Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Have you ever been watching something like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hill Have Eyes and found yourself rooting for the inbred killers because the so-called normal heroes were too stupid and boring? Then Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) is the movie for you.

Ah hillbillies. Rednecks. Country folk. Mountain people. Where would the horror genre be without this subculture to exploit? Backwoods people have been preying on clueless city slickers wandering into their clutches for a long time. It's a trope that's found mileage in a number of different movies: Deliverance, Southern Comfort, Wrong Turn, Motel Hell. Even outside of rural America, folks have a habit of running afoul of the locals, including Straw Dogs and Wolf Creek.

Why the popularity of the sub-genre? It's an easily recognizable archetype; the story is obvious and flexible: the clash of the civilized and the savage, a battle between decent, moral people and the monstrous, deranged weirdos. And the thematic arc has potency in this modern age when most people don't get a chance to experience genuine danger: do I have what it takes to fight and survive? Depending to what degree a character responds to a threat, we might discover he or she is really not so civilized after all, that maybe there's still some of that animalistic savage in all of us.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil has a setup that sounds like a typical plot of hillbilly horror. A bunch of college kids go into the woods for a vacation and get into trouble with a pair of rednecks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). Gory deaths ensue. The twist this time is Tucker and Dale, as the title indicates, are the good guys. In fact, they're downright lovable. The college kids, by design, are too bland, too stupid, and, in one case, too psychotic to be the heroes. All they end up doing is stumbling into and causing their own demise.

The film in its own way is a comedy of misunderstanding. For how smart these college kids think they are, they sure don't know how to communicate very well, and because of their snootiness toward  the good ol' boys, they automatically assume the worst of every action taken by Dale and Tucker. One of their friends is drowning and Dale pulls her into the boat? He's kidnapping her obviously. Tucker is using a chainsaw on a log and accidentally hits a bee's nest, forcing him to run in a blind panic? He's attacking!

Dale and Tucker might not be too bright, but they're a good-hearted sort. Tucker just bought a cabin in the woods, and he and Dale are going to fix it up, go fishing, and enjoy some cold beer. That the cabin housed some actual killers 20 years before who left newspaper clippings of their deeds on the wall and apparently hired Leatherface's interior decorator, well, they kind of missed that (they're more impressed by the unexpired coupon for chili dogs).

Comedy and horror go hand in hand. Set up a situation, apply strict logic, and you can't help but react a certain way, either with a scream or laugh. Tucker and Dale vs Evil has these clueless college kids trying to be heroic and failing miserably because they completely misread the situation. The kid running away from a chainsaw-wielding Tucker isn't looking where he's going and ends up impaling himself on a branch. Bloody but funny. The movie continues to escalate because the other kids find the body on the branch and assume it's a warning to them. The movie is bloody and gory, but it's done in a outrageous, comedic style. It's hard to be repulsed when you're giggling.

The movie also has its share of zingers and funny dialogue. Once the bodies start piling up, our heroes become convinced these college kids are part of a suicide pact and are now trying to kill them. Dale wants to call the police, but Tuckers says that won't work. The officer would never believe them if they say to him, "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." Later, a sheriff's deputy shows up while Tucker and Dale are dragging what's left of one of the kids. I bet you can guess what Tucker tells him. 

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