‘Thanksgiving,’ Eli Roth’s horror-thriller film, introduces another memorable killer, armed with festive weapons, traps, and schemes, into the club of deadly slasher villains. The story unfolds in Plymouth, Massachusetts— the birthplace of the turkey-centered holiday. Around the anniversary of a brutal stampede at a supermarket brought on by a manic crowd awaiting the Black Friday Sale, a masked killer terrorizes the people around town, mirroring the tragic deaths of last year. Thus, as the killer picks off its targets in increasingly gruesome ways, the local police, under Sheriff Eric Newlon’s leadership, attempt to identify the killer and keep their next victims, Jess & her teen friends, out of harm’s way.
The film delivers a compelling holiday-themed bloodfest that keeps the audience on their toes regarding the killer’s identity. However, as the viewers watch the killer go after the victims, a natural curiosity arises regarding the violent assailant and the possibility of his origin in reality. SPOILERS AHEAD!
John Carver: Thanksgiving’s Killer
The killer in ‘Thanksgiving,’ revealed to be Sheriff Eric Newlon, is not inspired by any actual serial killer and is entirely a work of fiction. The film saw its inception years ago when filmmakers Eli Roth and Jeff Rendell created a fake trailer for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature, ‘Grindhouse.’ The trailer followed the killer in his signature pilgrim outfit as he went around delivering gruesome deaths around town. Upon a positive and highly anticipatory response from the audience, the creative duo behind the trailer decided to turn the idea into a full-length film.
As such, the killer that we see in ‘Thanksgiving’ directly finds his defining bloodied methods as well as seasonal significance from the killer in the trailer, then known simply as “The Pilgrim.” However, it was afterward, during the film’s development, that Roth and Rendell came up with the John Carver nickname and mask for their antagonist.
During the research, Rendell learned that the first Governor of the New Plymouth colony was named John Carver, which instantly stood out as a fantastic slasher villain name to the filmmakers, likely for its pun potential. “[So] We thought, you know, when history hands you a gift like this, you don’t look it in the mouth,” explained Roth in a conversation with The Direct. “So, that became the name of our killer.”
From there, it was only a matter of finding an image of John Carver from 1620, which would give birth to the killer’s recognizable, spooky mask, and the slasher film had the perfect silhouette for its central figure. Roth and Rendell even came up with an explanation for the mask’s existence and convenient abundance in town. The logic behind the mask remained that the town gave plenty of them out in preparation for the 2020 Thanksgiving parade, which would mark the town’s 400th anniversary. Consequently, due to the pandemic and parade cancellation, people would just have the masks lying around aplenty, allowing the killer enough anonymity to remain unidentified.
“[And] We needed something that looks slightly odd, but enough that, like, okay, you could believe that they gave it out to kids in a diner and that everyone would have it, honoring this historical figure,” Roth further expanded. “But when that person is standing in your kitchen with an axe when it’s used out of context, it becomes terrifying.”
Therefore, through meticulous and well-thought-out design, Roth and Rendell created the fictional slasher character for ‘Thanksgiving,’ infusing him with his own unique identity to keep him distinct. As such, Killer John Carver, inherently reminiscent of iconic slasher villains of the past, remains familiar yet recognizable. However, despite having a rich backstory in his character inception and conceivable motives, Eric Newlon’s killer in ‘Thanksgiving’ is not based on a real-life killer.
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