There is oft the cry when watching a truly bad movie – how did this get made? The modern corollary, when viewing a film that has finally made its way to DVD over eighteen months after premiere, is – why did this film never get released?
Starring Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Tyler Labine of Reaper as the titular Tucker and Dale, intent on enjoying a fishing trip in the Appalachian Mountains at their recently purchased “fixer-upper” vacation home, a string of misapprehensions and misfortunes follow the two, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of several college kids who happen to be camping near them.
Largely spoiled by a trailer that gives away all the best moments, the film is not consistently funny, but in the gloriously gory death scenes – impalements, shootings and head / woodchipper interfaces – there is as much laughter as blood. The scenes between the slaughter are ably carried not only Tudyk and Labine, but by the whole ensemble. 30 Rock veteran Katrina Bowden’s Allison, whom the pair rescue after she almost drowns, prompting her friends to think she has been kidnapped by hillbillies, is warm and personable, truly believable in the friendship she strikes up with Dale.
Clever casting or the ubiquity of serial killers in American media means two other college kids have previous experience of onscreen death, Jesse Moss having appeared in Dear Mr Gacy and Chelan Simmons in Stephen King’s It, and both having appeared in Final Destination 3, with Simmons in the notorious death by sunbed scene.
In his first full length feature, director Eli Craig, himself a former actor, has drawn draw excellent performances from his whole cast, rendering them authentic and engaging even under the most preposterous circumstances, and unlike many similar horror films, every obvious question an audience is normally expected to ignore – why don’t we go to the police, why don’t we call for help – is acknowledged and addressed. Indeed, one of the characters, when it is suggested they attempt to rescue the missing Allison, asks “If they already ate her, what difference does it make?”
Largely filmed in the woods, that cliché of the slasher film, the locations are beautiful, drifting fog illuminated by shafts of sunlight, and the night scenes showcase the sensitivity of modern cameras, images rendered clearly while still convincingly dark, no day-for-night shooting here. More importantly, the effects are well handled, largely old-school prosthetics, make up and fake blood, only enhanced where necessary by computer generated inserts.
Unlike the tired Scary Movie spoofs that rely on juvenile humour and offer no invention, with the caveat that the films they mock offer little originality to draw upon, Tucker and Dale vs Evil at least wishes to break the formula that has dragged down Hollywood horror of the last decade.
The film is aware of its ancestry, not only in its subversion of conventions, but in a “twenty years ago” flashback to the sepia toned Memorial Day Massacre that provides the background – but wouldn’t day-glo have been a more accurate evocation of the nineties?
Role reversal is a central theme, with each group having a perception of the others as someone from another world that has no place in theirs. Dale looks at the visitors, saying “There is nothing about those college girls that is average,” and fails in his attempts to talk to them, possibly hampered by the scythe he is carrying at the time. Similarly, as soon as they see Tucker and Dale driving past in their power tool laden pickup truck, the campers categorise them as hillbillies, inbred and dangerous.
With only limited cinema distribution to boost the profile of the disc release, and no star names, it is likely this film will be fortunate to make it beyond cult status, a shame when so many inferior films receive more attention. Perhaps the greatest compliment is that it looks as though it was as much fun to make as it is to watch – and with Hallowe’en just around the corner, maybe it will inspire others to venture into the woods with a movie camera.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil has recently been released on blu-ray and DVD