Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for great food. The sweet scent of fall turning to winter just around the corner. And in the kitchen, the sound of mom and dad arguing over the burnt turkey while you sit awkwardly with family you hardly ever see and count down the minutes until you get that slice of pumpkin pie and can be excused. For many of us, that’s about as bad as Thanksgiving gets, but in Derelicts, playing at the Philadelphia Unnamed Film Festival (PUFF) in September, things take a MUCH darker turn…
…Directed by Brett Glassberg (ABC’s of Death 2.5 segment M is for Mind Meld) and written by Glassberg, Andre Evrenos & Clay Shirley, Derelicts takes what would be your average, uncomfortable Thanksgiving and transforms it into a depraved seizure of blood and gore when a group of “derelicts” interrupt the evening with the intent of eating, drinking, and giving thanks by killing everyone at the table.
I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more Thanksgiving themed horror films. It’s the perfect catalyst as a day that revolves around traditions based off of grisly history and forces family together to celebrate, often resulting in the divulging of secrets and pent up anger from one family member towards another (at least that’s how some of mine went). But outside of films like Thankskilling and Blood Rage (not exactly supreme classics), there just isn’t much out there for horror fans to justify watching on Thanksgiving while the rest of the family snoozes to the parade on TV in the other room. I’m thrilled to say that Derelicts is the Thanksgiving horror film to end all Thanksgiving horror films.
Derelicts is a feast of style, combining elements which would fit perfectly into the exploitation era of the 70s with a pseudo Tarantino vibe. No, I’m not saying that Glassberg is the next Quentin Tarantino, but the influences are certainly there. All throughout are characters who deliver epic speeches, dramatic slow motion, and out of place though just right music by Joe Stacey. Glassberg brings his own unique flavor to the film though through hyperactive editing by Matt Stryker which at times can make you feel like your brain is on fire in the best possible way. But Glassberg also knows when to ease up on the pacing, taking things nice and slow during some of the more dramatic moments.
And believe me when I say, there are plenty of those types of moments. I don’t think anyone in the cast is going to win an award for their performance, but everyone does a great job with their characters, and a lot of that can be attributed to the script, which offers plenty of substance behind these people. The “guests”, led by Cap (Les Best) are quite possibly the most depraved and insane “family” since the Firefly family of The Devil’s Rejects, with elements of the Manson family as well, only these people are arguably even more degenerate and nastier, appearing as if they haven’t showered for years. Each of the “guests” are unique from each other and well designed, with Turk (Evrenos) standing out the most as a childish lunatic that wears a whole pink teddy bear as a mask, which gives him an outrageously creepy appearance. Visually, Turk stands out the most, but each actor/actress delivers an intimidating performance good enough to make anyone squirm in their seats.
On the other side of the table are our “heroes”, a family which is not as different from their guests as they may like to believe, each with their own dark side and pent up feelings towards each other. Their secrets don’t go wasted either, with each and every one of them playing a significant role in the development of the plot. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a single unnecessary character moment in the too short run time of seventy minutes, which is actually pretty remarkable for a first-time feature director such as Glassberg. All of this makes for a delicious helping of conflict that would make Derelicts worth watching even if it wasn’t a horror film.
But don’t worry, because Derelicts is indeed one messed up horror flick. It’s like a fever dream of moral depravity. Just when you think things can’t get even more fucked up than they already are, Glassberg asks the audience to hold his beer and takes us down one sick, unexpected turn after the other. While I wouldn’t necessarily deem Derelicts as scary, there is plenty to scream about in terms of the events which are taking place throughout this Thanksgiving meal from hell. But what’s so incredible is how Glassberg displays real talent by presenting some of the more grotesque circumstances with taste, choosing to take the path of subtlety when necessary, and go for the gusto when it matters most.
As for the gusto, aka the gore and effects, Derelicts is a must for gorehounds. With so many bodies to be disposed of, (6 family members to the “guests” 5), some of you may be disappointed at how rare the truly great effects appear, but there are a few, one involving perhaps the most disgusting eye gag since Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, that you have to see to believe. Unfortunately, outside of one or two examples, the inventiveness of the kills don’t often match some of the grislier, more torturous moments, but that can be forgiven as it’s all done with fun entertainment in mind and effective nonetheless.
Being a low budget film, Derelicts is guilty of the average poor lighting and cheap (by comparison to studio films) look, but Glassberg’s script and directorial touch manages to draw the audience away from focusing on such minor things. My one complaint, however, is that, while Derelicts has a fun yet grisly nature with an intriguing director behind it, the film severely lacks in the terror department. I know, I know, how does that make sense for a film which I’ve just described as full of so much grotesque lunacy? The film is abundant in tension and the uneasy anticipation of what is to come next, but in moments when the horror should be at its peak, such as when characters manage to escape and hide or worse, are killed off, that tension dissipates, instead playing the moments as more fun that frightening. And they are fun, extremely fun, but Derelicts isn’t the kind of film that is going to make you clutch your seat with sweaty palms, though it may cause you to occasionally look away.
Maybe you’re not like me and you haven’t been craving a new Thanksgiving horror film, but if you’re into depraved horror, I’m confident that Derelicts has the potential to become that classic you put on after stuffing your face full of turkey. Glassberg is a new voice to keep an eye on. With a surprise ending that is the whipped cream on a blood and guts pie, Derelicts will have you going back to the table for seconds. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait long before Glassberg returns, maybe with another underused holiday as the basis for a horror film (cough Easter cough).
At this time, there is no release date for Derelicts, but you can catch it playing at PUFF on September 7th by getting your tickets here.
By Matt Konopka