The Story: A group of party-hard college kids decide to take their spring break in hillbilly country, where they cross paths with a couple of loveable bumpkins who inadvertently knock them off one by one.
Expectations: Parody is tough. How does a filmmaker mock the conventions of a genre without annoying and alienating the fans who really love it? In my opinion, the best way is to make a straight-faced character drama that mixes elements of horror with situational humor. SHAUN OF THE DEAD did it well, and ZOMBIELAND. The characters were smart and likable, which made the jokes funny and the scares scary. In spite of its silly title, I had hope for TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL because it features Alan Tudyk. Based on his stint in the Joss Whedon TV series FIREFLY, I know that he can be very likable, and very funny. And even though this film came out before CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012), I suppose I was hoping for some of that Joss Whedon humor... something like "Shaun of the Evil Dead."
Reaction: The setup of this movie reminded me a lot of Eli Roth's CABIN FEVER (2002), the way it self-consciously riffed on a familiar horror movie trope: City folk wander into a backwoods gas station and get creeped out by the laconic, unkempt locals. Usually in this type of film (see DELIVERANCE, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, WRONG TURN, etc.) the hillbillies are somehow complicit in the eventual deaths of the city slickers.... because, as we all know, rednecks are evil. TUCKER & DALE flips this story on its head -- by making us empathize with the hillbillies. As it turns out, they're not evil at all. They're not even dumb. Just misunderstood.
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are just trying to have a quiet weekend getaway, drinking beer and fishing at a charmingly rustic cabin in the woods. The filmmaker sets the scene perfectly with a cabin that looks exactly like the one in THE EVIL DEAD, decorated with animal bones right out of TEXAS CHAINSAW. Dale, clearly not a horror movie fan, observes that "whoever used to live here must have been an archaeologist." Tucker, noticing a bunch of newspaper clippings pasted to one of the walls, adds, "And a news junkie." True to horror movie cliches, the newspaper clippings are all about mysterious deaths... but Tucker focuses instead on a fast food coupon with no expiration date. So far so good. The filmmakers know the genre and the characters are likeable.
When the college kids show up, the film loses a bit of momentum. It's a foregone conclusion that these kids are just canon fodder... but still, it would have been nice if they were a bit more interesting. One character's slasher-movie-style flashback to a rash of murders that occurred twenty years ago in the same place could have been played for some kind of suspense, or at least for laughs. Instead it's lazy exposition... The scenes with the college kids are just passing the time until the focus is back on Tucker & Dale. Thankfully, that's where the focus of the film stays 90% of the time, as clever homages to TEXAS CHAINSAW, FRIDAY THE 13TH and even FARGO fly fast and furious. I dare say that horror fans will appreciate this one. It's not as smart as CABIN IN THE WOODS, and it's not scary... but, for a film with such a broad sense of humor, it's surprisingly clever.
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: A colorful homage to FARGO's famous wood-chipper scene.