Tucker & Dale vs Evil

31 Oct

Title: Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Eli Craig
Writers: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: 
Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons
MPAA Rating: 
R, bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity
Runtime: 
89 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
88%

Horror/Comedy films are a tough thing to pull of successfully, and for the most part they either work tremendously well or they don’t at all, because it’s one really fine line for a film to walk, but when they do work, they many times make for a seriously entertaining time. About three weeks ago I saw Burke and Hare, a film directed by no less than the great John Landis and that boasted a cast full of great people, but no even with that pedigree could it strike a great balance of funny and scary, and I ended up giving the film a C+, but then you have the great modern films that have really made it work, like 2009’s Zombieland (which I ranked as the eleventh best film of that year) or, of course, the genre staple, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead (which was my fifth film of that year).

So, as a Halloween morning treat to myself I thought I should go ahead and check out Tucker & Dave vs Evil, a film that wanted to join those great horror/comedy films. And look, this isn’t as great as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but it’s not by much that it misses the high marks left by those two films, as it really manages to find its center, establishing a central plot that holds steady as the filmmakers manage to mine quite a bit of hilarity, scares and, most surprisingly, a fair bit of heart out of it. This is how these films have to be done, you need to identify your central spooky and wacky joke, and get all that you can out of it, and when a movie is done by talented people who really work on it, and has that good-spirited vibe to it, the results will be like the one we got with this film.

Instead of using zombies, like those two great examples of the genre I keep citing did, this one employs the murderous redneck horror movie staple to turn back on its head and mine for some really solid laughs while still keeping the spooky vibe of it all. Because this really is a horror movie cliché, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes are examples of classic horror films that have used this isolated rural setting to get their scares, implying that there’s always something off about the people who inhabit these places that makes you automatically be afraid of them. And this film starts off by following that well-treaded blueprint, as you have a bunch of preppy college kids driving in a van through a hillbilly town, stopping at one of those classic gas stations all these movies have, being looked at really weirdly by the locals in their pickup trucks. Then these kids will put up their campsite in spot where exactly twenty years ago a famous massacre occurred to kids just like them, and of course after hearing such a creepy story they will proceed to do some skinny-dipping because that’s what kids in these movies always do.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil, however, stops the clichés right there, and then proceeds to bust through every single genre convention and imagine a scenario in which the guy playing a banjo was just a guy playing a banjo because he likes music and not because he wants to murder you, and those weird locals are really just normal guys. It takes the set-up it establishes and puts it on its head for some seriously awesome comedic effect. It’s just really cool to see a movie that goes on to show us every cliché in the rulebook for a movie like this and then go ahead and turn the other way, making one of the college kids the only crazy guy in the movie and our two main hillbillies be really good-natured and helpful guys. Those are the titular Tucker and Dale, played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, two guys who mean no harm and just want to go a cabin they just bought and want to refurbish to enjoy a fishing trip.

But what happens is that their cabin is right in front of the campsite of the college kids, and as the latter group goes skinny-dipping, the two hillbillies decide to go for some midnight fishing and scare off a blonde girl that was part of the group of college kids, and as she’s scared she falls into the water and the two guys rescue her unconscious body from the water and get her on their boat. But of course the college kids will think they just kidnapped her, and that’s when the whole movie just goes into overdrive and the real violent fun begins. And it’s just really cool to see how it all plays out, as stuff just keeps going wrong in some really deadly ways for everyone involved and events keep point to the fact that Tucker and Dale probably are the murderous rednecks the kids think they are.

And debut director Eli Craig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Morgan Jurgenson, never once stoops for easy spoofs and laughs, but instead always does a very careful deconstruction of the clichés that really work splendidly well, and even if the college kids never really get to show much depth, that’s okay because this time it’s them that are being seen as caricatures, and it all fits into the mold Mr. Craig is giving us. And Mr. Tudyk, who I’m a big fan of from his work in the Whedonverse, and Mr. Labine do a lot with the material, always working for some really well-deserved laughs and not some cheap ones, and 30 Rock‘s gorgeous Katrina Bowden, who stars as Allison, the blonde girl that the guys rescued, is perfect in her role as well. Tucker & Dale vs Evil really knows how to balance the comedy and the horror, getting one genre to feed the other in their splendid take on the isolated redneck murderous town cliché, a really solid addition to this genre, and a great option for Halloween.

Grade: A-

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