Photo: Jordan Downey
Maybe it’s the tryptophan talking, but there just aren’t a lot of Thanksgiving movies to be thankful for. Jordan Downey hoped to change that with ThanksKilling. Made on a barebones budget with a skeleton crew in the backwoods of Ohio, the indie filmmaker cooked up a cult classic that holiday horror fans have scarfed down and come back for seconds.
We spoke with Downey over email about the lack of Thanksgiving movies, his recipe for ThanksKilling and what he’s cooking up next.
Mandatory: Outside of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Thanksgiving movies are often turkeys. Why do you think Thanksgiving often gets overlooked among holiday movies?
Jordan Downey: That’s a good question. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas probably doesn’t help. They’re both arguably more visual in terms of lights, costumes, decorations, and colors, so maybe that’s why filmmakers gravitate toward those instead. It’s also such an American holiday and not something that’s relatable on a universal scale.
What prompted the idea for a killer turkey movie?
I was always really into holiday horror movies when I was growing up. Leprechaun, Jack Frost, and Uncle Sam. In film school, I became friends with Kevin Stewart and we had the bold, crazy idea to shoot a feature film before we graduated college. We’re both horror nerds so it didn’t take long for us to settle on shooting something back in the woods of Ohio, where I’m from. We quickly realized the two neglected holidays in horror films were Easter and Thanksgiving. Standing in the kitchen of our apartment, we started joking around about calling it ThanksKilling and what if the killer was a turkey who could talk with the personality of Freddy (Krueger) meets Cartman? To top it off, his main catchphrase would be “Gobble, Gobble, Motherfucker.” At that point, how could you not make that movie?
We read that you made the movie for $3,500, which is both resourceful and insane.
Resourceful and insane. That basically sums up everything I’ve done up to this point in my career. All the money went to food, gas, special effects, and props.
What’s the one memory you have about the making of ThanksKilling?
I’ll never forget shooting the opening scene months after we shot the rest of the movie. We posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to play the topless pilgrim. Porn star Wanda Lust was the only one to respond. She was game to do it, but we needed a location. We shot that scene in Los Angeles, where it’s harder to find a private patch of forest. So we had the bright idea of shooting in a public park.
What’s the key to making a cult horror film that’s so bad it’s good?
I think they need to have some kind of charm about them, and there have to be those scenes where you just go, “What the fuck!” It’s lightning in a bottle, really. I’m not a fan of winking at the audience, or when they get too bonkers like Sharknado, so I think keeping the characters honest in their world is also important.
You then raised $100K on Kickstarter to make ThanksKilling 3. What was the motivation behind doing a sequel?
There was such a supportive fan base for ThanksKilling that we really wanted to do one more for them. The caveat was we didn’t want to do the same damn thing over again. So it wasn’t until we had the idea to skip a sequel and go straight to ThanksKilling 3 that we felt the same way all over again. Unfortunately, I think we went too far and it got away from the audience of the first one.
You’ve transitioned into more serious horror with your new movie, The Head.
The Head is a horror movie set in medieval times about a lonely warrior who’s waiting for a second chance at the monster who killed his daughter many years ago. It feels kind of like a twisted episode of Tales From the Crypt. Most of The Head was actually funded with money we made from ThanksKilling and by selling props from the movie. So without ThanksKilling, there would be no The Head.
Speaking of Turkie, will he rear his ugly head again or is he cold turkey?
There could be another ThanksKilling at some point. Turkie is certainly not dead.
The Head just screened at The Sitges Film Festival and will be out in Spring 2019. For more information on Downey, visit www.jordan-downey.com.