Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010, dir. Eli Craig)
There is nothing better than when a slasher flick can walk that delicate line between “horror” and “comedy,” and there are so very few movies that actually pull it off. It seems that, frequently, this happens by accident, either because of a poor script that veers into that sublimely terrible state of hilarity or because of a tiny budget that relegates the film’s effects to the absurd. But those horror films that sneak up on you in the funniest ways are the ones that either take their use of gore to the furthest realms of unbelievability or those that take film tropes and turn them on their heads, all the while putting recognizable characters in awkward places and watching them squirm their way out—or dispatching them in the most ridiculous way imaginable. These films are also frequently not as mean spirited as, say, the torture porn sub-genre, for instance; their humor is almost always a balance of the disgusting and the preposterous, smartly avoiding those tired tropes (like threats of rape) that permeate more vicious strains of horror films.
Though there are a few films that we will talk about here that smartly fuse the gross-out with the meta-critical revision of worn out horror conventions, one of the most recent, and most fun, is director Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. It will be difficult to see any horror film where the plot follows a group of privileged city-dwelling kids who travel into the wilderness only to find themselves at the mercy of feral rural savages after Tucker and Dale, as the movie smartly turns the tables, winking both at the worn-out plot points of this type of narrative and the ways that “city-folk” are quick to dismiss or even fear those who may not have, say, the same level of education or understanding of manners as they do. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Taylor Labine) may look like your run of the mill filmic hillbillies, but they are good-natured and hard-working, traveling to West Virginia to work on their vacation home—a weathered cabin in the woods that is only missing a giant sign out front reading “Evil Dead was filmed here.” On their way out, they encounter a group of rich and entitled college kids, traveling to the same woods to party, who are instantly creeped out by Tucker’s gruffness and Dale’s awkward and shy attempts to flirt with Allison (Katrina Bowden, best known as 30 Rock’s Cerie). When the two groups run afoul of each other late at night (Tucker and Dale are night fishing, the college kids are skinny-dipping, go figure), Dale rescues Allison from an accident, taking her back to their cabin to help her heal, and well, misadventures ensue: Dale and Allison begin a flirtation while the college kids lay siege to Tucker and the cabin in a misguided attempt to rescue their “kidnapped” friend.
And man is it fun to watch. Both Labine and Tudyk smartly play up the types of characters that people would expect them to be based on their looks, but then revising those roles with depth and heart—Tucker, especially, is always seething with exasperation at the disruptions to his “relaxing” vacation, and Dale’s self-loathing and shyness manifest in the sweetest of bumblings that could only be read as menacing by someone looking for fulfilled stereotypes. The gore factor is also high here, and disgustingly funny at that (with the second-best use of a wood-chipper since Fargo) and some incredibly inventive kills and a great use of the woods and lake near the cabin to make you reflect on preconceived notions of certain types of spaces. If you are looking for a little bit of lighter fare that still packs in the kills, then give Tucker and Dale a shot—it is even streaming on Netflix right now—and I think you’ll be charmed by this slasher revision.