Thanksgiving Day — that national holiday in autumn, right between spooky Halloween and jolly Christmas. It’s a time to gather the family around the television set — not to watch football, but Thanksgiving horror movies, and yes, there are actually scary movies made just around Turkey Day.
If you’re looking for a cheat sheet of the top movies in this list, stop reading and just watch Kirsty (2014), which is an impressive cat-and-mouse movie, and The Oath (2018), which is a relatively clever satire. So without further ado, here is our detailed list of horror movies to watch on Thanksgiving.
A biker named Herschell (named in honor of slasher-movie pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis) befriends a young religious girl whose car has broken down. She takes him home and, after some urging, convinces him to smoke some super-powerful weed. Herschell starts working at a local turkey farm where evil scientists have been experimenting with chemicals on turkey meat. After eating some of the meat, he passes out, only to wake up with a giant turkey head where his head used to be. He discovers he has an insatiable hunger for the blood of other drug addicts and embarks on a murder spree. This film is so violent, it was originally rated “X” merely for all the gore.
Perhaps the only Thanksgiving-themed horror movie ever directed by a woman (Nettie Peña), Home Sweet Home (also released as Slasher in the House) traces the story of a PCP-addicted murderer who escapes from a mental hospital, steals a car, and begins murdering people who have gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at a remote ranch on the outskirts of town. Terror Trap panned the film, calling it a “dry bird,” while Video Junkie called it a “drawn-out Thanksgiving turkey.”
Also released as Nightmare at Shadow Woods and Slasher, this splatter film involves a pair of identical twins—one an escaped mental patient who’s falsely been accused of a murder his “sane” brother actually committed—who lock horns again at a remote apartment complex over Thanksgiving. The brother who’s actually a killer has some weird oedipal complex that sends him into a murderous rage whenever he finds his mother (Louise Lasser) with a new man—and this time around, he discovers that his mother is engaged to the owner of the apartment complex.
The much darker and less campy sequel to 1991’s The Addams Family sees Wednesday (Cristina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) sent off to summer camp, where the two Addams children are singled out and bullied for their weird deathly appearance. Wednesday is originally cast as Pocahontas in the camp’s Thanksgiving play, and Pugsley is cast as a turkey. Wednesday resists playing the role, but she eventually relents—so long as she can rain holy hell on the entire affair.
This was a TV movie and belongs to the very unique sub-genre of alien-meets-horror-meets-Thanksgiving movies. This found-footage horror film preceded The Blair Witch Project by a year. It is ostensibly a home video of the McPherson family of Lake County, MT, who sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, only to be interrupted by an alien landing and invasion. Directed by Dean Alioto, it is a remake of his 1998 low-budget film The McPherson Tape. The documentary style confused people, many of whom insist that the original was authentic and that the remake was some sort of government disinformation attempt to “discredit” an actual documentary about an alien landing at Thanksgiving.
For some reason that obviously has nothing to do with common sense or an awareness of what happens to people in horror movies who hold séances, five college students in a creepy old Manhattan dormitory decide that it would be a good idea to hold a séance to rid the place of a pesky and meddlesome ghost of a murdered child who haunts the building. Instead of getting rid of the ghost, though, their séance only revives her killer—who is out for blood again. Oh yeah, all this happens while the students are on Thanksgiving break.
From the exploitation masters at Troma Films (Toxic Avenger, The Class of Nuke ‘Em High, etc.), this comedy musical involves a New Jersey fast-food restaurant called the American Chicken Bunker that is built upon a sacred Native American burial ground. People get shoved into meat grinders, a man has sexual intercourse with an uncooked chicken carcass, a man lays an egg, and zombie chickens sing and dance together. The film is not specifically Thanksgiving-related, but it’d be fun to watch after turkey dinner as the tryptophan begins to kick in.
