Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Film: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Dir: Eli Craig
Rating: ****1/2 out of 5 stars

Horror-comedies were big in the 1980s, but sort of dwindled in the 1990s. In 2004, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead revitalized the sub-genre, and ever since, there have been dozens and dozens of them released. Some are fantastic, but many don’t quite get it. A great horror-comedy requires the right balance of dark humor and a sincere love of the genre. A horror fan can easily distinguish between a hollow spoof and a true horror-comedy. Fortunately, Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is of the latter variety, with solid performances, hilarious situational humor, and definite respect for horror.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two ordinary redneck friends who just bought their own vacation home in the backwoods. Tucker is the leader of the duo, while Dale is a hopeless romantic with low self-esteem. While fixing up their cabin in the woods, they repeatedly encounter a group of college kids on break. Dale’s unsuccessful attempt at talking to a pretty girl sets off a chain of misunderstandings wherein the students become convinced that the two rednecks are psycho killers. As the college kids decide to go after their would-be killers, Dale and Tucker fear for their own lives.

The concept alone of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is fantastic. It recalls mistaken-identity screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, only it is also infused with everything horror fans love about the genre. It is a hilarious parody of massacre-style flicks (i.e. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) where the killers are typically rednecks who look just like Tucker and Dale. But these good ol’ boys just want to fish, drink beer, and enjoy their vacation in peace. Meanwhile, the college kids really believe they are being picked off by hillbillies because they are too scared, too dumb, and watch too many horror movies to just shut up and listen.

Tudyk and Labine are both fantastic in their titular roles. They have great buddy chemistry and comedic timing. Some of the actors playing the college kids are also good, particularly Jesse Moss who thinks he is Rambo but looks like Tom Cruise in a popped collar. Even though misunderstanding and miscommunication are comedy staples that have been beaten to death, these qualities are actually really funny here. This is situational comedy at its finest. As a horror flick, Tucker & Dale is not bad either. It racks up quite a body count and delivers some fun gore scenes. Horror fans will also love all the inside references to the genre and its conventions.

At first glance, Eli Craig’s filmography doesn’t inspire confidence with titles like Space Cowboys and The Rage: Carrie 2, but fortunately he only acted in those. As a director, on the other hand, the man has a real future. This movie proves he has the skills to helm either a horror or a comedy with ease - or perhaps another horror-comedy if we’re lucky. There have been tons of horror-comedies released over the last few years, and while some are great, most lack this perfect pacing and wit. Severance was pretty good and parodied the same massacre-horror sub-genre, but Tucker & Dale is better all-around.

Many films have claimed to be "the next Shaun of the Dead" or some variation there of. In the case of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, it is actually true. Like that movie, this one has lovable characters, lots of blood, and laugh-out-loud humor. This is definitely one of the best horror-comedies of the last decade. The only thing that could have been improved is the film’s title – the “vs. Evil” part misrepresents what the movie is about. The plot is far more clever than the title implies. Of course this is a petty complaint – the film is fantastic. Hopefully it will rightfully achieve the same cult status that Shaun did and keep the horror-comedy genre kicking for a few more years.