This weekend Lifetime rolled out its latest original movie, Turkey Hollow. Based on a story written by Jim Henson in 1968*, it centers on the Emmerson family — dad Ron and his kids, Tim and Annie — who arrive in the tiny town of Turkey Hollow to spend Thanksgiving with Ron's Aunt Cly. While there, they find themselves investigating the legend of a mysterious creature in the woods and unexpectedly trying to help Cly out of a tough spot.
Turkey Hollow boasts some big names in its cast — Oscar winner(!) Mary Steenburgen plays Cly, Better Off Ted's Jay Harrington plays Ron, Genevieve Buechner of the legitimately great Lifetime show UnReal plays Annie; plus there are puppets by the Jim Henson Company. It sounds like a perfect warm-and-fuzzy holiday movie, right?
Don't be fooled. Turkey Hollow is a horror story.
The town of Turkey Hollow hides terrible secrets
On its face, Turkey Hollow might seem like a benign, albeit quirky, small town, like a Stars Hollow on the opposite side of the country. But dig a little deeper, and you'll realize that in this place, nothing is as it seems.
Citizens are isolated with no cellphone or internet service. There's a medieval code of justice under which debts that go unpaid for two days result in the forfeiture of all the debtor's property.
The local gift shops peddle a product called "Hoodoo Doodoo," named for the Howling Hoodoo, which is either a mythical beast that haunts the woods or a lie invented by the townspeople to hoodwink tourists into buying tacky T-shirts.
And then there's the town sheriff, who sexually harasses Aunt Cly, who can't even open the door to her own home without him leering at her — and makes a habit of trying to spook newcomers with tales of a personal Hoodoo encounter.
But he's not even the worst of the bunch.
The Emmersons are threatened by a villainous factory farmer
Evil personified exists in Turkey Hollow in the form of Eldridge Sump (Linden Banks), a turkey farmer and Cly's neighbor.
You can tell he's evil because he refers to Cly as a "tree-hugging, hemp-growing, socialist witch," and also because while he insists his turkeys are all natural he's secretly pumping them full of freaky, hormone-laden Russian bird food.
When Tim accidentally lets a bunch of Sump's prize birds escape, Sump tells Aunt Cly she's on the hook for $10,000, which she has to cough up in two days or forfeit her own farm. Unluckily for Sump, his turkeys are so addicted to the chemicals he's been feeding them that they all return for their fix — so in order to keep his claim on Cly's farm, he hides the birds in a shed deep in the woods.
But that's not all that's rotten in Turkey Hollow.
Something is very wrong in the woods
Aunt Cly's late husband knew something wasn't right about Turkey Hollow, but he went to his grave unable to convince even his own wife of the truth. And when Tim and Annie head into the woods to find proof of the Howling Hoodoo to claim a $10,000 reward, it doesn't take them long to realize their great-uncle wasn't crazy.
Something unnatural is lurking in the woods. The trees move.
The pumpkins are about to become sentient.
And the moss sometimes takes the form of Grammy-winning rappers.
And then there are these ... things:
Are they aliens? Mutants? Monsters? Tim and Annie conclude (on some sketchy evidence) that they're the last and came from the "Stump of Unknown Depths," which is a hollow stump casually chilling in the woods that happens to lead to another world. These things also eke out a living by performing as a woodland barbershop quartet and subsist on rocks.
Apparently the recession hit Turkey Hollow hard.
Ron's parental neglect puts his children in danger
Ron and his wife are newly divorced, and while he is initially presented as a caring father who's looking to bond with his children, his true motivations are soon revealed: He's brought his kids to this incredibly dangerous town in order to leave them in Cly's care while he neglects them in favor of his one true love: work.
He constantly humiliates his daughter by using her childhood nickname, refuses to help his son read, and hogs the only phone line in the house with his work laptop.
Plus, observe his total non-reaction when Cly tells him his children are missing:
In his relentless focus on work, he's failed to notice that his children have gone on a dangerous mission. When Annie and Tim stumble on Eldridge Sump's dastardly secret, Sump orders his lackeys to hide them in his shed with his creepy addict birds.
In the struggle, the love of Annie's life is cruelly murdered.
Then it falls to Cly to rescue the kids, summoning their new alien/mutant/monster friends with a magical keytar built by her husband.
She forces the creatures to break the kids out of their prison by chewing through the rock wall of the shed, screaming at them, "It’s Thanksgiving! You gotta eat till you pop!"
And therein lies the moral of the story.
At heart, this film is a morality tale about the sin of overindulgence
Annie and Tim should have seen the writing on the wall: As soon as they arrived on Cly's doorstep, their great-aunt admonishes Ron for feeding them bacon cheeseburgers and hot dogs, claiming she can "smell it" on them and that it's made them turn out funny-looking.
She insists on feeding them desserts made with beets and tea filled with weird herbal supplements (which she also occasionally uses as a weapon).
Meat is murder, Turkey Hollow declares, and Eldridge Sump is punished for providing his tainted poultry to the masses — the same way the rest of us meat-eating savages will be come Thanksgiving Day.
His lackeys Buzz and Junior get their just deserts too, in a visit from the Howling Hoodoo — which, like the Vincent Adultman of mythical creatures, is actually just the four little monsters stacked on top of each other.
Only after Annie and Tim decide they "never want to look at a turkey again" can they sit down for a nice (vegan) Thanksgiving meal and a happy ending — if you can call it that.
And that, friends, is the terrifying tale of how Turkey Hollow turns everyone into a vegetarian. Hope you like Tofurkey!
Turkey Hollow airs Sunday, November 22, at 5 pm on Lifetime; full details are available at Lifetime's website.
*Henson's 1968 idea made it to the puppet creation stage and then stalled, eventually becoming a graphic novel in 2014 and, now, the fine piece of cinema provided by Lifetime.