Thankskilling is an awful movie. You might think that's a given, since it's about a five-hundred-and-five-year-old psychopathic turkey who stalks and kills teenagers. But there's a huge difference between entertainingly bad films and ones that make you feel every second of their excruciating run-times. I've been working on a theory about what separates the two, and Thankskilling helped me codify it.
It all boils down to intent. My brother recommended this movie to me, proclaiming it better than The Room--which is, as far as I'm concerned, the high-bar of low quality. Writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau's epic drama about betrayal was meant to be an emotional masterpiece for the ages; but because the auteur had no idea what he was doing, it became a midnight-movie laughingstock. Of course, I can't prove that Wiseau's claims that he'd meant to make a comedy all along are false, but the proof is in the film itself: The Room is ninety hilarious minutes of happy accidents stemming from a complete lack of self-awareness.
On the flip side of that coin, you have Jordan Downey, a twenty-one-year-old kid who raised $3500 to shoot a horror/comedy. Horror/comedy is an extremely difficult genre to get right; most creators fuck up one of the two key elements, meaning the end result is neither funny nor scary. Downey takes the "Intentionally Bad" route here. He and co-writers Kevin Stewart, Brad Schulz, Anthony Wilson and Grant Yaffee cast bad actors, employ cheesy special effects, and rely on kitschy synth music to recall 80s slasher movies. The result is supposed to be funny just because it's ridiculous, but the filmmakers' lack of focus--indeed, their apparent refusal to try to write anything that's actually amusing--makes the whole movie pointless from frame one.
To show you what I mean, let's break down the opening scene, which takes place "a few minutes after the first Thanksgiving dinner":
We open on a full-screen naked breast and pull back to reveal a busty pilgrim (porn star Wanda Lust) running through the woods. She's in the traditional black dress, but for some reason, her boobs spill out of the top. After a few minutes of frantic looking around, she's assaulted by the killer turkey--a shoddily crafted hand puppet who sounds alternately like Dane Cook doing Ghetto Voice and a nobody doing Movie Trailer Voice into a $3 microphone. Before he chops her to death, he yells, "Nice tits, bitch!"
The scene is devoid of style and suspense, and forces the viewer to ask way too many questions during the action. Whatever we're meant to get out of the movie's first three minutes, laughs and scares aren't on the list.
We fast forward to present day and meet our protagonists. They're a Saved By the Bell sampling of stupid American kids, a group so generic that the credits actually list an archetype next to the characters' names (for example, Lance Predmore plays Johnny "The Jock" and Lindsey Anderson plays Kristen "The Good Girl"--rounding out the group are a nerd, a hick, and a slut). This partying body-count takes a road trip and gets sidetracked when Johnny's jeep overheats. They set up camp in some nearby woods and encounter the resurrected turkey, who sprung up from the earth after being peed on by a dog.
The rest of the movie sees the kids stalked and eviscerated by the bird, who acts as a cross between Freddy Krueger and the Leprechaun--minus the originality or humor. He bursts out of the hick's considerable stomach with a "Gobble, gobble, motherfucker!" and sodomizes the easy girl before snapping her neck ("You just got stuffed!"). By the end of the film, he's taken the skin of Lindsey's sheriff dad (Chuck Lamb) as a mask and been made super-strong by a dip in a vat of radioactive goo. All of this happens over the course of the longest sixty minutes I've spent watching any movie.
Before you accuse me of being humorless, let me say that I think Thankskilling could have actually worked. The key would have been making a straight horror movie with comedic touches (like the later Nightmare on Elm Street films), instead of peppering the story with stale Bugs-Bunny nonsense; like none of the characters recognizing the turkey because he's wearing the sheriff's skin; or the turkey's mythical teepee that pops up out of nowhere. There's nothing that says a killer-turkey movie has to be ridiculous on its face, given horror's rich history of murderous animals; but pulling that off requires a good deal of talent and drive--none of which is evident here.
Which leads me to question why Downey and company bothered making this movie in the first place. I saw a video in which the director begs fans to help fund a Thankskilling sequel; he wants to raise $100,000 in order to do it right. This says, essentially, that the original was thrown together on a lark, to cash in on the "so-bad-it's-good" craze. It's Downey's admission that anyone who paid to see his movie is a sucker. It'd be like me charging $10 for this review and sending you a two-word critique after getting the cash.
So for all you aspiring filmmakers out there, let me offer this piece of advice: If you want to make a horror movie, make a horror movie; if you're into comedy, make a comedy; if you want to make a horror/comedy, research your ass off. Don't watch other horror/comedies (especially not this one) because there are only two people on the planet who understand the tricky hybrid-genre well enough to pull it off--and, I'm sorry, but you're neither Peter Jackson nor Sam Raimi (not yet, anyway).
Hire the most talented actors you can find. Casting bad actors or friends who think they can perform will only piss your audience off after the first five minutes. The same goes for your special effects crew: horror fans won't stand for shoddy kills in their movies unless they're way over-the-top; and you can't substitute cheap camp for over-the-top in every scene. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please return your video equipment to Best Buy and consider accounting.
Lastly, just be honest with yourself. If you can say that your script (assuming there is one) is the smartest, funniest/scariest piece of writing you could ever hope to shoot, then by all means, go ahead and make your masterpiece. But if you're taking the "Let's get a couple more shots in on the way to the party" approach, you're wasting a lot of peoples' time and money. Making a movie for $3500 is only something to brag about if the audience doesn't walk away thinking, "Yeah, that sounds about right."