When I saw the posters around town for Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, I probably had the same reaction as everyone: How long before a Jim Henson hologram shows up at a hipster music festival? I was taken by surprised when it showed up on my various social media accounts with friends, internet friends, and a few confused sexbots sat down to watch something strange unfold. It was a perfect target for the kind of trainwreck fascination-watching that Lifetime has accepted as an integral part of the brand. You had a family-friendly plot, overzealous lighting, a former movie star, and a pop culture juggernaut’s name to slap on the whole thing to give it legitimacy.
The idea of Lifetime doing a movie like this probably struck a few people as odd, but long time readers will know that this is part of the new age of Lifetime. These people make a Stephen King adaptation. They hired Lindsay Lohan. They’re fucking crazy. I realize I just talked about the Lifetime network like they’re the guy in the corner of the bar who’s missing his nose and chalking a pool cue on someone’s eye socket, but the point stands.
Here’s the thing: Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow is a deeply strange movie, and it’s even stranger when viewed against the rich tapestry that is the Lifetime Network Movie Universe, but not for the reasons casual Lifetime viewers might think. In that way, it’s a lot like Gladiator, which was historically accurate in all the ways most people think were just made up, and just made up in the places people think it was historically accurate. Maybe Lifetime is turning into Commodus before our very eyes.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, and are familiar with it only through the nightmarish posters plastered at your better-lit bus stops, yes, this movie has muppets in it. Four muppets, who in a third act plot twist, turn out to be a fuzzy version of Voltron. Newly divorced dad Ron takes his kids, Annie and Tim to stay with his gruff, New Agey Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen) over the holidays in Turkey Hollow, the turkey capital of the world, which is the same chunk of British Columbia where Lifetime shoots all its movies. Tim is instantly enamored with the local legend of the hideous howling hoodoo, which is something like if those messin’ with sasquatch ads ever turns into a Taken situation.
Turns out dead Uncle Ned was also obsessed with finding the hoodoo, which Tim learns after raiding the old man’s workshop. Aunt Cly warns Tim away from all this rather creepily, which makes no sense in light of the third act reveal that she knew what’s going on the woods this whole time. Cly is also super into being vegan and having a reaction to technology that makes the Amish look like Daft Punk.
Tim goes out at night to find the hoodoo, but accidentally releases the neighbor’s turkeys, which puts Aunt Cly in debt for about ten grand. Luckily, there’s a reward from a local tabloid: one picture of the hoodoo for, you guessed it, ten grand. Instead of the hoodoo, he finds four creatures that look a bit like if you gave a weasel meth and then stuck it in the dryer for an hour or so. These creatures match up to the weird sound effects in Uncle Ned’s journal. They’re also the hoodoo, but we don’t find that out later.
Anyway, the evil neighbor farmer was feeding the turkeys weird Russian chemical food, which causes the turkeys to come home. He still tries to defraud Aunt Cly out of her property though. He also captures the kids snooping around and tries to give them amnesia with cattle prods. Eventually, family wins out as Cly, Ron, and the monsters find the kids, get proof the evil turkey farmer was trying to scam everyone, and settle down to a vegan Thanksgiving meal with 400% more monsters than anyone was expecting.
Also, Ludacris narrates the whole thing with the same engagement of a man ordering his fifth tuna-on-rye sandwich of the week. He’s the Aubrey Plaza in Grumpy Cat of this installment, minus the layer of postmodern irony.
The first and most obviously strange part of Turkey Hollow is that it’s not a horror movie. I’ve talked a great deal in the past of how Lifetime produces horror films, though unlike theatrical horror, which is made for young men, these are for middle-aged women. While there are a few stabs at horror, with the monster in the woods and the missing kids, this is more a family movie than anything else. Not too surprising when you learn director Kirk Thatcher is mostly known for kids’ TV, and for playing the punk on the bus in Star Trek IV Spock neck-pinches.
Still, that doesn’t capture the top spot for weird in this movie. Alert readers probably already picked it up. The movie features a heroic divorced husband. Wrap your brain around that. While Ron is far from perfect, the movie is about him reconnecting with his kids, and becoming a better father for it. He was “cleaned out” in the divorce, but there’s no other reference to it or the marital troubles behind it. You’d think they’d slip something in there about him banging his secretary or something, but nope. While Aunt Cly supplies the cold older lady to the narrative — although the script raises a few eyebrows at her wacky veganism — Ron is the character who changes and grows throughout the movie.
Lastly, the movie features a ham-handed defense of magic. Understanding things rationally is bad, Turkey Hollow tells us. We should be open to the supernatural. Like any narrative with this message, the movie stacks the deck by featuring things which not only don’t exist, but can’t, unless someone is hiding Voltron Meth Weasels from me this whole time. Its unbearable smugness, common among believers, is the one thing that sours the experience.
So what did we learn? If you think the forest is haunted by monsters, it totally is. Also, if you want runaway turkeys to come home, you should be feeding them nuclear chemicals.