Writer: Eli Craig & Morgan Jurgenson
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Travis Nelson, Chelan Simmons, Christie Laing, Brandon Jay McLaren, Alex Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, Philip Granger, Joseph Allan Sutherland
Plot: In the Appalachian Mountains, a group of college students takes a trip to the woods. They stop to get beer, encountering a pair of rednecks. One of the girls, Allison (Katrina Bowden) is startled by the appearance of redneck Dale (Tyler Labine), and the kids hustle back to their car. Dale admires Allison from afar, and his buddy Tucker (Alan Tudyk) tries to convince him to take a chance and approach her. His weak attempt to be friendly frightens the girls. Chad (Jesse Moss) ushers them back into the car, and they speed off. Dejected, Dale slumps back to his truck and Tucker urges him to find the courage to pursue what he wants. The boys are on their way to a “summer home” Tucker bought by the lake, with an eye towards fixing it up. When a beam slips from the ceiling and nearly hits Tucker in the face, they decide they’d better start on the repairs.
At the college students’ campsite, Chad begins telling his friends the story of the “Memorial Day Massacre.” Twenty years ago, a bloodthirsty hillbilly slaughtered a group of college students just like them. Chad comes on to Allison, but she rejects him and goes to her friends, who are skinny-dipping in the lake. Tucker and Dale, meanwhile, are night fishing. When Dale spots Allison stripping, he accidentally startles her and she falls in the water, hitting her head. They pull her from the lake, saving her life, but the other kids mistake the rescue operation for a kidnapping and flee in terror. In the morning, Allison wakes up in Tucker’s cabin, head bandaged, wearing one of Dale’s flannel shirts. As he approaches her, she’s terrified of him… until she realizes he’s just bringing her breakfast. She’s stunned to realize her friends abandoned her when they thought she was in danger, and finds herself slowly charmed by the gentle, sweetly awkward Dale, even giving him permission to call her Allie.
Chad plans an assault on the hillbillies, sending Chuck (Travis Nelson) to try to find the police and Mitch (Adam Beauchesne) to attack Tucker, who’s chopping wood with a chainsaw. Tucker accidentally saws into a beehive and begins to run, Mitch fleeing in a blind panic, impaling himself on a fallen tree and dying. The teens believe Tucker killed him. Back in the cabin, Dale and Allie start playing board games, Allie impressed by his knowledge of trivia and tells him of her plans to become a therapist. Tucker summons him to help outside, and the kids hide from them as they chat about Allison, mistaking their comments and Dale’s misspelled note (“We got yur frend”) for a threat.
Allie joins Dale in digging a hole for the outhouse, revealing she grew up on a farm and is used to hard work, while Tucker gets to work disposing of all the dead wood near the cabin in a huge chipper. (If you have paid any attention since the beginning of this project, you know exactly where this is going.) The teens attack, one of them spearing himself on the stick he planned to use to kill Dale and another leaping at Tucker and landing right in the wood chipper. Allison is accidentally knocked out. The boys bring her inside, believing the college students have entered into some sort of crazy suicide pact. Outside, the kids meet up with Chuck and the Sheriff (Philip Granger).
The Sheriff pulls up at the cabin just as Tucker and Dale get the remains out of the wood chipper. The Sheriff (understandably) doesn’t believe their story, and insists they take him inside to check on Allison. He accidentally triggers the beam that nearly hit Tucker earlier, and a board full of nails is drilled into his forehead. He stumbles outside and dies next to his car full of terrified teens. Chuck takes his gun and tries to shoot the rednecks, but forgets about the safety until Dale reminds him. Chuck winds up blowing his own head off. Chad manages to capture Tucker, dangling him upside-down from a tree and torturing him for being “pure evil.”
