I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck.
Given such a limited release it might as well have been direct to video, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil nevertheless managed to charm on the film festival circuit, and is definitely several tiers above the typical “made for TV” horror out there. While well on its way to achieving cult status, this is still one of those movies that usually elicits a “Huh?” when I reference it.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are a couple of innocent, well-intentioned hillbillies who have recently purchased a ramshackle cabin in the woods. While to the horror savvy it has clearly been a place of madness and murder, in Tucker and Dale’s eyes it’s a rustic fixer-upper and the summer home of their dreams.
On their way out into the woods—loaded down with all of the sharp tools necessary to renovate and refurbish, of course—the pair crosses paths with a group of preppy co-eds. Of course the college kids immediately assume the worst about our golden-hearted rednecks. When one of the girls, Allie (Katrina Bowden), almost drowns at the lake and Dale rushes to her rescue, a terrible misunderstanding ensues with lethal results.
Convinced that the hillbillies have kidnapped their friend and are on the verge of murdering her, the co-eds rush frantically to her rescue. The result is some hysterically accidental (and very gory) mayhem. And then comes the big twist…
Director/writer Eli Craig—fun side fact: Craig is the son of Oscar-winning actress Sally Field—came up with the story during a conversation with a friend after watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What if Leatherface was actually a nice, shy, socially-awkward guy with an overactive chainsaw? What if the dangerous, mutated hillbillies in all of those 70’s and 80’s slasher flicks were just terribly misunderstood and the nubile twentysomethings weren’t seeing the whole picture?
Skewing the perspective and flipping established horror conventions leads to some great black comedy. As things get bloodier, Tucker and Dale become increasingly distraught. “These kids came up here and just started killin’ themselves!” Tucker cries at one point, trying to make sense of the madness. “It’s gotta be some sort of suicide pact!” No matter how hard the pair tries to explain themselves and avoid the co-eds, things get progressively more out of hand.
A very good friend once explained that the difference between parody and homage lies in the degree of respect shown to the source material. For instance: Spaceballs is clearly a parody whereas Galaxy Quest is homage. Tucker and Dale absolutely falls into that latter category—many tropes of the slasher/killer hillbilly genre are lampooned, but never in a malicious or mocking way.
The heroes, especially Dale, are truly heroic. The ever delightful Alan Tudyk plays Tucker with panache, the pseudo-intellectual to Dale’s teddy bear. Confident and assured, he encourages his buddy to pursue his dreams and frequently boosts his confidence. “You’re a good-looking man,” he says. “More or less. And you’ve got a damn good heart.” If you don’t have hearts in your eyes after an exchange like that, you probably don’t have a soul.
Tucker and Dale’s friendship is definitely a highlight; I’m always a sucker for a good bromance. And in a genre that can be grim and nihilistic, that idolizes masculine stoicism, it’s nice to see a pair of pals who aren’t afraid to be emotional and touchy-feely when it counts.
Tyler Labine plays the slightly befuddled Dale wonderfully, giving him just a dash of pathos and self-loathing that makes him feel very real and relatable. “I shoulda known that if a guy like me tried to talk to a girl like you,” he tells love interest Allie, “Somebody’d wind up dead.”
For a splatterstick horror comedy, Tucker and Dale makes some interesting commentary on class conflict. From the moment the two groups meet, Dale is quick to point out that they’re worlds apart. When Tucker urges him to impress Allie by telling her they’ve got a summer home, he responds with, “She’s a college girl. She probably grew up with summer homes and guys like me fixing her toilet.”
The co-eds immediately look down on Tucker and Dale, assuming that they’re the inbred monsters from campfire stories just because they’re rough around the edges. Self-appointed leader Chad (Jesse Moss), who has his own reasons for being distrustful of rednecks, blames our heroes because they’re “the same kind” of people who committed the last Memorial Day Massacre. And of course Chad can’t comprehend why Allie would prefer sweet Dale over him, since he’s the one with the education and money.
With Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, you’ve got your horror, you’ve got your comedy, and you’ve even got some romance. There’s a nice balance of genres, with a cast that’s likeable and capable. If you’re not already a fan of Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, this will make you a believer. A must-see for anyone who enjoys homages and slasher flicks with a twist.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.