The 10 Best Thanksgiving Horror Movies

If there's a holiday, there's probably a horror movie about it. Halloween is obviously the top dog, with plenty of solid options even beyond John Carpenter's seminal classic, but it doesn't stand alone. There are lots of Christmas-themed horror flicks, too, including enduring favorites like "Black Christmas" and "Krampus." The Fourth of July practically mandates a rewatch of "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Valentine's Day, of course, has its own early-'00s slasher.

Yet, likely by dint of its proximity to Christmas, filmmakers have gone cold turkey when it comes to serving up a heaping platter of Thanksgiving-related horror. It's inexplicable, too, given just how fruitful — and terrifying — the thought of family members both old and new gathering in one place really is. Dramas like "Pieces of April" and comedies like "The Oath" relish in Thanksgiving discomfort, but the horror genre is strangely resistant. 

Sure, some horror classics, like "You're Next," are quasi-Thanksgiving fare, but certainly not in name. As a result, the holiday is in desperate need of new blood. Thankfully, there are a handful of unsung Thanksgiving horror films that are more than worth consuming alongside mountains of potatoes and seas of gravy. While some of them are turkeys in their own right, they all have an inimitable charm, largely on account of their moxie. Finally, Thanksgiving is as terrifying in the movies as it's always been in real life.

10. Blood Freak

What happens when a Vietnam veteran becomes accidently addicted to marijuana after sexy young coeds seduce him, decides to taste-test chemically-enhanced turkeys to support his habit, and then dies and is resurrected as a murderous psychopath with the body of a man and head of a bird? To find out, look no further than Brad Grinter's "Blood Freak," a lowbrow, exploitative drive-in effort full of poultry heads run amok.

"Blood Freak" feels worrisomely improvised. While it appears to be a movie in shape and form, it never really behaves like one. Instead, it struts to a rhythm all its own, offering a kind of inimitable weirdness that's likely to appeal to the gore nuts out there, but probably not anyone else. Sure, its killer is a giant turkey man; for Thanksgiving, it's hard to get more festive than that. But why watch the carnage here when "Girls Nite Out" did more or less the same thing more successfully years later, albeit with a villain wearing a bear mascot costume, and not a mutant turkey?

9. ThanksKilling

Jordan Downey's "ThanksKilling" isn't a good movie, although there's an argument to be made that it's so bad it's good. It does waddle into some compelling indie film territory, raising questions about whether a knowingly-bad movie should be judged like a regular film, or whether the intentional low quality means that it actually fulfilled its mission. The creators behind this $3,500 schlockfest certainly had their hearts in the right place. As Downey, a Loyola Marymount University alum, told his alma mater's student paper, The Los Angeles Loyolan, "We were watching a cheesy horror film and started talking about what holidays hadn't been done in horror movies yet, and Thanksgiving was the most prominent one."

He's right. In horror, Thanksgiving hasn't been done often enough. Whether the film's "South Park"-lite humor will work for anyone but the most devoted fans of carnage is an open question, though this story about a demonic turkey who specifically slaughters white people does offer up some exploitative fun. It's not great, and it will only appeal to a very specific demographic, but in the canon of Thanksgiving horror, "ThanksKilling" and its sequel self-aware sequel "ThanksKilling 3" both deserve a mention.

8. Home Sweet Home

Much like "ThanksKilling," Nettie Peña's "Home Sweet Home" isn't exactly great, though it endures as a laudable bit of horror history. It was directed by a woman and earned the horror badge of honor: being labeled a "video nasty" by Mary Whitehouse and the United Kingdom's Video Recordings Act 1984. Beyond that, there isn't a lot to say about "Home Sweet Home." Sure, it features scream queen Vinessa Shaw in her film debut, but it's a third-rate film. Unless you're a diehard slasher fan or a completionist, it's about as good as you'd expect for a movie about a drug-addled killer who slices up naked young women at Thanksgiving.

Yet, to her credit, Peña does accomplish some of what Amy Holden Jones did with "The Slumber Party Massacre." During the heyday of slashers, the horror genre was principally male-dominated. If nothing else, it's a remarkable curiosity to see the carnage and exploitation unfold from a distinctly feminine perspective. That's not enough to make "Home Sweet Home" anything more than a Thanksgiving oddity, but an oddity it is. Sometimes, that's enough.

7. Séance

A diehard fan might rattle off the names of some of these Thanksgiving horror films with ease, but for general audiences, "Séance" might inspire more confusion than acknowledgement. Released direct to DVD in 2008, Mark L. Smith's Thanksgiving-set paranormal thriller unfortunately missed the early '00s' preoccupation with supernatural horror. Had it arrived sooner, it might have had more of a chance at success. At the very least, the high-concept synopsis would have had it flying off of video rental store shelves: Five friends left alone in their dorms over the Thanksgiving break inadvertently summon inhuman spirits after screwing around with a Ouija board.

"Séance" looks, sounds, and acts like a direct-to-DVD horror movie. However, like the other entries on this list, it's set at Thanksgiving, and that alone makes it stand out. It's a more assured production than "Home Sweet Home" or "ThanksKilling," and will likely appeal to a broader audience on account of its emphasis on atmosphere over gore. Still, Gregory Jacobs' "Wind Chill," which came out a year earlier and stars none other than Emily Blunt, delivered claustrophobic holiday horrors much more successfully.

6. Black Friday

Casey Tebo's "Black Friday," a fun alien invasion flick that merges the likes of "The Thing" with some socially-aware, consumerist terror, is the most recent entry on this list. Devon Sawa stars as Ken, one of many miserable associates working at We Love Toys, a fictional (and unfortunately sparse, likely on account of the film's budget) retailer on Thanksgiving evening. The early comedic beats are broad, yet land successfully. Anyone who has had to leave Thanksgiving dinner early for a shift at the mall will empathize with Ken's ennui. Further, once the carnage starts, "Black Friday" narrows its focus well, delivering some worthwhile gore and genuine suspense.

