We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
Directed by Eli Craig
Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, and Jesse Moss
Horror has proven to be one of the most flexible of all film genres in that it mixes well with other established genres, especially comedy. Filmmakers such as Sam Raimi and Wes Craven have effectively blended horror and comedy with their Evil Dead and Scream films, as did Edgar Wright with his 2004 zombie film Shaun of the Dead. All of these films (or at least most of them) effectively managed to balance big laughs with genuine frights. This is quite a difficult feat, because horror and humor belong on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, which explains why so many more horror comedies fail to strike the balance that those seminal films pulled off. Last year, first-time feature director Eli Craig and his writing partner Morgan Jurgenson released a small but interesting horror-comedy entitled Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, which provided a refreshing and funny new perspective on the well-worn slasher film subgenre.
The titular protagonists of the film are two likeable hillbillies played by Tyler Labine (probably best known from the short-lived TV series Reaper) and Alan Tudyk (best known as “Wash” from Joss Whedon’s beloved TV show Firefly and the spinoff film Serenity) who travel out into the woods for a weekend of fishing and relaxation. On the way, they come across a group of nubile college kids on a camping trip, all of whom are immediately creeped out by Tucker and Dale’s appearance. Our two heroes eventually stumble on a fetching member of the group named Allison (Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock), who becomes startled and falls, hitting her head on a rock. Tucker and Dale take Allison back to their cabin to try to nurse her back to life, while Allison’s frightened friends think they have kidnapped her and plan to murder her. Led by Allison’s overly macho boyfriend Chad (Jesse Moss), the frat kids mount a campaign to try to rescue Allison from her would-be captors. This leads many of the kids to a number of entertainingly gruesome deaths, all of which come inadvertantly by their own hand but look to their peers to be the work of Tucker and Dale. After nearly an hour of ridiculous misunderstandings and accidental deaths, Chad becomes increasingly obsessed with rescuing Allison to the point that, even when he is confronted with the truth, he shrugs it off in order to carry out what he thinks is his murderous birthright, and its up to the good-hearted Dale to ward off the bloodthirsty Chad.
While it never gets authentically frightening, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is at its best when it sends up the cliches and conventions of horror films. Craig and Jurgeson establish Tucker and Dale as the protagonists very early on in the film, which establishes that this will be a twist on the typical slasher film, but giving the college kids the mostly inadvertant role of the predator is a neat little twist that elevates it past the tired parody it could have been. Making the decision to have Tucker and Dale be aware of the horrible things going around them was another smart move, otherwise this could have turned into a bloody Forrest Gump. Admittedly, the premise gets a little tired in the third act, when Chad finally goes crazy and turns into a legitimate threat, but the movie as a whole is a fun treat for horror fans who enjoy seeing the basic structures of slasher films tweaked for the sake of humor. Amongst all the obligatory blood and gore, this film actually contains a positive message about not judging a book by its cover, which is a pretty rare viewpoint for horror, which normally tells us to always fear the unknown. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is currently streaming on Netflix Instant and is well worth checking out for horror fans and non-fans alike. 4 out of 5 Wood Chipper Accidents.