Tucker & Dale vs. Evil Review

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil has everything fans of Hicksploitation horror want in a movie: filthy rednecks half naked co-eds, with copious amounts of blood and body parts thrown in for good measure. It’s the story of college students who go on a camping trip and wind up fighting for their lives against backwoods murderers…

Behold the face of... a couple good ol' boys doing a little night fishin'

And if it actually was just that, and only that, I most likely wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not that I have a problem with a blood-soaked romp in the woods. It’s just a story I’ve seen too many times, and too often, with very little imagination applied to the model. However, I caught this underrecognized gem at last year's Screamfest LA, and Ido recommend it, highly so, because it is a savage and savvy comedy; and while director Eli Craig keeps things focused on the horror, action and humor, the film has both a message and a strong emotional core as well.

As a first time (feature) director, Eli Craig hits the ground running

What “T&DvE really is (for lack of a better pigeonhole) is a classic mistaken identity comedy by way of a “from the killer’s point of view” thriller. Tucker and Dale are a couple of rural, “good ol’ boy” types who have, after years of hard work and saving, finally bought a vacation home - which is more or less a creepy shack that looks as if, at one time, it was home to a family of chainsaw-wielding cannibals. On their inaugural visit, they cross paths in the parking lot of a general store with the aforementioned college students, who misinterpret the duo’s initial apprehension, and Dale’s schoolboy shyness, as “creepy” behavior. In other words, the kids decide on the spot that our heroes are Jason Voorhies and Leatherface analogs come to life. When it appears that the boys kidnap one of the hapless co-eds while she’s skinny-dipping, the rest spring into action to “save” her.

Left to right: Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine)

Make no mistake - it’s a bloodbath of a film that plays out, note for note, very much like a genre piece. I bring up this caveat because I don’t want my talk of the film’s strengths to be taken as my endorsement for a general audience. While I do think it has a broader appeal as a splatter-comedy in the vein of Evil Dead II, those with more conservative palettes and parents with small children need not apply. Perhaps the best analogy is that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is to Friday the 13th what Shaun of the Dead is to Night of the Living Dead - a parody that operates on a level that other spoofs of the milieu rarely achieve. That said, it also has a nice message about judging a book by its cover, with a dash of love story cleverly disguised as a horror film. As grisly as it is, all of the violence in the film is self-inflicted by the hands of people intent on harming the innocent. So in that way, it’s a lot like classic Yosemite Sam cartoons.

A bewildered Tucker tries to process why a college student might want to throw himself into a wood chipper

The strong comedic acting performances are another reason to like this film. Having played memorable supporting characters popcult/scifi properties like I, Robot and the Firefly franchise, Tudyk is most likely familiar to the target audience. However, much like his turn in Death at a Funeral (you know - the good version), Tucker is not just a funny role in a quality script, it’s another role that shows off his range. Actually, he’s a lot like Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace (in overalls and a flannel shirt rather than a fine tailored suit): the idea is that he’s set up as the straight man, but he does it so well that many of the big laughs come from his bewildered, even horrified, reaction to a vacation gone wrong - dialed to 11.

The only thing Dale intends to use that chainsaw for is... cutting wood

Tyler Labine demonstrates similar range. Often cast as the kind of guy who starts 90% of his sentences with “Um…” Dale is a character who might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it’s out of naiveté , and not from overindulging in weed, or adult-onset Diminished Mental Capacity. Additionally, 30 Rock supporting cast member, Katrina Bowden steps into a leading role that is not just a subversion of the “damsel in distress” convention, but like Elizabeth Banks or Rachel McAdams, she’s a beauty with comedic chops as well.

When I say "I want to see more from Katrina Bowden," I really do mean movies

I do have one critique, and it’s that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is in almost criminally limited release (and took over a year to get there) - particularly in the Los Angeles area, where it’s only playing at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, beginning this Friday, September 30th. It is playing an additional, midnight show (well, the start time is listed as 11:45 pm) at the Art Theatre in Long Beach October 7th.

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