I like a lot of horror comedies. They’re obviously not my go-to choice when I think of the genre, but I’m all for horror movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. I’m not including horror spoofs in this category, of course. I’m talking about the ZOMBIELANDs and the DEAD & BREAKFASTs of the world, not the STAN HELSINGs. But even though I’m a not-so-closet fan of horror comedies, I rarely find myself calling them hilarious.
TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL is hilarious. It was easily the funniest film I saw at SXSW; BARRY MUNDAY, a film where Patrick Wilson plays an everyday office schlub who loses his testicles, coming in second place. And it’s not hard to pin down why. Sure, Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson’s script is a clever twist on the College Kids + Cabin in the Woods + Hillbillies = Death formula. Sure, it’s got a fantastic amount of fake blood ready to splatter all over it’s cast. But all of that is secondary to the pairing of Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as Tucker and Dale, respectively.
Everyone should know how great Tudyk is on screen thanks to SERENITY and DEATH AT A FUNERAL, but unless you watched REAPER (and I told you you should have been, so you’ve got no excuse) on the CW, you’re probably not very familiar with Labine. That’s okay because after T&DVE hits your eyeballs, you’ll be up to speed with why he’s a great comedic talent just waiting in the wings to really have a career take-off. He and Tudyk have enough chemistry together that their on screen pairing should be traded on the stock market alongside Monsanto and Dow Chemical, which is why I really can’t explain how their first film together has yet been picked up for distribution. When it does get bought up, though, it could well launch him into the mainstream not unlike THE HANGOVER launched Zach Galifinakis. But before I turn this into the first official meeting of the unofficial Labine and Tudyk fan club, let’s get back to the story at hand.
Tucker and Dale head into the woods of the deep south to fix up Tucker’s newly purchased vacation home. A bunch of young college co-eds are also in said woods and, through a series of not implausible mix-ups, the co-eds think the hillbilly pair have kidnapped one of their own, the incredibly cute Katrina Bowden. The macho frat boy of the pack convinces them not to go to the police, however, and instead the group tries to get their hottest member back. Every time they accidentally fail fatally and every time it convinces the other that Tucker and Dale are homicidal maniacs.
What makes the script so great is that it’s not filled with tongue-in-cheek winks and nods to other horror movies. It’s got a lot of clever wit to it and has quite the understanding of how to structure a horror movie. The kills are glorious, incredibly memorable and perfectly paced apart from each other. The comedy, on the other hand, isn’t so perfectly paced. The first half of the film comes quick and fierce, while the second half slows down on the breathless laughs. But hey, if my biggest complaint about the movie is going to be “It’s first hour is more hilarious than it’s also hilarious second hour”, I’m absolutely okay with that.
A slightly smaller complaint would be that the macho frat boy, played by Jesse Moss, is a little too smarmy for his own good. Sure, he’s the Alpha Jaeger-Bomber of the bunch and you’re supposed to hate him, but the over-the-top nature of the character kind of smothers a few of the other cast members. As for those cast members, they’re all amusing caricatures of the horror movie co-ed, but the real stand out is Bowden. She’s given the most screen time of the lot, which certainly helps, but this is the first role of hers that proves she’s got a lot more talent than just looking good while delivering one liners as Liz Lemon’s assistant on “30 ROCK”.
Even with those two wrinkles, though, TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL is still a winner. Not only does it have laughs and gore gags to spare, but it’s got the most memorable horror comedy duo second only to SHAUN OF THE DEAD; and believe me, that’s high praise.