As it nears its end, "Black Friday" gets a little too big for its britches, aspiring to more than its modest budget can achieve. Overall, though, it's a fun outing featuring a great assemblage of horror staples, including Sawa, Bruce Campbell, and Michael Jai White. While the holiday angle is somewhat lost as the movie progresses, it's niche horror within niche horror, and incredibly fun horror at that.

5. Pilgrim

"Pilgrim," a feature-length entry in Hulu and Blumhouse's "Into the Dark" anthology series, is very much a Marcus Dunstan production. For those unfamiliar with Dunstan, he's the man behind the camera for films like "The Collector," and the scribe for several later "Saw" entries, as well as the ludicrously-titled "Piranha 3DD." In "Pilgrim," parents Anna (Courtney Henggeler) and Shane (Kerr Smith) hire a troupe of Pilgrim reenactors to spruce up their Thanksgiving celebration, much to the chagrin of teenage Cody (Reign Edwards), a young woman who (rightfully) remarks that the holiday is basically a celebration of genocide.

The tone of "Pilgrim" vacillates wildly, especially once the reenactors start succumbing to their more sinister inclinations. It's funny and disturbing in equal measure. While the film is never quite sure whether it wants to be a socially conscious interrogation of antiquated ideals or another home invasion shocker, Dunstan's efforts are worthwhile, even if his work here isn't likely to win him any new converts.

4. Boogeyman

Stephen Kay's "Boogeyman" was trashed when it was first released. While it managed a respectable $67 million box office haul — enough to warrant two direct-to-video sequels— the film was a critical failure. It arrived several years earlier than "Séance," but it was saddled with the same main complaint: In trying to capitalize on the supernatural, J-horror-inspired craze of the time, "Boogeyman" failed to offer anything new to anyone with even a modicum of cinematic horror experience. However, while contemporary critics may not have been kind, "Boogeyman" was considerably ahead of its time, a trauma-informed supernatural spookshow with a pretty terrifying central villain.

Tim Jensen's (Barry Watson) father was taken by the titular boogeyman when he was young, and as he prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving with his new girlfriend's family, Tim is drawn to his childhood home to face down the supernatural threat once and for all. The opening scene is terrifying; while the film peaks there, Kay has a lot more fun in store. The Thanksgiving element is little more than window dressing, but it does lend the film a certain solemn gravitas, with Tim wandering through empty fields and chilly playgrounds, grappling with the demons he thought he left behind. "Boogeyman" isn't a masterpiece, but it deserves a reevaluation.

3. Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

"Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County" is a remake of Dean Alioto's 1989 found footage shocker "The McPherson Tapes." While neither "The McPherson Tapes" nor "Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County" have the name recognition as some other found footage horror heavyweights, it's worth acknowledging that they were some of the first, and truly, some of the best. While Alioto returned to direct "Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County," he did so with professional actors, a higher budget, and a UPN distribution deal. Not a bad deal for an alien invasion shocker.

In both versions, pseudo-narration and footage contends the footage audiences are about to see is real, genuine proof of extraterrestrial life, proof captured at the expense of the titular McPherson family. As the family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner, they're plagued by weird phenomenon resulting from an alien invasion near their homestead. While the framework and structure had been done before—most successfully with BBC's "Ghostwatch"—it works remarkably well here. Unlike more contemporary found footage horror films, both versions feel real. They're obviously not, but it's a nice throwback to the days where found footage genuinely purported to have been found.

2. Blood Rage

"Blood Rage" probably has the honor of being the most revisited Thanksgiving slasher around. While it's not quite the best, it's a gonzo, gory extravaganza that features more practical effects than audiences can shake a turkey leg at. John Grissmer's holiday classic follows Lousie Lasser's Maddy and her adult son, Terry (Mark Soper), as Maddy's other child, Todd, returns to their apartment complex and murders everyone who crosses his path. See, years prior, Terry framed his twin brother for the murder of a teenager, and Todd was committed to an asylum. Now, he's back for revenge.

With a charming low-budget feel and a cameo from horror stalwart Ted Raimi, "Blood Rage" is, well, all the rage. It's a grindhouse classic, and a movie that is knowingly in on the joke. Everything in it is operatic and soapy, although the blood spills in earnest, with hatchets and carving forks being just a few of Todd's tools of destruction. It's not Thanksgiving without a little serving of "Blood Rage."

1. Kristy

Oliver Blackburn's "Kristy" isn't simply the best Thanksgiving horror movie. Festive tidings or not, it's also a solid, unrelenting slasher bolstered by a fierce and immensely physical Haley Bennett in the starring role. Here, Bennett plays Justine, a college student left alone in her dorm over the long Thanksgiving break. She can't afford the flight home, so she heads to a nearby convenience store to pick up some sad girl dinner, only to be accosted by a criminal gang led by "Twilight" star Ashley Greene. The perps keep calling Justine "Kristy" and follow her home, murdering anyone in their way as they pursue her through the abandoned campus.

It's primetime slasher material, and Blackburn makes great use of the college campus' scale to accelerate the tension. It all makes "Kristy" a more kinetic, larger-scale take on Bryan Bertino's "The Strangers." Sure, "Kristy" explains a little more, delving into snuff film territory that it never really commits to, but that's a small quibble when the rest of the film is so accomplished. "Kristy" isn't just the best Thanksgiving horror movie — it's one of this century's best slashers, period.