Evil Is Good in 'Tucker & Dale'
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Even as "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" has fun sending up
horror movie conventions and cliches, this low-budget spoof exposes how a
mind-set -- movie-made, political or religious -- can so color the way we see
the world, it's dead easy to demonize people who aren't us. But fear not:
"T&D"'s timely message never gets in the way of the funny, and a veritable
tsunami of slapstick gore.
Writer-director Eli Craig's first feature film boasts a pair of skinny-plump, smart-naïve funnymen (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) sure to be embraced by Abbott & Costello aficionados and fans of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Fueled by misunderstandings and role reversal, this low comedy would have wowed Globe Theatre groundlings.
When a bunch of college kids head off into Appalachia for a camping trip, everyone they meet along the way looks like leftovers from "Deliverance" -- or any of the dime-a-dozen horror flicks featuring inbred, slack-jawed, dead-eyed rednecks poised to turn into chain-saw-wielding cannibal-rapists at the strum of a banjo. The bearded, vacuous face that gapes at the campers from a passing pickup might be a rifle-totin' rube who fondly remembers the bloody climax of "Easy Rider."
That face belongs to Dale, a sweet-souled hillbilly with self-esteem issues. He and Tucker, his ginger-haired BFF, are headed for a ramshackle cabin they mean to refurbish as their "vacation home." Dale's backwoods Peter Pan is flat-out fascinated by the brothers and sisters from another planet, especially a pretty blonde (Katrina Bowden) poured into low-riding, cut-off jeans. Eyeballing the city slickers pumping gas, the ever-so-slightly more urbane Tucker pep-talks Dale into chatting Allie up -- "she's just human" -- suggesting the big lunk laugh a lot to break the ice. So super-shy Dale shambles over, all gussied up in his baggy overalls, tattered shirt and no-color baseball cap, giggling maniacally -- and oh yes, he just happens to be hefting a Grim Reaper-sized scythe.
Not for the last time, our hilarity collides with the kids' blind terror: They flee for their lives. Around the campfire later, Chad (Jesse Moss), already giving off a whiff of crazy, scares his pals to death with the story of the Memorial Day Massacre, when campers not unlike themselves were tortured and butchered by a pair of hillbillies.
Tucker and Dale fit the template to a T. And for the duration of the film -- or as long as there are hysterical collegians left alive -- this amiable, mostly clueless duo are fatally typecast: Every innocent, mundane or even heroic action on T&D's part looks like purest evil from the campers' cockeyed POV. When the guys pull Allie into their fishing boat -- she's hit her head on a rock during a nighttime dive -- all her friends see is two mutants from "The Hills Have Eyes" dragging her off to god-knows-what horrors.
Levelheaded Allie is soon happily playing trivia with love-struck Dale, but Chad has browbeaten his posse into mounting a rescue. Thus begins a hoot-worthy run of gory, ingenious self-slaughter that mimics the systematic slayings that punctuate every slasher movie. As grotesquely bee-stung Tucker flails through the woods brandishing a chain saw, he actually passes and exchanges glances with the college kid convinced he's being pursued by a psychotic hillbilly. It's a deliciously convention-shattering moment; unfortunately, distracted by Tucker, the fool impales himself on a tree branch.
Perhaps, T&D speculate, there's a suicide pact afoot.
Tudyk and Labine rarely settle for easy yuks, or fall back on dumb-and-dumber tropes. Playing good old boys who don't get that they've been cast as monsters in a horror movie, the buddies thread lunatic goings-on with comic aplomb and weird grace. Dragging the hideously chewed-up remains of a wood-chipper casualty behind them, the blood-spattered, wild-eyed duo are confronted by a suspicious state trooper. Projecting hopeful sincerity, Tucker inquires, "Do we look like a couple of psycho-killers to you?"
And you've gotta give it up for a movie in which outrageous mayhem is stopped dead by a bodacious psychology major bent on mediating an encounter session -- complete with soothing chamomile tea -- between totally bewildered T&D and Chad, frat boy fast morphing into monster. Genre-busting gag, yes, but something more: Allie's plea to the boys to "put themselves in each other's shoes" holds genuine smarts and sweetness.
That deft/daft mix of authentic feeling and sharp parody, belly laughs and visceral dread, makes "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" a keeper -- comedy-horror with heart.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.