The year is 1621, moments after the very first Thanksgiving. A bare-chested pilgrim is being pursued through the forest by a homicidal turkey wielding a metal tomahawk. The turkey catches its prey, cackles a few vulgar obscenities, and strikes the blade downward, ushering in the blood-soaked opening credits.
Thankskilling is a bad movie.
Like, really bad.
And in truth, that’s kind of the point. This didn’t come from the mind of an eccentric filmmaker genuinely trying to put forth his vision, unintentionally stumbling into bad movie notoriety, (see Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room, and Troll 2.) Thankskilling was written and filmed in jest by a couple of students, intentionally satirizing the worn out B-horror movie tropes and clichés that have marred the genre for decades.
The movie goes like this: five college student stereotypes (the jock, the nerd, the virgin, etc.) are on their way home for Thanksgiving break. Their car breaks down, so they decide to make camp. On what happens to be a Native American burial ground that hosts an evil necromancer, who was said to have reanimated a psychopathic turkey that returns every 386 years to take revenge on white folks. Sounds vaguely familiar, right?
Thankskilling was filmed in Newark over the course of 10 days in 2007 for $3,000 as a student art project. (Most of the budget was blown on the Craigslist-found actress, Wanda Lust, who played the voluptuous pilgrim/murder victim in the opening scene.) Much to everyone’s astonishment, the movie found wild success when it landed on Netflix thanks to Gravitas Ventures, an up-and-coming production company who agreed to produce Thankskilling as one of their first films.
“It had developed this bizarre cult following,” said Ryan Francis, who played Darren, the Nerd. “At the time, I didn’t think it was a really big deal. But I knew it was much bigger than me when my dentist told me that his kids loved Thankskilling.”
The movie was so popular that in 2013 the sequel, Thankskilling 3—brilliantly, they skipped the second one—Kickstarted over $300,000 dollars from thousands of donors from all over the world.
If that’s not weird enough, less than a year later, screenwriter David Eck wrote and directed a full-on musical based on the original movie. Fun and irrelevant fact: David Eck also played the bully in five episodes of the ’90s Nickelodeon sitcom, Clarissa Explains it All—his only foray into television and film.
“[Eck] hit me up on Facebook and said he was doing this musical,” said Francis of Eck’s show, which premiered at the iconic, now-closed Balagan Theater in Seattle in 2014. “I heard that the show had done really, really well, so I flew out to catch it in New York and then in Atlanta. Then I just thought it would be the freakin’ best idea to bring it back [here] where the whole thing started.”
Thankskilling the Musical is a juxtaposition of culture, clashing “low art” budget cinema with “high art” musical theater. It’s kind of like a joke within a joke, a social phenomenon taking the stage and poking fun at itself along the way.
“The musical makes it very clear very early on that it is going to be cliché,” said Patrick McGregor, a seasoned comedy director that Francis found to put on the show. “It even has songs in it called, ‘Horror Clichés.’”
He’s right. Some of the up-tempo lyrics include, “when the kids ignore the weird old man/you know that it’s a part of Satan’s plan,” and “when the good girl says she will be right back/you know she’s going to get attacked.”
In case you had any doubt, the musical is not for children or for the politically correct. There are f-bombs, senseless gore, obscene jokes, drug use, and sexual perversion—everything you might expect out of a comedy horror musical.
“It is the most offensive musical I have ever read,” admitted McGregor.
“If you have any inkling that you are going to be offended, you should probably just stay home,” Francis chuckled. “There is no falsifying this, it is intense stuff.”
Let me exemplify the outlandish mood of this musical by ending on a poignant reoccurring lyric sang by the feathered antagonist.
“I’ll run you down like a meth head trucker. Gobble gobble, motherf*ckers.”
Thankskilling the Musical premiers October 21 at the Garden Theater and will run through October 30.
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