“What’s the worst that could happen?” These are the fateful words uttered by Tucker, one half of the delightful hillbilly best friends that headline the new horror-comedy flick Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, as he encourages his redneck BFF Dale to approach a cute college coed who has stopped with her friends at an Appalachian marketplace on her way to go camping.
Thus begins what may be one of the greatest reversals in genre films to date. Over decades, hillbillies have been mistreated as murderous inbreeds. From Deliverance all the way through Cabin Fever, the general public has been told time and time again that hillbillies are not just ignorant, unlikeable folks—they’re downright deadly. In Tucker & Dale, however, director/co-writer Eli Craig has done the delightfully dastardly deed of making the college kids the homicidal sociopaths while Dale and Tucker are sweet happy-go-lucky guys just trying (desperately so) to do the right thing.
The joy of this film comes from the sheer surprise of the gags within and to say too much about the plot is to give away too much indeed. The best way to describe this comedy of terrors is to say that if one can imagine what Friday the 13th might have been like if Shakespeare had written it, you might be close to understanding the delight of Tucker & Dale. That is not to say that this is a classic which will be revered for generations to come; it is saying, however, that Craig understands comedy, understands misunderstandings and understands the sweet complications that come from stereotypes and assumptions. Then he cranks it up to eleven. Perhaps a better imagined movie might be Ernest Goes to Camp Crystal Lake.
Tucker & Dale is funny—it’s very funny. Craig does an excellent job of finding that balance between horror and humor that many similar films have failed terribly at. At times, however, he may err on the side of too much gore, scaring away some potential fans. Even not being a fan of horror films, however, many people who see this movie might find themselves able to look past the overly gory bits thanks to the very funny material.
Not all of the jokes are keepers, though. Craig may have underestimated his audience and underworked his ability by putting in the occasional gay joke or joke about male body parts. Thankfully, these weak attempts at bro humor are well overshadowed by the rest of the film.
The actors who portray Tucker and Dale are a major part of the film’s winning chemistry. Tucker (Alan Tudyk, who some genre fans will probably recognize as Wash from “Firefly”) is like a slightly grizzled Chris Elliott who understands comic timing. He’s the more practical one of the two leading characters, the one with more of a temper; he’s the Hardy to Dale’s Laurel. Saying he’s got a temper, however, is the equivalent to saying Danny Tanner had a temper on “Full House”—he’s a pussycat.
Dale (Tyler Labine, “Reaper”) is the bigger pussycat, though, and the heart of the movie. From his awkward approach to the untouchable college cutie to the way he deals with the trials in store for him and his buddy, he’s a sensitive teddy bear, unable to understand the wickedness of people. It’s this heart that drives the film. Labine is like a Jack Black lite: soft, sweet and big in size and in performance. His sincerity sells the premise of the film from the first second he’s seen until the final frame.
The rest of the cast is young and mostly forgettable with two exceptions, which is not so much a reflection on their talent as it is a reflection of the traditional mainstay of disposable victims in horror films. The cute college coed, however, is played by Katrina Bowden (“30 Rock’s” Cerie), who is fantastic opposite Dale, matching his sincerity and big heart.
The villain of the film (and this is giving away nothing) is popped-collar frat boy Chad, played by Jesse Moss. While his character can be a bit extreme, annoying and at times unbelievable (but the story must move forward!), Moss does a wonderful job as the swaggering idiot progenitor of all things terrible in this story.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil might be the funniest movie to hit the silver screen this year, and it surprisingly hits on important social topics like stereotypes and bigotry. Hopefully, the blood and stigma carried by the horror genre flag won’t scare too many people away.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is now playing at Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Cinemas Palme D’or in Palm Desert and Landmark Theatres Ken Cinema in San Diego.
For more information, visit the film’s official Web site.