Horror movie send-ups are nothing new. From classics like Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland, to less inspiring efforts like Lesbian Vampire Killers, such spoofs have become a genre in their own right, and are prone to the same pitfalls as any other type of film.
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil is an affectionate tribute to woodland hillbilly scares, and somehow manages to hit every note along the way. The true test of films such as this is whether they could belong on the shelf alongside those treasured properties they’re taking inspiration from, and unusually, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil actually does.
Tucker and Dale are two best friends who find themselves in trouble when a group of college kids mistake them for kidnapping murderers. As each of the young visitors start dying in increasingly horrific accidents, Tucker and Dale soon have to start defending themselves from attack.
It’s an ingenious plot twist that highlights the prejudices still found in modern America, but it’s also a hilariously fun ride that succeeds as a horror and a comedy, often at the same time. There’s plenty of well-executed gore to keep horror fans happy, but the characters are fleshed out well before any deaths start to occur.
The college kids, like the hillbillies before them, are predominantly portrayed as heartless psychos or mindless cannon fodder, but the genius behind Tucker & Dale is its titular characters. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are recognisable to fans of TV’s Reaper or Firefly, but you quickly forget that you’re not watching real friends on screen.
So natural are they in their roles, and so sympathetic are their performances, the film would fall apart without their involvement. Both are gifted comedy actors, but neither gets in the audience’s face as much as they could, keeping in character amidst the mayhem that ensues.
As mentioned earlier, the movie possesses a clever twist on an overly-familiar plot, but you believe that the actors are buying into it completely, a vital ingredient for a film that straddles opposing genres. Still, because Tudyk and Labine are so good, the parts of the film that you spend with other characters drag a little.
The most fun comes in the various deaths and how the friends decide to deal with them, something it shares with many a low-budget gore-fest. However, the deaths are so stylised, and the comedy so out-there, you’re certain nothing is to be taken seriously. One of the most successful early gags comes from Dale approaching a girl he likes while holding a scythe – not a joke you’d find in a Judd Apatow comedy or Wrong Turn sequel.
After a strong start, however, the last-third flounders a little, as the plot tries to wrap matters up in the least jarring way possible. You get the impression that everyone involved was having too much fun to spare much thought for the loose ends, and this thoroughly unique effort finishes on a slightly obvious note. But the power of the movie comes from its heart, and its affection for its leads, their relationship, and the genre they inhabit is evident from beginning to end.
It’s rare for a hack-and-slash fest to invest so much in its characters, but you’ll be more interested in whether the two hillbillies with hearts of gold make it out all right.