“Oh hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”
Two years before Joss Whedon put his own spin on the “creepy cabin in the woods” horror story, a Whedon alumnus (Alan Tudyk) featured in another, equally funny take on the genre. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil didn’t get the publicity of Whedon’s film, only receiving a limited release in the UK, so it’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of it.
Tucker & Dale opens like so many other horror films, with a group of fairly obnoxious college kids heading off to the wilderness for a weekend of, presumably, alcohol, weed and skinny-dipping. In the car, they pass two dungaree-clad rednecks, who look vaguely ominous – particularly to these city teens. Yet the film quickly changes its focus, switching its allegiance from the bratty youths to the hillbillies who, as it turns out, are Tucker (Tudyk) and his best friend Dale (Tyler Labine). They’re two peaceful, kindly, soulful mates, heading off to the middle of nowhere to make a start on fixing their new vacation home, a ramshackle old cabin.
The film plays on mistaken assumptions and miscommunication to great effect. The college kids, already convinced they’re going to find themselves in a Deliverance sequel, freely misinterpret their interactions with Tucker and Dale, who end up caught in the middle of things when they startle one of them (Katrina Bowden) and have to save her life. Naturally, her friends are sure they’ve witnessed a murder – or at least a kidnapping – and resolve to rescue their companion. Soon their idiocy is causing them to kill themselves in a whole myriad of ridiculous ways – there are plenty of accidental impalings, and a particularly unfortunate interaction with a woodchipper. Meanwhile, poor Tucker and Dale are completely perplexed as to why the kids are apparently committing mass suicide on their property, and are especially upset when it transpires they’re also on the proposed victim list.
Tudyk is, as always, great – he’s always worth a watch, and frequently steals the show in whatever he’s doing (just consider Death at a Funeral, Dodgeball, Serenity – even his role in the ill-fated Whedon series Dollhouse). As Tucker, he’s endearing and exasperated, and his comic timing is understated but consistently spot on. He works perfectly with the rest of the cast, particularly Labine, who brings a sweetness to Dale. Of course, the whole point is that these two rednecks are actually sensitive, kind people, but even their patience is severely tested by the college kids. The kids themselves are entirely generic, though they play their roles perfectly – they are closed-minded, ignorant, misguided and exist pretty much solely to get killed off. While their intentions are generally good – they want to save their friend – their preconceptions mean it’s impossible for them to read anything they see (or appear to see) in a positive light. Poor Tucker and Dale, who are being perfect gentlemen to Bowden’s Allison, are instantly assumed to be mass-murdering, inbred lunatics – although, to be fair, the first time they encounter Tucker he is racing through the woods yelling incoherently while swinging a chainsaw. It’s this kind of tongue-in-cheek, knowing humour that really hits the spot in writer-director Eli Craig’s film, which pays homage to a genre filled with conventions just waiting to be messed with.
While most of the (surviving) college kids at least recognise they are completely out of their depth, Chad (Jesse Moss), the douchebag jock who picked their camping spot, almost instantaneously embraces his inner Rambo, and goes crazy with bloodlust. His story – key to the film’s narrative – does provide a conclusion, though it’s not a particularly creative solution. Yet this is rather incidental, because Tucker & Dale is consistently hilarious, filled with black humour and cleverly skewing the conventions in a genuinely satisfying way. Yes, you can see events coming a mile away, but that’s part of the joy – the inevitability of the whole thing. As Tucker and Dale’s emotions change from obliviousness, to bemusement, to incredulity, to frustrated anger, we root for them and eagerly anticipate the latest demise of an idiot who deserves to die simply because of their utter stupidity. Funny, daft, gory and entirely entertaining, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil has the markings of a cult favourite – personally, I’ll happily watch anything with Alan Tudyk in it, but he’s only one reason to give this a chance.