I like a movie that doesn’t make its budget felt. I’m guessing that Tucker and Dale vs. Evil had a relatively small one (my guess = $1.2 million or thereabouts), but it never shows. The gore effects are really great and appropriately over-the-top and the script is written in a way that things don’t always need to be flat-out showcased, and when they are (body in the wood-chipper) they can get away with the humor that comes with the edit to avoid the money shot, rather than holding the camera on what would otherwise be an expensive gag.
Aside from having one of the best titles of the year, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is also one of the funniest films I saw all year. It’s also one of the best horror spoofs I’ve seen, and is a great – and intentionally obvious – take on stereotypes. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two country boys who just want to go fishing and spruce up their newly purchased log cabin. Tucker’s the brains and Dale has the heart of gold. Running concurrent with their “vacation home” upkeep is a group of college frat and sorority kids, out in the woods for their spring break. A handful of stereotypes from the big-breasted, high-heels-in-the-woods wearing Chloe (Chelan Simmons), to the attractive, but intelligent female object of desire Allison (Katrina Bowden), to the aptly-named, popped-collared Chad (Jesse Moss), these kids soon decide that Tucker and Dale are serial killers continuing the mission of an infamous massacre from 20 years earlier.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (TDE) combines the classic Hitchcock-ian mistaken-identity plot ala North by Northwest with horror-genre awareness in the vein of the inevitable comparer, Shaun of the Dead.
What’s great about TDE is that it never softens its stance on its protagonists. From their initial introduction Tucker and Dale are good guys and, no matter how gory and inescapable things get, they remain good guys. While it’s easy to laugh at the preppy characters that are both running from and chasing Tucker and Dale (I know I did), part of the entire point of the film is to point out general stereotypes: because the kids stereotype the ‘backwoods guys’ (with an obligatory Deliverance reference), leading to all sorts of mayhem, director Eli Craig’s more subtle point is that it’s just as wrong for us to stereotype the college kids most of whom actually don’t live up to any stereotype of ‘parent’s money, no brains,’ but are at most at fault for being gutless (pun intended).
Like this year’s excellent Attack the Block, TDE succeeds not only because of strong performances, good direction, a good script and fun tension, but because it combines all of these with a strong and consistent thematic backbone.
That being said, the film is hilarious. The imaginative ways in which Tucker and Dale find themselves in ridiculous situations are hilarious and Craig uses cinematic language to convey them:
When Tucker and Dale rescue Allison from drowning, leading to the entire case of mistaken identity, Craig shoots their exit in wide-shot and from Allison’s friend’s point-of-view. The effect of the wider frame not only emphasizes the creepy setting, therefore placing Tucker and Dale within that context of eeriness, but also emphasizes the college kid’s perspective only at the moment that they see Tucker and Dale – carting off a body in a boat – and not from all of their heroic efforts before. Any other frame size would overlook this, lose comedic effect and soften the ensuing confusion so integral to the plot.
Other instances follow: an early set-up of a loose pillar in the cabin leads to a still-unexpected death later on; classic slapstick ill-timed ducks and turns lead to shovels to the face and bodies in the wood-chipper; the mob mentality, the charge is led by the over-zealous and basically psychotic Chad, leads to a weed-whacking death. In short, none of these are cheap from a narrative perspective. They’re all either foreshadowed by set pieces, emotions, or props.
Because I love film posters, here are two alternates for the film:
This is some great marketing. The first poster really plays up the stereotype. Severed body in the foreground rhyming with the tagline “This year spring break is cut short.” The cop placed between two sets of overall-clad legs and the emphasis on the surrounding woods. It plays with some ambiguities and misdirections: the body-carriers are clearly seen as the villains here, but is the cop framed as overpowered simply because he is, or because he’s also pernicious? Note the obviously phallic framing of the cop as well!
The second poster is a little more aligned with the narrative of the film. It plays more to the 80s camp horror crowd (a barely covered female), but also hits more of the humor (the beer cans). There’s still misdirection – Tucker and Dale could well be the villains, but the wording of the title is such as to de-emphasize the word “evil” as compared with the first one. Further, the tagline of this second one clearly puts Evil in opposition to the Tucker and Dale (the ‘hillbillies.’)