Horror comedy is one of the toughest subgenres to do right. As I’ve written before part of my fascination with both genres is how involuntary they are. How they completely bypass most of the usual criteria that we use to judge films and live or die by the gut instinctual reaction that they cause in the viewer. That’s a tough thing to do when you’re just going for one reaction, but when you’re going for two gut reactions that run directly counter to one another, well then you’re spinning plates while riding a unicycle.
I can say without hesitation that Tucker And Dale Versus Evil is the most successful horror comedy since Shaun Of The Dead. If it misses that movie’s heights well that’s because most things do.
Tucker And Dale follows two good hearted, slightly dim witted Good Ole Boys, who plan to spend the weekend fixing up the old shack they’ve bought deep in the heart of Appalachia. Unfortunately their trip coincides with a group of college kids led by the loathsome Chad, who quickly convinces the others in the group that they are about to star in an unauthorized remake of Just Before Dawn. After their rescue of the kids is misinterpreted as a kidnapping attempt, Tucker and Dale find themselves under siege. And before you can say “Mass Epidemic of Suicides” they find themselves dealing with quite a body count.
The strength of Tucker And Dale is the effortless way it swings between goofy splat stick and comedy of errors material (such as an early encounter which has Dale holding a scythe, giggling menacingly and asking “Y’all going camping.” But builds to it in a way that feels totally natural) and some genuinely witty material. Somehow the film manages to become more than a one joke movie.
It’s a genre lover’s treat of course, with a flashback to “The Memorial Day Massacre” proving that Eli Craig has just as good of a feel of/affection for the subgenre of the slasher film as Edgar Wright has for the zombie movie. The atmosphere is creepier and more consistent than most straight horror films released these days and needless to say the gore gags, including the already classic “head long dive into the woodchipper” bit are pretty great.
If the film has one flaw, which I will admit is kind of a nitpick to the point where I was genuinely trying to figure out whether to bring it up, it’s that the balance of the characters is a bit off. If you think back to Shaun Of The Dead (and yeah I know I’m bringing this up a lot but it’s the gold standard) the balance between Shaun, Ed and Liz is just perfect, with each character getting equal weight. With Tucker and Dale I feel like the balance is just a little off. The film does a great job establishing the relationship between the two, but after the first third it takes kind of a back seat to the budding romance between Dale and one of the “college kids”. With Tucker popping up mostly to deliver a few of the gags, and then act as a hostage. He becomes more of a supporting character than a co lead and I think the movie suffers for it.
This could just be me. Or the simple fact that I prefer Tudyk to Labine (who I was actually a fan of from way back on Reaper, a show I wish had gotten more of a chance, but who has played out his persona to diminishing returns ever since). He plays a hell of a straight man to the chaos here and the understated way he delivers lines like “That Chad kid has got some issues” raised some of the biggest laughs in the theater I was in.
But like I said, that’s just me. On the whole Tucker and Dale is a blast, a nostalgia piece that doesn’t rely on it and a horror comedy that delivers the goods on both fronts.