Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two affable yet clueless hillbillies, are on holiday looking to do some fishing and drink some beers whilst patching up Tucker’s new vacation home (which looks eerily like the log cabin from The Evil Dead). But they’re not alone in the woods. Some frat-brats have also decided to pitch up a tent and party. One skinny dipping session later, where Tucker and Dale save one of the hapless college girls from drowning, turns into a simple misunderstanding where the remaining bunch of students presume their friend kidnapped and likely to suffer unspeakable evil at the hands of the duo. Fearing for their lives that Tucker and Dale will come after them next, the remaining frat-brats decide to strike first blood by harassing and hounding the care-free hillbillies for the rest of the night.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a welcome return to the horror ethos of old. Gone is the stale, tedious torture porn of the last decade, replaced by a homage to what once made the genre great; lots of gore, balanced by entertaining comedy moments and featuring an intelligent satirical streak that belies the lead duo’s relative stupidity. Unsurprisingly, the reversal of norms is what initially makes Tucker and Dale a compelling watch. Here the usual butt-fucking Brady bunch of backwards, inbred, deep-south archetypes are a warm, friendly duo that unfortunately look like they might be a couple of unpleasant psychos. The college gang are typical fresh-faced smart-asses, but with deep-rooted prejudices and at least one psycho nut-job amongst them. That the frat goofs seemingly accept everything observed at face value is where much of the initial farce derives; ‘hey, we’ve got your friend’ calls a friendly Dale once they’ve pulled her from out of the lake, only to be met with cries of terror.
Would you trust this man?
With the set-up complete, the film just gets on with the lovingly crafted punch-lines; dispatching the incompetent students via hilarious accidental deaths that befit their mis-reading of situations. A sequence with a wood-chipper is not exactly unexpected but still reaches the echelons of horror-comedy genius (thanks mainly to Tudyk’s brilliant reaction). This is almost bettered by a chainsaw sequence involving Tucker and a horde of restless bees that will have you chuckling away like a gibbon. Proof that someone running at you screaming with a chainsaw in hand doesn’t necessarily mean they’re attempting to kill you. And any film that has the blonde bird with the massive norks splashed with gore in between the mayhem for simple chuckles is always onto a winner.
Tudyk and Labine, as needs be for the titular leads, are excellent throughout, providing Tucker and Dale with banter and warmth reminiscent of Val and Earl in Tremors. They’re incidental characteristic traits are delightful, from Tucker pouring beer onto his ever growing list of injuries for medicinal purposes to Dale’s photographic memory being of little use to his erstwhile social awkwardness. Most of the laughs are generated by the twosome, be it their own interpretation of the bizarre circumstances happening around them (‘suicide pact’) to their explanation with the local law enforcement about the host of dead bodies littered all over their property (‘Hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day’). Without such an endearing partnership, Tucker and Dale would easily be a less engaging watch. The students are also much more spunky and memorable than the usual brand of college personas that you almost feel sorry for their ineptitude. Jesse Moss is particularly excellent as the slightly unhinged Chad who leads the mayhem against poor old T&D, whilst Katrina Bowden is rather plucky as the damsel in distress.
Tucker and Dale - they deserve a sequel...
Parodies are a tough concept to deliver, yet Tucker and Dale succeeds largely on the underplaying of the situation. It’s less nudge, nudge, wink, wink, look how clever we are (i.e. it’s not unpalatable shit like Scary Movie), instead opting for a more seamless transition into routine horror, but one that tells convention to ever so slightly do one (kind of like Bubba Ho-Tep). Sure, the plot loses its way in the last third – the appearance of an improbable newspaper cutting from 20 years previously positing a big revelation is incredibly hackneyed - and the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ platitudes are as obvious as Wayne Rooney sporting new hair follicles. But at only 90 minutes long these do little to undermine the carnage and laugh riot that has already preceded. Tension, chainsaws, laughs and bucket-loads of gore, but not how you quite expect it, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a unique entry into the genre. It also happens to be rather wonderful.
Overall – A rare gem of a movie. Tucker and Dale are cult characters in the making; sequel please!