Directed by Eli Craig
Next to remakes, the horror-comedy has been one of the most prolific subgenres of late. And like remakes, I can count the good ones on one hand. For every Shaun of the Dead there are dozens of lousy Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson imitators and even bigger hyped titles like Dead Snow, Jack Brooks, and Zombieland I found forced pastiches of much better movies. So imagine my surprise when a backwoods redneck comedy with a title like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil managed to defy all expectations and completely charm me in the end.
The concept is so great I’m surprised no one thought of it sooner: Just like every post Texas Chainsaw horror film, we begin with a van full of vacationing teenagers who stop at a secluded gas station and are promptly freaked out by the scary backwoods locals. It is here that Tucker & Dale shifts the action over to the hicks – and as it turns out, they’re simply misunderstood good ole boys. The film is mostly told from the perspective of our title characters: two lovable dimits whose only goal in between beer runs is to renovate their “dream home” (i.e., a crappy cabin by the lake). And this time, in a brilliant role reversal, the dumb preppy city kids are inadvertently the villains.
When Tucker and Dale rescue one of them from drowning during a late-night skinny dip, the paranoid teens confuse them for psychopathic Deliverance types and waste no time starting a fight for their lives. Of course, Tucker and Dale are just trying to help and completely oblivious to their situation, which unleashes a gruesome comedy of errors where the entrails go flying.
Co-writer/director Eli Craig is clearly a big fan of the genre, and he’s knowledgeable enough to deliver a loving homage without resorting to obvious self-referential jokes. Half the fun is how the script takes the oldest of genre clichés and gives you a hilarious new perspective on them. It’s a simple, broad comedy but one that never outstays its welcome and keeps the gory (and largely practical) set-pieces flying at a frenzied rate.
The success or failure of a movie like this all boils down to the likability of the protagonists, and Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine make for the perfect comedy team. Under normal circumstances a couple of country bumpkins would be difficult to relate to – especially in this genre – but these sweet-natured heroes will have you rooting for them every step of the way. This is mostly because their characters aren’t stereotypes; they’re completely genuine with a great rapport and never go for typical Dumb and Dumber/ Jeff Foxworthy style jokes. They’re more like the dysfunctional types you’d see in an early Coen Brothers flick, and it’s especially refreshing to see two leads in a horror-comedy who aren’t self-aware movie geeks or bad Ash clones.
It should be noted that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil falls a tad short of “instant classic” status. It’s a fairly one-joke affair, and once the gags get rolling, it’s pretty easy to spot the punchlines before they happen (although to be fair, they’re the exact gruesome pay-offs you want to see). It also peaks a bit early with a finale that isn’t nearly as inspired as the rest of the film. That said, it’s still one of the best horror-comedies in ages, and these characters could easily launch a series worthy of Abbott & Costello.
3 1/2 out of 5