It’s not often you see a schlocky horror movie and think to yourself, “Those poor murderers, they’re so gentle and misunderstood.” But after seeing Shaun-of-the-Dead-esque Tucker & Dale vs Evil—a movie with a lot of gore that is still a comedy—you may see all horror movies from now on and think “but is the devil really possessing this person to torture them? Is the backwards head and biting just an attempt to say ‘hello’ and reach out to humanity?”
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two men—mostly referred to in the film as hillbillies, which makes me feel bad but does give you an idea of the truck-drivin’ overall-wearin’ folk they are—are going to Tucker’s newly purchased vacation home to do it up into the holiday house he’s always wanted. At the same time, a group of attractive college kids have taken a parents’ van to the same destination, where they plan to camp, eat, skinny-dip, and do whatever else kids of today do when they camp. (Play Cut the Rope on their iPhones?)
From the moment they pass each other on the road to their first contact at a gas station, the college kids have Dale and Tucker pegged as backwoods creeps. But Tucker’s a charmer and Dale is a man with low self-esteem who instantly sees one of the college girls, Ally (Christine Taylor lookalike Katrina Bowden), and wants to go say hi. Tucker convinces him that he’s not as horrible as he thinks, and Dale approaches the kids—with six-foot scythe in tow—and terrifies them immediately. It’s a bad start to the holiday, but they head to Tucker’s run-down, dangerous, possibly-previously-owned-by-a-murderer cabin in the woods by a lake.
When Dale and Tucker save Ally from drowning in the lake and take her to their cabin to heal, they start a chain of hilarious and gruesome accidents that lead the kids to believe Dale and Tucker are serial killers, and D&T themselves to think that the college kids are embarking on a suicide pact. While our heroes do their best to protect Ally and save themselves, the kids, at the behest of crazed jock Chad (Jesse Moss) take it on themselves to rescue Ally, refusing to listen to the voice of reason that is Mitch (I think—the kids all looked equally floppy-haired and I got confused.)
T&DvE is actually super entertaining, with your cynicism towards annoying fucking twenty-somethings who get murdered relentlessly on film being finally justified. Not all the kids are evil—they’re mostly sheep following Chad—but they are flat-out stupid and the accidents that befall them are really just kind of funny no matter how gross they get (and don’t worry, if you’re looking for some flat-out horror, they seriously do get gross.) Dale is ridiculously endearing, a font of useless (though occasionally handy) information, and trying only to make friends and be nice to everyone—a great example is the scene where Ally wakes from her accident and screams when Dale comes in with pancakes, where he automatically assumes she’s yelling because she hates pancakes and goes to make her bacon and eggs instead. Tucker is the alpha male in their relationship, jealous of Dale and Ally’s growing friendship and aware of how the continuing accidents would look to police. Katrina Bowden does an excellent job of making Ally convincingly amicable, a girl who makes the best of her situation and tries to reason with a whole bunch of people with preconceived notions. It’s pretty much flat-out hilarious; the music is great, adding violin-string-tension to moments that aren’t actually scary to remind you that in other films, the moment could be alarming; Chad uses his asthma inhaler like a cigarette and blows the smoke out of his nostrils to be cool; the phrase “you’re half hillbilly!” may be laughed over forever.
T&DvE does not pass the Bechdel Test, though Ally is at least a fairly empowered character. In a satire like this, it’s hard to tell whether some tropes—blonde girl gets her cans out, black male makes declarations like “damn” “shit” and “that is whack!” (okay, so I’m paraphrasing here)—are actually deliberately there to make a point. I’ll presume yes because it’s a spoof, but it’s worth mentioning just in case it’s not. The dubbing was out in the second half when I saw the film; not the movie’s fault, but it annoyed me a little. I would also have liked a touch more of Dale and Tucker’s background—are they work friends? Do they work? Where do they live?—but I can’t bring myself to care that much, because it’s just funny and entertaining and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who can stomach someone going head-first into a woodchipper.
Four out of five amputated fingers.