Four people sit down for a nice, quiet Thanksgiving dinner, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door. It’s an earnest young man who seems to be in trouble, so they show him some holiday hospitality and allow him inside—which turns out to be a huge mistake, as he’s a psychotic killer. This short film was conceived, written, cast, directed, shot, edited, and released in only 20 days.
An extremely low-budget film—it cost a mere $3,500 to make—that resulted when director Jordan Downey and friends were hanging around a Blockbuster video store and wondering how to make a comedy about a murderous turkey. The film begins in the year 1621 and—they even advertise on the DVD cover that “boobs” are shown in the first frame—a topless woman is killed by a tomahawk-wielding, anthropomorphized turkey who shouts, “Nice t*ts, bitch!”
Switch to the 2000s, where a stereotypical horror-movie cast of five college students—a good girl, a jock, a ditz, a redneck, and a nerd—are returning home to their town of Crawl Berg to celebrate Thanksgiving. Of course their car breaks down, forcing them to go camping, because what would a horror movie be without camping? Sitting around the campfire, the nerd character tells the legend of “Turkie,” a murderous turkey who was created by Native American necromancy to emerge every 500 years to slaughter Caucasians.
Turkie emerges from his five-century slumber the next day and begins attacking the students one-by-one. Animals as well as people get murdered. There is a rape and a demonic possession. The nerd character finds a book that reveals Turkie can be destroyed if his magical talisman is removed. And there is a hint of a sequel at the very end.
A musical adaptation—ThanksKilling: The Musical—was performed in Seattle in 2013 and in Orlando in 2017. In 2013, a sequel—ThanksKilling 3—was released, funded by a Kickstarter campaign that yielded $112,248. That’s right—the filmmakers skipped over making a ThanksKilling 2just to keep everything comically surreal.
Justine (Haley Bennett) is a college student who spends the Thanksgiving break almost entirely alone on campus, with the only other two humans who haven’t gone home for the holiday being a security guard and a groundskeeper. Justine suddenly finds herself targeted by a cult of killers who are obsessed with murdering religious people, whom they refer to as “Kristys”—with “Kristy” being derived from a Latin phrase meaning “follower of God.” In the face of constant cyber-harassment and real-life threats, Justine must decide if her faith is strong enough to battle the cult single-handedly.
This Thanksgiving black comedy was tailor-made for the Trump Era, where families can’t get together for a simple holiday meal without political arguments. The plot involves how the United States government has issued a decree that every American must sign a loyalty oath to them by Black Friday. By the time the family sits down for Thanksgiving, only two of them have yet to sign the oath. Screen Rant says the film “provides a blisteringly satirical examination of the modern political divide.”
This is a self-contained 90-minute slow-burn horror film that also just happens to be an episode of the Hulu TV series Into the Dark. The plot involves a mother who invites two actors who portray “Pilgrims” into her home for an educational Thanksgiving experience. Problem is, the Pilgrims never break character, and suddenly it seems like they might not be actors at all. Pilgrim is only available on Hulu and Hulu original.
Bonus: If you’re looking for something not so much Thanksgiving-related, but in that loosely related genre of “family spends time alone, and people wind up getting killed,” here are some additional suggestions: The Shining (1980), Misery (1990), The House of Yes (1997), and You’re Next (2013). Or — let’s just say you really want to watch some bizarre Thanksgiving video — because you are, after all, reading a very strange listicle, behold Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving.
The trailer was originally released as part of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse and was intended as an announcement that there would be a sequel with Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving as one of the two features on the next double bill. However, Grindhouse was a commercial flop and all sequels were immediately canceled. When asked during a Reddit AMA about what happened with his proposed project, Roth said, “Have a draft not totally happy with. I want to put some more work into it so the film lives up to the trailer. We have the story and mythology cracked so now it’s about getting the kills right.” But even back in 2007 he joked that he would be saddled with this aborted project for the rest of his life: “No matter how many movies I make my whole life, that two-and-a-half minute trailer is what I’ll be remembered for: ‘Eli Roth — he had a guy fucking a turkey with a decapitated head on it.’”
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