Eli Craig’s 2010 horror comedy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil starts unpromisingly, a pre-title sequence that suggests you are about to see yet another found footage horror film (you aren’t), when the film begins in earnest we are dispiritingly introduced to a group of college kids (the usual collection of jocks and hot girlfriends) heading off for a weekend camping in remote woods. Even a fair weather horror fan should feel a twinge of acid reflux as their heart sinks into their stomach at such hackneyed (pun intended) material.
Well fear not, because from about this point Tucker and Dale dramatically improves. After discovering they have forgotten to pack beer the college kids stop at a roadside store straight out of Deliverance. They are observed by Tucker and Dale, two genial hillbillies who are travelling up to Tucker’s fixer-upper holiday home (or spooky-ass looking cabin in the woods to you and me) for a spot of fishing, a bit of DIY, and a whole mess of drinking (Pabst Blue Ribbon and nothing else). The droll Tucker (Alan Tudyk) is the worldlier of the two and advises his shy friend Dale (Tyler Labine) to talk to one of the out-of-towner girls who has caught his eye. It does not go well; first impressions are not helped by the massive scythe Dale happens to be carrying at the time. With his tongue-tied social awkwardness and hulking stature, the city kids immediately profile Dale as a scary inbred redneck and freak out, leaving the bemused hillbillies in a cloud of dust.
Things get really messed up later that night. The irritating alpha male of the townie group Chad (Jesse Moss), a man who turns the collar up on his polo shirt, winds his friends by telling a grotesque and gory tale around the campfire of how is parents were attacked by rednecks when he was a child. Following this harrowing story the group decides to go skinny dipping to ease their nerves. Unfortunately Tucker and Dale just happen to be fishing in the same creek. When the girl who earlier caught Dale’s eye, Allison (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden), is startled by our hapless heroes and nearly drowns, only Dale’s quick and selfless actions save her. Unfortunately her now thoroughly spooked friends get the wrong end of the stick and think she has been kidnapped.
From this point on the hillbillies and the college kids continually cross paths in an escalating series of mutual misunderstandings which turn bloody and violent. Craig uses the audiences overfamiliarity with the slasher movie and twists genre conventions to flip every cliché of the rural-shit-kicker farm-implement massacre movie on its head, turning the traditional rural antagonists into heroes and the urban dwellers into, if not quite villains (Chad excepted) then at least dangerous idiots.
The intelligent and rational Allison attempts to intervene, but to little avail as her friends slip further in mania and think she has Stockholm syndrome. When she laments how wrong it was that she misjudged Dale so badly at their initial meeting due to his appearance, Dale remarks “I should have known if a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead.”
This is a rare film that makes smart look like dumb. Tucker and Dale’s every action, no matter how innocent, genuinely appears to the college kids to represent a threat, while the college kids appear to them to be deranged lunatics. AS the body count mounts the increasingly frantic Tucker explains the gravity of their situation to Dale, who charmingly thinks they just need to explain their side of events “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!”
The farcical plot is really quite brilliantly realised. Neither group sees the whole picture, but the audience has a privileged viewpoint that means you can always see precisely where things are heading. The hilarity comes from always being aware of the giant Acme anvil swinging by a thread over the characters oblivious skulls.
This is a seriously funny film, with dialogue as consistently inventive and sharp as a top quality US sitcom. The gory violence is orchestrated as brilliantly timed physical splat-stick, and there are three terrific comic performances from Tudyk (watch his eyes), Bowden (initially filling the archetypal horror role of the ‘cute chick’, but gradually developing into a very funny character in her own right) and especially Labine. Watch out for a particularly funny line from Tudyk about sandwiches.
While Tucker and Dale will be especially funny for horror fans that will delight in seeing tungsten coated genre conventions being fed into a wood chipper and thoroughly shredded. However behind the carnage and claret, is a film that is as disarmingly sweet as Labine’s lovable lunk.
This is the most satisfying horror comedy since Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. Since the film’s release Craig, Tudyk and Labine have occasionally discussed a potential sequel with the working title Tucker and Dale go to Yale, I’d love that to happen.
This review originally appeared on www.screenjabber.com