Rednecks get a bad rap in horror films. If they’re central to the story, it’s inevitable they will be the killers or, in a more supernatural type of movie, lure unsuspecting teens to the lair of some unthinkable creature. They’re never the heroes. They’re never the normal ones. They exist as archetypes for lazy screenwriters who can’t come up with a more interesting villain, but not in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, the debut film from writer-director Eli Craig. What begins as your typical killer hillbilly movie evolves into something much greater that turns the rules of the genre on its head. Its single joke premise may grow tired by the end of its short 88 minute runtime, but it’s creative, intelligent and fun and, despite its problems, turns out to be one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the year.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are best friends. They live in West Virginia and don’t have much money, so the fact that they’re able to buy a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains, secluded from the rest of society, is something special. It’s run-down and probably wouldn’t look like much to other people, but to them it’s a vacation home. So they go there to relax and fix the place up while, by pure coincidence, a group of college kids are taking a camping trip close by. While fishing one night, they watch as Allison (Katrina Bowden) accidentally knocks herself unconscious. Without hesitation, Tucker and Dale save her, only for her friends to misinterpret the situation and think she has been kidnapped. As they attempt to “rescue” her, they begin to accidentally kill themselves, causing the remaining kids to conclude that Tucker and Dale are offing them one by one.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is, in its own special way, similar to films like Scream and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon in that it plays with expectations. It takes familiar horror plot elements and clichés and deconstructs them to create something unique. Despite their names in the title, we don’t begin the film with Tucker and Dale. We are instead trapped in that car with the kids who are venturing through hillbilly country. At one point, Tucker and Dale pass by them in their truck and stare at them ominously. Further up the road, they stop at an old shop to pick up some supplies where, naturally, Tucker and Dale have also stopped. Later in this scene is where the movie makes the transition between perspectives. We find that the two friends were only staring because they were surprised to see such highbrow college kids in their neck of the woods. When Dale walks up to talk to Allison, he stumbles over his words and laughs awkwardly, in a way one would expect of horror movie hillbillies, but it’s only because he’s nervous and not good at talking to girls.
The film cleverly uses the typical behavior of what would expect from such characters, but then goes on to explain why they act the way they do. They’re not out to kill—as Dale later confesses, he doesn’t even like to fish because he doesn’t like harming the poor creatures—events just happen to play out in a way that makes them look like psycho murderers. In one hilarious bit, Tucker runs at the kids with a chainsaw, screaming and swinging it wildly. What they don’t know is he just accidentally cut into a beehive and he’s only running to avoid getting stung. Through moments like these, the film finds its fun. Anyone familiar with the tropes of the horror genre will undoubtedly find something to enjoy.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil sets out to spoof and pay homage to the redneck killers subgenre, recalling films like Friday the 13th, Wrong Turn and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (the latter of which this film’s opening is ripped from) and in that regard, it’s a rousing success, and it works because of its two talented, funny and underappreciated stars. Alan Tudyk is immensely likable and it’s amazing he hasn’t found more fame after starring in the terrific sci-fi show, Firefly, and knocking the role of Simon out of the park in the original Death at a Funeral. Tyler Labine, similarly, is a goofball and plays stupid well. He also starred in a great short lived TV show, Reaper, and should be getting more love than he is. However, it’s that lack of appreciation that allows them to star in movies like this and their pairing up is brilliant. They work so well together and their rapport is so funny, it feels like they’ve been long time best friends in real life.
Although a sequel is probably too much to ask, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is destined to go down as a cult classic. Those who actually watch it will fall in love with the characters and laugh at the crazy things they do, like sterilize their wounds with a can of beer. The first half is better than the last half where it loses its cleverness and becomes a generic battle of good vs. evil complete with dastardly villain clichés that are just that: clichés. The parody disappears and the ingenuity along with it, but it’s a lot of fun up to that point, more than enough to make it worth watching.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil receives 3.5/5