Allison wakes up and Dale tearfully says her friends are trying to murder his best friend and his dog. Allison starts to understand the misunderstanding and steps outside to calm her friends, but finds a package left on the stoop: a part of Tucker’s shirt with two fingers and a note from Chad, daring Dale to try to save his friend. Allison’s attempt to explain reveals she was afraid of Dale when she first saw him, and he blames himself for everything that’s happened. He asks her to tell her friends he never wanted to hurt anyone and sets out to rescue Tucker. He stumbles into a trap set by Chad, but the trap misses and he saves his friend. As night falls, Chad and Naomi (Christie Laing) sneak into the cabin. They find Allison alone and Chad begins pouring gas around the cabin, calling the boys evil freaks. Naomi accuses Allison of falling in love with her captor, Chad growing angry before Tucker and Dale arrive. Allie tries to make everyone talk things out, making Earl Gray tea (because Chad is allergic to Chamomile). Chad reveals his mother was the lone survivor of the Memorial Day Massacre. Outside, the last two teens (Jason-Brandon Jay McLaren, and Chloe-Chelan Simmons) break in. They wind up setting the cabin on fire. The remaining teens, except Chad, are killed, and Dale crashes the truck trying to escape. When he wakes up, Allison is missing and Tucker too injured to go on. Tucker tells Dale he’s a better man than he knows, and that Allison sees it too, and sends him off to be the hero. He tracks Chad to a mill, where Allison is tied up. Dale cuts her free and they run, finding an attic with more newspapers and boxes of tea. The papers reveal that Chad’s mother was actually raped by the hillbilly killer… and the photo of the murderer looks just like Chad. Chad refuses to believe it and he slashes at Dale, but Dale hits him in the face with Chamomile tea. Chad staggers backwards and falls from the window.
The news blames the deaths of the college students on a deranged killer (Chad), and Tucker watches the report from his hospital room, where his fingers have been (mostly) reattached. Dale takes Allison out bowling that night. As he awkwardly tries to profess his feelings for her, she silences him with a kiss.
Thoughts: Being, as I am, from Louisiana, cinematic depictions of the south frequently infuriate me. While every geographic region has some legitimate stereotypes, the notion that being from the south automatically makes someone lackwitted or intolerant is personally insulting and as ignorant as anything the people who make those claims are upset about. And that is why I love Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. On its face, the movie seems to play into all the backwoods hillbilly stereotypes. It soon becomes clear, though, that writers Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson had a totally different agenda with this film. Granted, Tucker and Dale could stand a few more showers and they may not be as refined as the Chads of the world, but they’re unrelentingly clever, hard-working, loyal, and brave. They are the salt of the Earth, and every death in the movie comes not at their hands, but because the college kids are far more stupid and intolerant than they accuse our heroes of being, and bring disaster upon themselves.
Even more so than most modern slasher movies, the death scenes are played for laughs, mainly because every single injury in the movie is either self-inflicted or Chad-inflicted. As it turns out, the only thing funnier than watching a teenager get hacked up by Jason Voorhees is watching a pretentious douche get hacked up because he thinks he’s being chased by Jason Voorhees.
The therapy scene is a great little double-punch. It comes across as a minor dig at the modern attitude of trying to talk through problems that may be beyond talking. Chad is clearly harboring deep, violent issues and it’s doubtful from the outset that there’s anything anyone could say to make him see reason. At the same time, it’s a great way to establish more of Chad’s character (he’s still a one-note villain, but now he’s a one-note villain with a motivation), and get some of the film’s funniest lines out all at once.
In terms of legitimate horror, there isn’t too much here. Some of the death scenes are a little gory and violent, but they’re never played realistically enough to get too horrified. Tucker and Dale are supposed to look disturbing at the outset, but that switch is flipped virtually as soon as they start talking. And while Chad makes for a solid villain, he’s never particularly frightening or intimidating. Tucker and Dale could easily take him out at any point if they weren’t trying to hold back, which they do either because they don’t realize they’re in danger, don’t want to hurt anybody, or are instead more concerned with protecting Allison.
In a strange way, this movie is a further deconstruction of the sort that began with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although it takes its inspiration more from the Last House on the Left or Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of terror. In Buffy, we watched as the typical horror movie victim got the upper hand on the monsters and became a superhero. In Tucker and Dale the reversal goes a step further, with the usual victim becoming the monster himself and the usual monsters becoming champions. It’s such a simple, brilliant change-up that it’s almost impossible to believe it hasn’t been done before. (Unless it has been done before. If it has been done, please let me know.)
Although I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie the first time I watched it, it won me over almost instantly. The change to the usual horror movie formula is fresh and entertaining. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are charming comedic actors that work really well together, coming across as a great movie duo. This is the newest movie on the list, receiving only a limited theatrical release and a DVD release earlier this year, so I won’t be surprised if a lot of you haven’t seen it yet. If you fall into that category, go to NetFlix streaming and stream the heck out of it, now, before your Halloween passes. It’s a great way to cap off the season.
Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!
And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.