(Originally published November 26, 2010…but why fight the inevitable?)
Intentionally bad movies are still bad. Setting out to make crap is only going to win you friends among a small community culturally dead assholes who prattle away about bad movies through this “series of tubes.” And even we’re starting to drown under an annual deluge of cheeky bad movies made by and for and people who’ve spent their lives watching seriously bad movies. Movies from an age that ThanksKilling wants to hearken back to with all its pint-sized, syrup-filled heart. Why else would it open with a gratuitous titty shot?
These days, most of the self-consciously bad Bad Movies are mainstream Hollywood afflictions with big names and deep pockets to shepherd them through the culture industry’s means of production. ThanksKilling is the opposite: a self-financed, $3500 self-conscious Bad Movie shot in Licking County, Ohio by the Buckeye State’s native son Jordan Downey. I hadn’t even heard of ThanksKilling until my good friends at the Bad Movie Message Board mentioned its existence. Thanks, you guys. I was worried about what to do for the holiday.
Here’s a report on the world premiere of Mr. Downey’s film, shot by his local Fox affiliate last year. Please note it’s a transmission from a strange, fantastical realm that’s never heard of the Bad Movie Message Board, where intentionally bad, gory horror/comedies centered around zombie turkeys from ancient times are “not your typical film.”
Around here, we watch this kind of shit for fun and don’t give a hoot in hell about The Children (or, at the very least, I don’t – fuck The Children). All we care about is, Is it any good? Is this the best gory, zombie turkey horrordy it could be? As with so many self-aware pictures, that entirely depends upon your previous experiences with intentionally bad, gory horror/comedies…particularly low budget ones shot by groups of friends home on break from college. ThanksKilling’s a lot more lighthearted and loose than some micro-budget horror I could name… but thanks to Nathan and his book on the subject, I don’t have to. Buy that instead.
When it comes to comedies, there’s really only one relevant issue: “Is or is it not funny?” In ThanksKilling, most gags flow from the characters being glib, profane idiots of the kind you find thick as thieves in low budget horror/comedies. To see if you find these glib, profane idiots funny, here’s a rundown of our five main characters, accompanied by a line of dialogue I felt best represented each.
Johnny (Lance Predmore) is backup quarterback for his college football team, and thus our Resident Manly Spice. His line? “Here check this out…Weapon of Mass Destruction. Go ahead, touch it…nice, right?”
Billy (Aaron Ringhiser-Carlson) is Johnny’s fat, grotesque friend, and thus our Odious Comic Relief Spice. His line: “I’m thankful that your mom has the juiciest poon in town.”
Darren (Ryan E. Francis) wears glasses and takes verbal abuse from Billy, making him Nerd Spice. His line: “Yeah, for once, you know, it’s not gonna be just me by myself. I’m gonna be the one doing the sexing! Yeah! To one of you.” Dear God, that’s Nerd you can’t buy.
Ali (Natasha Cordova), who’s dumb and vaguely hot, in that mass-produced, Megan Fox kinda way, is our Slutty Spice. “Well, it isn’t gonna be me. I’m a prude.”
Last but certainly least, there’s Kristen (Lindsey Anderson) the Sheriff’s daughter, and thus our Final Girl. “Ali, your legs are harder to shut than the JonBenet Ramsey case.” This line apparently struck everyone so funny its repeated three times.
These five socioeconomically diverse friends depart college as the film opens. Homeward bound on Thanksgiving break, they pile into Johnny’s Jeep…which overheats just as the sun sets. Deciding to camp just off the road from where they’ve broken down (rather than, say, walk to town, or call Kristen’s dad, or anyone) the five find themselves strategically arranged around a campfire. Must be story time.
And Darren delivers. Stumbling across a sign with the word “Crawberg” scrawled across it jogs Darren’s overactive memory of “the most notorious moments in Pilgrim history.” Back in the 1500s, a resident of Crawberg named Chuck Langston screwed over an Indian named Feather Cloud. “Feather Cloud necromanced a turkey…more evil than anything you’ve ever seen before. A turkey that would stop at nothing to get what he wanted…to kill!…It’s kind of a legend guys,” Darren insists. “There are tons of books written about it.”
Right. It just so happens that, in another part of the forest, an old hermit’s dog has just pissed on the totem pole-shaped roadside trinket that serves to mark this Evil Turkey’s grave. Understandably upset, the Evil Turkey rises, and we see it’s actually an Evil Turkey puppet that spouts one-liners in the manner of a late-80s Fred Krueger or an early 00s Chucky. Oh. Joy.
