Original US release date: September 30, 2011
Production budget: $5,000,000
Worldwide gross: $4,749,516
There have been many horror-comedies throughout the years, but none (that I’ve seen) like director and co-writer Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Playing as part sendup of, and part homage to, the classic backwoods horror films of the seventies and eighties (ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the film tells the story of a group of college students who head to the woods for a debauchery-filled excursion only to run into a pair of menacing hillbillies who seem up to no good. Well . . . that’s kind of the story. That’s the story from the perspective of the college students. But, unlike every other film of this kind, this narrative is told from the perspective of the hillbillies, Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, respectively), as they have innocently made their way to Tucker’s cabin in the woods for some fishing and old-fashioned outdoor work.
I used the word “sendup” because, though the film is unquestionably a comedy, it stops short of being a parody. Craig has no intention of making fun of the classic horror films that so many grew up on and hold dear in their hearts. This is just a comedic take with a twist. So, no worries about this being another version of a Scary Movie film. It’s not even close. While those movies are rife with easy, brainless, lowest-common-denominator “humor” (I liked the first one. The rest were awful.), Tucker & Dale relies on situational comedy, a fresh angle, clever twists, and a perfect cast.
A while back, I did a column entitled Interlude – Top Five Favorite Comedies. Now, I feel bad about it. Because I had forgotten about this film and there is no doubt it is one of the five funniest films I’ve ever seen. As much as the movie has in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from a thematic and narrative perspective, from the filmmaking point of view, it has much more in common with Clue. The film isn’t about jokes. It’s about humor coming from absurd situations and then the characters’ reactions to them. The events that play out in the film, one after the other, are even almost plausible if you take them one at a time. I suppose in order for them to be believable in the slightest, one also has to accept the general stupidity of certain people in the world. But, hey, you and I both live on the same planet and it’s not that tough to believe in general stupidity, is it? Think about it; how often do you see someone texting and driving? If you take a moment to look for it, many times a day. The stupidity that the characters in this film put on display is just a slightly – slightly – exaggerated version of that.
None of it would work without Tudyk and Labine. They make the film what it is. Both of them give all-time great comedic performances. They are immensely restrained as the bewildered country men who can’t comprehend the events that are unfolding around them. Both inject an earnest sincerity into their performances and that choice is what elevates the film from a good and entertaining to one of the best of its kind. Tudyk is a living legend in the geek world but I haven’t seen Labine in any sort of significant role outside of this one, and that’s regretful. He’s clearly an intelligent guy who understands what’s funny and – more importantly – why. His timing and delivery are impeccable and the world of comedy could use more Tyler Labine.
As silly as the movie is, there is actually some well-meaning subtext underneath it all. It’s hard to ignore how the characters judge each other, deciding in their heads who the others are without having any sort of meaningful interactions with them, and then refusing to believe anything else. With each passing year, the world becomes more and more judgmental. It’s okay to judge people for things they’ve actually said and done, but too many judge without knowing for sure those they are judging have, in fact, said and/or done those things. In this story, that leads to vast and immediate calamities, while real world consequences are typically much more subtle and poisonous in the long-term. But the comparison is still there and worth noting.
In other odds and ends, the film is brutally violent in an over-the-top way that precludes it from being truly gory. It’s all played for irony and comedy. Katrina Bowden (“30 Rock”) sizzles as the requisite Hot Girl, Allison, who is caught in the middle of it all as both a friend of the college students and also the object of Dale’s affections. Like Tucker and Dale, Allison breaks stereotypes by being more than just eye candy. She’s smart, wise, and caring and Bowden does a great job bridging the gap between the students and the locals.
There have been many films where the hot young cast believe they’re in a comedy (usually a sex comedy) only to discover that they’re actually in a horror movie. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is the only movie to flip the script on that as the college students think they’re in a horror movie when they’re actually in a comedy. Either way, whenever a character in any film isn’t actually in the film they think they’re in, bad things happen. And bad things definitely happen in this film. But you’ll be laughing the whole time. See this movie. It’s a modern classic and genius at its finest.
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