‘It’s the American Shaun of the Dead’…a statement you will no doubt have heard one to many times in relation to vaguely entertaining comedy horrors released in the wake of Edgar Wright’s fanboy classic.
Typically it’s an unjustified comparison regurgitated by lazy journalists and unimaginative PR agencies. That all said, Tucker & Dale vs Evil IS the American Shaun of the Dead – a romantic horror buddy comedy with two males leads, one fat, sweet and seemingly dumb and the other a slightly uptight beanpole played by the once star of a cult TV show. Sound familiar?
More importantly, it has the warmth and charm indicative of Wright’s debut film. It too lovingly satirises the horror genre by depicting a ‘what if’ scenario in which movie monsters are unleashed upon Average Joes. But instead of a zombie ridden Blighty, writer/director Eli Craig pulls a delightful switcheroo, showing the oft demonised Southern American working class to be – shock, horror – average functional members of society. It is the frivolously care free college kids, visiting a nameless Hicksville on a camping trip, that turn out to be the morally deranged villains. While most of them are merely ignorant – their fear of the locals must be the result of seeing Deliverance one too many times – one of them is a genuine psychopath.
When taking a fishing expedition near their ‘holiday home’ – a questionably rundown cabin in the woods –, redneck bezzy mates, Tucker (Firefly’s Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), are disturbed by a group of students enjoying a midnight dip. When one of them, Alison (Katrina Bowden), takes a nasty tumble on a rock, the piscatorial duo rescue her from drowning. However, her friends think she has been kidnapped and soon begin to run amuck trying to ‘rescue’ her from the accidental captors. What results is a sublime comedy of misunderstanding and violent casualties.
The gag rate is phenomenal. Joke after joke is delivered with breakneck verocity and wry ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ playfulness. Inventively, each punchline is sign posted long before it happens. By making reference to the intertextuality of American horror movies – glances of a chainsaw, scythe, dilapidated cabin, etc – the audience’s knowledge becomes paramount. By recognising the right combination of genre clichés we become acutely aware of their grimly humourous ends. While the college kids try and fail to ‘save’ their friend, they impale themselves on trees, cut each other open with chainsaws and, in what must be the best body-in-a-wood-chipper gag since Fargo, leap foolishly into the path of heavy machinery.
However, the funniest moments are the smallest ones. Just the sight of a heavily asthmatic man taking a prolonged toke on an impressive doobie immediately followed by a casual puff on an inhaler is enough to encourage riotous fits of laughter. It’s testament to Craig’s talent that he can produce so much from so little. It’s the same with the romantic elements, which are played blushingly between Labine and Bowden. Labine is especially compelling, fumbling over his words like a lovelorn teenager pining for his object of affection. And, while Tucker and Dale get equal billing, it is this reason why Dale becomes the true heart and soul of the movie.
That’s not to say it’s all perfect – the final act is rushed and crams too many ideas into a short space of time – but it comes shockingly close. Only the most jaded horror fans could dislike such a sweetly crafted love letter to the most ghastly of genres. It’s their loss.