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Non-Review Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is probably the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll admit that I probably skew a little bit towards it, what with being a fan of cheesy horror movies and a sucker for a high concept comedy, but Eli Craig’s cinematic debut feature is a masterful comedic deconstruction of the conventional horror film, daring to turn genre conventions on their head and ask: why do we always side with the college students in these sorts of films?

What a waist...

In fairness, horror films say a lot about class and gender, after all. You could make the argument that they’re modern morality tales, warning us of the dangers around us in the strongest possible terms. After all, many adhere to fairly conventional and conservative gender roles and morality – the notion that the virginal coed is the one to survive, that those who indulge their sexuality are “punished.” Wes Craven’s Scream was a masterful examination of these gender-related tropes and conventions of horror films, and it’s a movie that keeps on giving on rewatch.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil might lack some of that nuance and sophistication, but it does at least broach the notion of class in the standard American horror film. After all, it is often college kids who are cast as victims in these sorts of tales, or conventional middle-class families. These people end up victims of people who are somehow less civilised or less sophisticated than they are. Growing up watching movies like The Hills Have Eyes, I think my younger self often wondered why anybody in America would live anywhere that wasn’t a major city, or would dare to venture off a major highway if they had to travel.

The Hillbillies Have Eyes...

Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies. And they’re not serial killers, or stupid, or villains. They’re just two rednecks looking to fix-up the “vacation home” that Tucker has bought dirty cheap in the middle of some creepy woods. Finding a windchyme made of bone, Tucker begins to suspect that the former owner might have been something a bit odd. “He must have been an archeologist or somethin’,” he remarks. When the pair find a collection of press-clippings on the wall documenting the massacres and murder, they are delighted to find a coupon without an expire date.

While the two lads are fixing up their dilapidated shack (or, as Dale describes it, a “mansion”) in the hills, a bunch of college kids arrive. Of course, it’s the twentieth anniversary of a brutal massacre and, of course, the group decide to go skinny-dipping. It’s a veritable collection of horror-movie clichés all gleefully rolled into an introductory ten minutes. These city-slicking kids catch one glimpse of Tucker and Dale, and they assume… well, they assume they’re caught in a hillbilly horror film.

Up the creek...

It’s a simple enough premise, but it’s just about enough to sustain a movie over its runtime. There’s a deep love of these sorts of cheesy horror films at play, but also an affection for slapstick comedy, as matters continue to spiral rapidly and implausibly out of control. As I noted, there’s really only gear for the movie, but the concept is novel enough that it never has a chance to get too old. It breezes along through a series of ridiculous contrivances, but never losing a wry smile. There’s a genuine sense that Craig loves these sorts of throw-away horror films, and his spoofing of the genre is as good-natured as it is intelligent.

It helps that the movie has two solid leads in Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. These two actors have emerged as solid supporting performers in various movies and television shows over the past number of years, and it’s always nice to see veteran supporting players given a chance at the spotlight. They give the eponymous hillbillies a nice sense of character, and help lend the ridiculous series of events a bit of credibility.

They haven't a leg to stand on...

The movie’s third act does feel a bit weaker than the random carnage that came before, as Craig seems to realise that he has to tie up the various loose ends he’s created. While never completely losing its wit, it does devolve into what could pass for a fairly conventional horror film, albeit one with the traditional roles somewhat reversed. Still, that’s a relatively minor complaint and I was chuckling to myself throughout the film.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is wholeheartedly recommended for any film buff who has any sort of fond memories of cheesy horror films involving hillbilly serial killers or lonely cabins or ill-fated skinny-dipping. I don’t want to discuss the film too much, but I think it might have been my favourite comedy of 2011.

2 Responses

  1. I skipped this one as I’m not a fan of horror movies until a friend of mine said I really should be watching it, so I did. I’m happy I gave it a chance, it was a very funny movie.

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