“Go talk to her. What’s the worst that could happen?”
These fateful words are uttered early on in director/co-writer Eli Craig’s new comedy-horror flick Tucker & Dale vs. Evil as loveable hillbilly Tucker (genre fave Alan Tudyk) encourages his even sweeter and more loveable hillbilly best friend Dale (Tyler Labine) to go say hi to a hot college coed who has come up to the Appalachians to camp with her friends over spring break. Thus begins the terrible (and hilarious) chain of events that lead to multiple deaths of college kids and a surprisingly insightful tale of cultural misunderstandings.
When asked about his inspiration during a recent press day for the film, Craig gave the unexpected answer that Tucker & Dale is a “reenactment of (his) life.” Growing up in between the city of Los Angeles and the backwoods, Craig found that throughout his life, he would watch horror classics like The Hills Have Eyes or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and realize that most of the violent antagonists reminded him, to a point, of his own father. This realization led him to flip the formula of urban, innocent teens being slaughtered by vicious, inbred hillbillies to the hillbillies being the victims of overzealous city slickers. The idea was a revelation, and he immediately shared it with his writing partner Morgan Jurgenson, who also fell in love with the idea.
The road to production, however, was a long one. According to Craig, no studio would touch the film (even though everyone who read it loved it), but he was determined to make the movie. If it came down to it, he said he would have funded and made the film himself, he felt so strongly about it. Luckily, he was able get some (minimal) backing, the cast came together and Tucker & Dale had its day.
The cast, in particular, was a dream to work with. Tudyk and Labine specifically were key to making the film work as the pair of bestie rednecks. Tudyk joined the cast only three days before the first day of shooting, and during those first two days of pre-production, the two leads spent some time together in table reads and getting to know each other. By the time they got in front of the camera, they clicked and the two actors were easily able to create the energy of two life-long friends.
On top of their natural connection, Tudyk and Labine connected easily to their characters. For Labine, it was the opportunity to portray a big, dumb sweet character who “leads with his heart,” different from other characters he’s played in the past. Additionally, Labine said he passes all potential projects by his wife and when she read Tucker & Dale she wanted to read it again and again. For Tudyk, the draw was the larger-than-life physical aspects of his character. Attempting to pull someone out of a woodchipper, for instance, was something that Tudyk just couldn’t pass up.
Many of Tyler and Labine’s ad-libs made it into the final cut, but Labine is quick to clarify that it’s not typical “Apatow-esque” ad-libbing where the actors just throw out whatever comes to mind and see what sticks. During the table reads, the actors and Craig worked together in trying to make the script better, offering suggestions for improving the dialogue and jokes. They brought those new ideas onto the set, making the process a collaborative affair. The two stars do have their favorite ad-libs, however. Tyler said that no matter how many times he watches the film, when Tudyk says he’ll “go get the finger sandwiches” to complement the tea Labine is brewing for his coed crush (“30 Rock’s” Katrina Bowden), it still cracks him up.
Also during the table reads, the cast and Craig worked together in trying to make the genuine, more heartfelt moments of the movie work within the farcical mood of the rest of the story. Labine said that they worked on “letting the audience off the hook” when the dialogue got perhaps a touch too schmaltzy, often by finishing the scene with a strongly absurd statement or action.
Describing the shooting process, the cast and crew agreed that the biggest obstacle to getting what they wanted done was the environment. Labine recalled how, when they got to the woods, the crew had to remove many trees known as “widow makers” for their tendency to come down without warning and crush unsuspecting passersby. The weather was also unexpectedly cruel, as during the shooting of the climax of the film, the heavens opened up and poured onto the filmmakers who were shooting in a barn with no roof. According to Craig, they couldn’t call the insurance company and claim a rain day because they were scheduled to shoot “interiors.” “But we had no roof!” Craig complained, leading into his reflection on working on a bigger, more professional production than he had in the past.
Coming from the world of indie films and video making, Craig did have to make some adjustments in dealing within the world of bigger, union projects. He was stunned, he said, when after shooting for 11 hours, the crew started packing up and said they’d see him tomorrow. It certainly changed how he approached the making of Tucker & Dale.
Even considering the issues with initial disinterest from backers, the environment and adjusting to working on a bigger, more controlled project, Craig stood by his mantras “Never give up” and “Stay with your vision.” Although Tucker & Dale maybe hasn’t gotten the sizeable distribution Craig might have liked, he is hopeful that he can get some funds to make a sequel.
“I’m working on a sequel where they go to Harvard,” he said. He added that he’s looking at a new threat for the pair, maybe “something supernatural.” He knows he can’t do the same trick again by flipping the cliché of hillbillies killing teens, but he still wants a sequel to focus on the heart of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil: the dangers of preconceived notions and prejudice.
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.