Rarely are stereotypes true, but the stereotype of the dysfunctional family at the holidays seems to still reign supreme for a reason. When it comes to hordes of family members gathering in one place, sometimes the solution of how to cope can best be handled through a healthy wee bit of escapism – and what better way to escape your maddening family than with reminders that, hey buddy, maybe it could be worse. After all, have you been killed by a psychopathic turkey this year? Are you trapped in a Woody Allen fast-talking monologue? Are you Freddie Prinze Jr?
Have you gone through watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Home for the Holidays, and Pieces of April enough times that you could tear your hair out? Well then kick back and give thanks for this list of Thanksgiving-centric movie gems!
Blood Freak (1972)
Tale as old as time: biker comes back from ‘Nam, goes to a drug-fueled party with his lady, gets 'addicted' to weed, starts working on a turkey farm run by a mad scientist, and…well, I won’t spoil it too much. What I can tell you about this '70s gem is that, when you are a few glasses of wine deep, your grandma caught wind that you didn’t get promotion this year, and your cousin still thinks the Budweiser WAZZZAHHP commercials from 1999 are still quotable material, this absolute turkey-headed fugue state of a film will act as a refuge from the storm that is the yearly family gathering. Are you about to watch a good movie? Sure not, bud. Are you about to watch something entertaining though? There is a turkey feast next to a severed head; what do you think?
Blood Rage (1983)
Fittingly set on Thanksgiving, Blood Rage follows Maddy and her now-adult son Terry being stalked through a Florida apartment complex by Terry’s murderous twin brother, who has escaped from a psychiatric hospital. There’s some unnecessary boobs. There’s buckets of delightfully corn-syrupy blood. There’s some seriously great one-liners and cranberry sauce jabs. There’s enough implied Oedipal complex notes that Freud himself would be feasting. Plus, Famed Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman actress and former Woody Allen film babe Louise Lesser spends a decent amount of this film completely trashed, double-fisting leftovers and also just kind of screaming… so out of all the films listed here, clearly this is the one to look up when you’re wanting a touch of empathy and the comfort of saying 'same,' while staring at the TV when you’re awake with indigestion.
The Ice Storm (1997)
The late 1990s had a certain gift for laying down a layer of family drama thick enough that it is said to still be seen from space to this day. Part of that layer is undoubtedly comprised of Ang Lee’s 1997 drama The Ice Storm, where a winter storm on Thanksgiving and, you know, the emotional death of the nuclear family come together to form a bleak, cozy blanket of melancholia that could only hail from a movie set in New England in the 1970s. Two affluent and emotionally withholding families celebrate together – and deal with sex, substance abuse, lies, and cheating, because sure, why not – over a Thanksgiving weekend, offering up a familiar, heart-warming sense of disconnection that you can only appreciate if you come from a family of people who are gleefully in denial of their dissatisfaction with life. Hashtag memories, hashtag thankful.
The House of Yes (1997)
Maybe it’s the comfort of seeing a family that is more jacked up than mine is. Maybe it’s seeing Freddie Prinze Jr. in a sweater vest being a simpering mess to Genevieve Bujold. Maybe it’s the fact that I would lay down my life for Parker Posey’s typecast-ass in any “unhinged woman” role. What I am sure of, though, is that The House of Yes is one of the most darkly funny and iconic Thanksgiving films you’ve probably not had the chance to enjoy. When Marty (Prinze) returns to his palatial family home with his new fiancé (played by Tori Spelling, no less), the tension with Jackie Onassis-obsessed and manically unstable twin sister Jackie (Posey) comes to a head in one evening of Thanksgiving weekend. A gun, the Kennedys, blood on her dress, and some really close family behavior makes The House of Yes a Thanksgiving must… even if you probably don’t wanna watch it with your siblings.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Now I don’t know about you, but when I think of being super close to family, I think of Woody Allen. One of the things to be thankful for during the holiday season is the fact that Allen made what is essentially the key character study around the Thanksgiving holidays. While not as genre-shattering as the more well-known Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters is easily one of Allen’s more graceful films, as it moves through the story of Thanksgiving dinners over the course of three years between Hannah (played by Rosemary’s Baby’s Mia Farrow), her sisters, the men in their lives, and the complicated and funny nature of connection. Planting itself squarely in the holiday-appropriate comedy-drama section of your video shop, this biting, graceful little gem is something to stick to your ribs along with all that stuffing and gravy.
Sometimes the best recipe for dramatic family holidays is… well, more drama. But this kind is the kind that you can press pause on! Though I doubt you’ll want to, considering just how riveting and edge-of-your-seat tension this 2013 thriller from Dune director Denis Villenueve really is. Two families celebrate Thanksgiving together, only to find that the daughters from each family have gone missing and a hunt between one of the fathers and a detective climbs to a fever pitch. Aside from ridiculously great casting in Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as the leads, you also get to see Paul Dano get beat up, which is never not a cinematic delight (Bless him). All jokes aside, this is a damn fine movie that takes place around the holidays. While you won’t find much familial joy and wholesomeness, you will be able to quietly chew your nails and enjoy some really tense drama.
Five hundred years after a shaman resurrects a Thanksgiving turkey to slaughter the pilgrims, a group of college students become the victims of the reawakened, foul-mouthed (GET IT?! “Foul”? “Fowl”?) Turkey monster on their respective trips home for the Thanksgiving holidays. The tagline is “Gobble, gobble, Motherfucker,” the murderous turkey croaks out “Nice tits, bitch” before the opening credits even start, and the psychopathic bird even goes undercover as a human by wearing Groucho Marx glasses. When I say that Thankskilling was our 2007 sign that the concept of video nasties was alive and well,l and that we should appreciate that for the entirely feral shitshow that it is, I really truly mean it. If you’re looking for the good-bad movie of your dreams to help drown out the disappointment of your family’s withering expectations, here! Kick back for some mind boggling comedy-slasher goodness.
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