Back at camp, Ali the Slutty Spice is starting to sound like an officer of the Lawndale High Fashion Club. Billy’s the eternal, stereotypical, redneck protagonist of the eternal, stereotypical redneck joke. You know: that one joke Jeff Foxworthy’s been telling for decades. Darren’s sex-obsessed, but we’ve already marked him as The Nerd so that’s like italicizing something you’ve already underlined. Johnny and Kristen are hot for each other but Johnny fucks it up by not believing her stories about…the Evil Turkey lurking around in the woods outside their camp…but they’ll probably both survive and get together by the end…so what’s the real fucking point in drawing out their relationship?
The real point comes a few scenes later, after the kids have gotten back to civilization. The Evil Turkey teleports himself to Johnny the Jock’s front porch, having had enough of the mawkish, High School Musical-esque Drama that makes up daily life around the Langston residence. The Turkey kills Johnny’s parents, allowing Johnny to swear Vengeance and regather his friends…with the strategic exception of Slutty Spice, who’s too busy having sex to answer her damn phone. It’s a bigger problem than you’d think, so thank god a team of filmmakers is finally bringing this issue to light. You never know when that call will be your friends trying to warn you about the joke-spewing puppet who’s coming to kill you.
Why’d they have to go and ruin it by having the Evil Turkey rape Ali before he snaps her neck and says, “You just got stuffed?” No matter how outrageously stupid your rape scene might be (and is, don’t get me wrong – I’m under no illusions – it’ll get the laugh its after…just not from me), its still a fucking rape. Turkey puppets can’t help that. Especially not when they’re so damn mouthy. There’s a reason the wise-cracking Slasher has gone the way of the pager, cell-drawn animation and hair metal. Freddy used up all the A-material back when George H.W. Bush was still playing Ronald Reagan’s Dick Cheney. There’s no where else to go with it…except into the dank, swamping lands of, “Gobble gobble, motherfucker.”
Here, it’s obvious such jokes put this script on film; that it exists to service them and not the other way around. That’s ThanksKilling‘s problem. I don’t mind the hammy acting, or the direction that focuses on gore effects at the expense of all else. I don’t even mind that the gore effects are in no way deserving of such lingering closeups. That’s just par for the course, and I have the movie’s permission to pretend it was all done intentionally, satirically. That way I don’t have to skewer anyone. But there’s barely enough story here to support what’s on screen, to say nothing of holding my interest once the initial joke’s lost its punch. Paradoxically, ThanksKilling manages to drag ass and still feel too short.
ThanksKilling obviously feels that, in order to be the parody/love note to low-budget horror it wants to be, it must slavishly trot out all the tropes one would expect to find in a horror movie. So our five Dead Meat characters (well, four, after Ali the Slut dies) have to piece together Turkey’s history and find his weakness in that ton of books Darren mentioned back in the Emergency Exposition dump. Seems Sheriff Cannon Fodder has most of them. Characters die, there’s some faux-mawkish sentiment that’s actually quite funny, Our surviving Heroes succeed in killing their fowl foe (I can hear you booing)…and then Turkey comes back to life…so they can kill him again. Or so the Final Girl can at any rate.
Despite having nothing new to add, other than a turkey puppet, the film represents a just-get-out-there-and-do-it ethos I can wholeheartedly support. Hell, some of its jokes are actually hilarious. Like the Animaiacs character Chicken Boo, ThanksKilling‘s Evil Turkey seems immune from casual scrutiny. Human begins frequently mistake him for One of Us right up until the moment he kills them, no matter how idiotic and slipshot his disguise. It’s a power Turkey uses to great effect once the kids show up at the Sheriff’s house looking to further the plot. Turkey successfully hides in plain sight by pulling a Leatherface on them, using Kristen’s by-now-dead dad as raw material for his mask. It’s hilarious in it’s own, grim way, and a movie made of shit like this would’ve split my sides so hard my ribs would’ve lodged in the walls.
But it’s as if Downey and his co-writers were scraping the last bits of comedic peanut butter out right before they threw the jar away. The result’s spread too thin to be satisfying…
…and damnit, now I want a sandwich. I’m wracking my brain for something else to say about ThanksKilling but all that’s coming are things like, “If you’re into this sort of thing…” which is the surest sign I know of a two G film. It’s well done, just not well done enough. With a few more ambitions and a few thousand more to play around with, ThanksKilling might’ve been the Troma film idiots have reflexively compared it too. Get this through your skulls, people: bad jokes and gore do not a Lloyd Kaufman film make (something even Kaufman himself’s forgotten about in the 21st century). Downey’s got a ways to go before he reaches the cinematic heights of…let’s say Squeeze Play. Still, you could do worse than to buy his film and support Independent Film Making in general, because its better than giving money to evil corporations that control the rest of our media landscape.
Besides, who knows? With enough change in his cup, Downey could go on to make the next Killer Condom.