you get another Redneck Zombies or another C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D., and the world has plenty of those already. So if the object is to make something “so bad it’s good,” then Fragasso and Wiseau are the wrong model, anyway. There are, after all, a handful of good bad movies whose creators understood what they were doing. Study the deliberately campy crap that stands the test of time— your Desperate Livings, your Bad Tastes, your Flesh for Frankensteins— and you’ll see at once that the folks who made it were very particular about how they got their laughs, about how they exploited viewer expectations, about how they played with the effects of their obvious technical inadequacies. Unless you’re going to attempt some sort of next-level, Portsmouth Sinfonia of cinema shit, then forget about Claudio Fragasso, and immerse yourself in the works of Paul Morrissey and Frank Hennenlotter instead. Here endeth the lesson— and here’s hoping ThanksKilling 3 turns out at least slightly less dire.