“These kids are coming out here and killing themselves”
At my place of work I get to screen all manner of film and TV projects but on the most part I have an idea about what it is I’m about to show. When Tucker and Dale vs. Evil arrived on Digi- Beta (it’s like a giant VHS but far superior quality) for a screening I had no idea it was a big budget (well at least for a horror flick) horror movie and not another poorly made student project. Just look at that title, it’s Snakes On A Plane bad. Tucker and Dale was a genuine treat and is destined for cult status.
This film simply put is another in the American slasher genre and yet it manages to create something fresh and drops a huge twist within the film’s opening scenes that will leave any horror fan salivating for more. Throughout this review it’s best to remember that this screening is for a film that has yet to have a release date in the UK (it’s always possible it’ll go straight to DVD) and many things may change as last minute touch-ups take place such as the temporary soundtrack and unfinished special effects.
We start with a poor opening scene, a news crew investigate a burnt out cabin in the woods where a bizarre creature attacks them à la the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. I hope this gets cut as it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the film’s tone, sure it becomes clear what was going on by the film’s climax but it sticks in the back of your mind leaving you waiting for the connection and truly detracts from the fun going on. After this we are introduced to a bunch of stock teenagers on their way for a weekend getaway in the woods. As I saw this I was waiting for the same old formula to repeat its self, one by one they were going to be picked off by the creature, umm not quite…
You see the teenagers are not our protagonists, that duty falls to two characters who drive past them in a truck. Tucker and Dale are two Hillbillies on their way to a fishing trip in the woods. Tucker is played by Alan Tudyk, best known for his role as Wash on Firefly (plus the movie Serenity) and Dale by Tyler Labine who was in Reaper as Sock. This was genius casting as I am a big fan of both these guys and find their brand of comic relief hilarious. As they are known more as supporting actors it was great to see them as the leads of their own film and by the way things started I knew this was going to be comedy gold.
The entire film works at turning horror cliché on its head. We get to experience moments we are all accustomed to seeing but from the other side of the fence, however things are never quite what they seem. Tucker and Dale look like the crazed rednecks you find in any “cabin in the woods” story but in truth they are just normal people who find it hard to act naturally in social situations. Early in the film the teenagers pull into the same gas station as Tucker and Dale. Dale is infatuated by the beauty of the girls but is too nervous to talk to them. Tucker is the more level headed of the two and convinces Dale into trying to interact with them by explaining they are just people too. In a fantastically funny scene Dale nervously walks towards the teenagers with a scythe he just purchased and utters “you guys going into the woods?” followed by nervous manic laughter. The teenagers jump into their car and speed off as fast as they can leaving Dale and Tucker looking at each other perplexed.
This scene is genius and is only the first of many that get far more outlandish as the real meat of the tale kicks in. Later in the film one of the teenagers played by Katrina Bowden (from 30 Rock) slips off a rock while skinny dipping and bangs her head. Tucker and Dale rescue her, shouting to the other teenagers “we’ve got your friend!” From the kids point of view it appears that the hillbillies are kidnapping her and they run off to formulate a plan to get her back.
The whole set up is great but left me wondering if this was really going to descend into an actual horror movie. The opening scene was quite violent and left me waiting for this creature to attack forcing Tucker, Dale and the teenagers to reluctantly team up but this is not that movie. Tucker and Dale take Allison (Bowden) back to their Cabin in the woods and treat her wounds. Fortunately she realises they are helping her so we don’t have to sit through our ‘heroes’ being called villains constantly. The other teenagers lead separate assaults on the cabin only to accidentally cause their own deaths which appear to others as murder. Its sounds crazy, it felt crazy to write down as well but on film it works.
Now I don’t want to ruin the death scenes as they are truly spectacular and you never know how they are going to happen. I will give one away though to give you an idea of the insanity. Tucker is using a wood chipper when one of the teenagers tries to punch him in the back of the head. Tucker bends down to pick up some wood causing the kid to plunge head first into the chipper (see image above). This is extremely violent and gory and yet at no point does the film drop the humour as Tucker and Dale’s reaction to everything around them defies logic. Believing the teenagers to be a suicide cult (Tucker and Dale are not the sharpest tools in the box) that want Allison back to make her commit suicide they decide to protect her from harm.
Now despite this being a pleasant surprise certain aspects just don’t work. The tone is clearly tongue in check but the makers ram it so far back they come close to choking. Even with the comedic aspects Tucker and Dale are played with such sincerity they feel like real people but the world around them feels like a sitcom. Both clash and things just don’t seem natural.
When I first realised that all the deaths were going to be self inflicted I thought it was a great twist on the genre but quickly realised why it had never been done before. It’s boring. There are only so many times accidental deaths can occur before the teenagers should notice something is up. The deaths although inventive eventually descend into complete farce which really takes you out of the film. This would have worked in far shorter bursts perhaps as a 45 minute episode on an anthology series such as Masters Of Horror, 90 minutes is too long. The impact is also lessened due to the lack of a real villain – even The Final Destination implied that Death was a force. The writers clearly realised this and did two things that I really wasn’t on board with.
Once the insanity kicks off with the first death the teenage group take a turn for the worse. Each and every character becomes a complete areshole devoid of any redeeming features. I understand that by doing this we are meant to distance ourselves from these characters so that Tucker and Dale shine as the true heroes and the death scenes are more justified but they went so far with these characters that I truly disliked them and didn’t want to spend any time with them. When these characters died I didn’t really get the satisfaction of seeing a disliked character die but was more relieved that I wasn’t going to see them again.
The second thing that didn’t work for me was the ending which I’m not going to spoil here. The last 20 minutes once again shift the tone of the flick but at this point we are returned to traditional horror fare with the title of the piece actually making sense. Rather than feeling satisfied I was disappointed that they abandoned the whole idea of turning the genre on its head despite having a hillbilly for a hero.
With all the shortcomings this is still an enjoyable ride and a different take on the slasher genre. Tucker and Dale are great characters who had me rolling with laughter and I hope the finished product improves the pacing to alleviate a few of the problems I found. I’m left wondering if this will appeal to people who are not familiar with the slasher genre as a lot of the humour revolves around familiarity but for me at least this made a nice change. 7/10
Chelan Simmons who plays one of the hapless teenagers also starred in another accidental death movie, Final Destination 3
Premiered on 22 January 2010 at Sundance Film Festival
To see the trailer for this flick click the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05mZuNTVw-c&feature=related
Director: Eli Craig
Screenplay: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Chelan Simmons
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