October Horrorshow: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, the 2010 horror/comedy film written and directed by Eli Craig, is about as sweet and wholesome as a movie featuring a head first dive into a wood chipper can get.

Alan Tudyk is Tucker, and Tyler Labine is Dale, a pair of self-described hillbillies who head up into the woods to fix up an old cabin that Tucker has purchased. They’re a pair of well-meaning fellows who just happen to be working class West Virginians, so they fall into about a million different stereotypes those of us in the rest of the country hold. True or false, every single one of us has a picture in our heads of what a pickup truck-driving, overall-wearing, tobacco-chewing hillbilly looks and acts like, and Tucker and Dale fit right into that when viewed from afar.

Our preconceptions of hillbillies are used by Craig as the main vehicle for the plot in this film. While Tucker and Dale are stopped at a local gas station up in the mountains, a car full of college kids on their way to do a little camping stops in to grab some supplies. Dale is dumbstruck by one of them, Allison (Katrina Bowden), and although he works up the nerve to talk to her, he fails miserably. From the perspective of the college kids, his rambling, nervous introduction is a threat, akin to what audiences would expect from something like The Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn.

Hillbilly stereotypes aren’t all this film takes on. The college kids are the worst kind of frat boys and airheads, and that’s by intention. I may have made it seem that this movie’s primary Tucker & Dale vs. Evilfocus is taking on identity and class roles, but that’s not accurate. This movie doesn’t care about how we handle our politics out here in the real world. Instead, its target is horror movie tropes. Specifically, all those slasher films where young pretty people are chased down by axe-wielding woodland maniacs. We’ve been primed by decades of films where innocent vacationers wander into the wrong patch of wilderness and find themselves hunted. The college kids are no different. Through no fault of their own, every interaction Tucker and Dale have with the kids ends up being a massive misunderstanding that, more often than not, results in one of the kids suffering a grisly death.

From Tucker and Dale’s perspective, they just have the worst luck. They’re doing their best to be helpful, and these kids just keep dropping like flies. It doesn’t help that the de facto leader of their little group is a psychopath in waiting. Chad (Jesse Moss) makes it his mission to take on Tucker and Dale, leading to real confrontation in the final act of the film.

Tudyk and Labine are quite good in their roles. Both are veterans of irreverent television series, and both have natural ease and comic timing. They also come off as a pair of nice guys, which makes them perfect for the roles. I did take issue with the college kids, however. Every time they clogged up the screen I couldn’t wait to get back to a scene with Tucker and Dale. This doesn’t have anything to do with their performances. As a group, they were capable. But with the exception of Bowden, whose job was to play the damsel in distress, the college kids are all vacuous jerks. That’s by design, sure, but people like that are a pain to be around, whether on screen or in real life. I grew happier every time one of those idiots managed to get themselves killed.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a pleasant little horror flick, if that’s at all possible. It also has an idea that’s better than its execution. That doesn’t keep the film from being a decent addition to the genre, but there always seems to be a better movie lurking beyond the margins.

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