Running time: 89 mins
Director: Eli Craig
Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Hixploitation
2010 saw the release of Eli Craig’s Hixploitation inspired horror comedy that would play heavily on our understanding of the hillbilly and serve up a new way of thinking wrapped up in the outer workings of the ‘circumstantial comedy’. Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine) have set off to enjoy Tucker’s new vacation home in the mountains. En route they encounter a group of judgemental college kids. While fishing the two hillbillies rescue Allison (Bowden) from her night time dip turned drowning only to have their actions misconstrued as a kidnapping and for the kids attitudes towards ‘the redneck’ to skew their perception of events leading to a lot of death and mayhem.
The circumstantial comedy is a sub genre of comedy that requires the most precision as it runs the risk of either looking forced and obvious or too vague to pick up on. Over the course of cinema there have been some fine examples of circumstantial comedy (and some terrible ones too) with a personal favourite being the Peter Sellers classic Being There. The best examples of circumstantial comedy has the perfect marriage between script and performance, it’s the case in Being There and it’s evident in Tucker and Dale as the script (co-written by director Craig) has several well set up pieces that are allowed to develop organically, the message on the tree for example, and are skilfully padded out by subtle references and inspired scenarios from both the horror genre but also from the Hixploitation sub genre. These work on the audience the same way they work on the supporting cast of college kids, though we can see the bigger picture. As for performances Katrina Bowden is likeable as Allison, though the character is under developed, Jesse Moss (
) is the All American you can’t help but hate and as the Alpha Male of the misguided group this is actively encouraged. The evolution of his character is quick and at time rather than being seen as misguided he just comes across as frustratingly punchable...or sooo punchable. Tyler Labine delivers a soft and gentle performance that’s wonderfully against character expectations. Having only really seem him in Reaper prior to Tucker and Dale it was good to see a slightly different side to his range, here's hoping there's a lot more to come. As a long time fan of Joss Whedon I’m happy to be able to say that the reason the film works is because of Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dollhouse) as Tucker. He’s always been an underused and underappreciated actor and what’s delivered in Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is little short of a masterclass in gesturality. Tudyk’s depiction of Tucker is one of an earnest hard working individual yet there are moments or mimickry that echo the genre origins of the hillbilly. The scene in the cabin after the bee attack has Tudyk gingerly carrying his battered and pained face, his eyes closed, mouth cautious from the stings and it’s believable yet at the same time it mirrors the dim-witted sociopathic redneck of Exploitation and Horror cinema. Similarly the moment when he breaks through the door waving (out of control) a chainsaw everything about his physicality screams The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, his gate, his stride, even his balance. Chad
It’s remarkable how he does it yet it never feels like a simple imitation, the truth of the character and the scene shines through. It would be a completely different film without him and certainly would be worse off.
One or two of the circumstantial deaths feel a little similar but thankfully that’s it as Craig works hard to keep the film fresh and inventive. The reveal feels a little forced, which is a shame as the rest of the film seems natural and the film could have done with a little bit more exposition earlier to set it up but that’s a minor issue. There’s also a few small logic and narrative holes to the film but these are part and parcel of the genre.
On the surface Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil has a simple premise, a straight forward narrative and is relatively unchallenging but like the best Exploitation films it is dealing with, at the heart of the film, universal issues like tolerance, class, values and prejudice. The goals of the film are well thought out and achievable. It’s a rare film that succeeds as a Comedy, a Horror and an Exploitation film but Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is that film.