Stop me if this sounds familiar: A bunch of stupid college students go out camping in the middle of nowhere for God knows what reason. They run afoul of the local crazy hillbillies and get slaughtered one by one. We’ve all seen this movie in some form or another. I can’t begin to count all the teenaged protagonists who’ve defeated some deranged hick with a chainsaw.
But now it’s time to hear the other side of the story.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil begins with a bunch of stupid college students who go out camping in the middle of nowhere for God knows what reason. Before long, they run into the eponymous Tucker (Alan freakin’ Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), who are just going out to renovate their new vacation home in the middle of the woods.
Of the young idiots, Dale takes a particular liking to Allie (Katrina Bowden), though he’s a shy, ugly, and stupid sort of guy. Tucker advises his friend to just be confident, smile, and laugh. Dale takes the advice, trying to strike up a conversation while inexplicably holding a scythe. And when the kids drive away in a hurry, he’s got no idea what went wrong.
At this point, it should be obvious that we’re watching a slasher parody. We’ve got two rednecks too stupid to know that they look like horror movie villains, and a bunch of kids too stupid to realize that they aren’t in a horror film.
And it’s funny. To repeat, this film is FUNNY. Let me count the ways.
1. This is admittedly a movie with a one-joke premise: The lead characters act in harmless ways that look exactly like serial killer behavior. The trick is that this one joke has a lot of mileage. There are so many slasher movie cliches and scenarios to go through, and each one needs its own set-up. With every chainsaw attack, every grotesque corpse, and every threatening message left for the survivors, there’s a completely different method of establishing the situation in an innocent way that’s wildly misinterpreted. It may only be one joke, but it’s one joke that’s constantly renewing itself and presented in a way that’s laugh-out-loud hilarious each time without fail.
2. The teens are impossible to relate to. These kids are so impossibly crude and stupid that they happily agree to go skinny-dipping in a nearby lake. At night, no less. In any other slasher film, this would prevent us from feeling scared for them and would therefore be a drawback. In this movie, it provides a level of emotional disconnect that makes it comical when they die in some convoluted way. What makes it even funnier is that for the premise to work, kids have to end up dead, and their deaths can’t have anything to do with Tucker and Dale. This means that all appearances to the contrary, these kids end up killing themselves. In the dumbest possible ways.
Simply put, it’s hard not to laugh at a guy so stupid that he kills himself by running into a tree branch. I know it sounds like a terrible thing to say, but that’s just how it is.
3. It’s a new and fresh way to deconstruct slasher horror. So many horror movies depend on making the killer an enigma, keeping the whys and wherefores of his actions a mystery until the last possible moment. On many occasions, the movie may even hide the killer’s identity until the climax.
In this movie, we know everything about the supposed killers. We know who they are and we know why they’re doing these apparently sinister things. But the teens don’t. As such, we have the ability to see this movie from both sides of the equation. This is called “dramatic irony,” and the movie uses it for horror movie parody to hilarious effect.
For the teens’ part, this is perhaps best expressed through the character of Chad (Jesse Moss). This guy might have been the hero in any other slasher movie, and he certainly believes himself to be the good guy. And like so many slasher movie protagonists before him, Chad steadily grows more paranoid and more militant in his quest to slay the villains and see justice done. Of course, in this movie, his determination comes off as a mania. Chad is played with a mad glint in his eye as he turns into a psychotic killer who’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing.
As for the other actors, they all do quite well. Katrina Bowden turns in a very good performance as a bimbo who turns out to be really sweet and surprisingly rational. Alan Tudyk is… well, he’s Alan Tudyk. I can’t hate the guy. I’ve seen him do comedy, I’ve seen him play sinister, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he could do a phenomenal job with this role. Sure enough, he knocks it out of the park.
Still, though Tucker may be the brains (so to speak) of our eponymous duo, this is unquestionably Dale’s story. It’s Dale who gets the girl, it’s Dale who saves the day, and it’s Dale who gets the lion’s share of character development. Fortunately, Tyler Labine does a great job playing sweet, self-effacing, stupid, and misunderstood. It also helps that he’s very funny and he plays wonderfully off of Tudyk.
Last but not least, I feel obligated to point out the sequel tease. Every slasher film has one, so this movie has to have one too. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that this movie presented its cliffhanger in a way that’s actually quite novel. If you want to know what I’m talking about, just pay very close attention to the start of the film.
Anyway, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil literally made me fall out of my chair laughing. This is a spot-on parody of a slasher film that takes every possible horror movie expectation and turns it on its ear to hilarious effect. The movie is wonderfully written, nicely acted, and slickly presented, especially for a $4 million budget. I deeply wish that I could describe the movie in greater detail, but this is a movie with jokes and surprises that you’ll just have to discover for yourself. Highly recommended.