Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk encounter force they cannot begin to understand in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 17: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

It is alright for friends to disagree, and with that in mind, today we are going to discuss something about which a lot of true-blue horror fans disagree: parody. Bad parody is just the worst. It is depressing, and because its tropes and rules are so well defined, the horror genre tends to be the target of a lot of parody. Most of it is unfortunate and unwatchable.

The best parodies are made with love and appreciation for the subject being lampooned. In this respect, Shaun of the Dead is probably the most popular and successful example, and Edgar Wright’s second feature is a thorough skewering of horror in general and zombie films in particular. It is quite good, and I would not begrudge anyone who has not seen it adding it to the list. But one of my goals is to champion the underdog, and writer-director Eli Craig’s little-seen gem of a debut feature, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, definitely qualifies as an underdog.

Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson take all of our favorite horror movie clich├ęs – a diverse group of students, a dilapidated cabin in the woods, back-country hillbillies, etc. – and shift the audience’s perspective on these tropes in very slight ways. In so doing, they turn up the absurdity to the proverbial 11, but it is absurdity as high art. Craig and Jurgenson’s change of focus forces viewers to consider the ways their preconceived notions affect how they relate to the characters.

Case in point, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play Tucker and Dale, two country-boy friends on a fishing trip at their cabin, a vacation home that is a fixer-up at best. Due to a series of increasingly insane but never implausible misunderstandings, they are positioned as hillbilly serial killer-stalker-kidnappers and a threat to an obnoxious group of college kids whose path they cross. The audience knows better, but in traditional horror films, we would be seeing through the eyes of the college kids, who it must be said have a legitimate if misplaced gripe.

This is where prejudices and preconceptions come into play. Craig and Jurgenson give the audience the benefit of seeing things from Tucker and Dale’s point of view, but the college kids do not have that overarching perspective. What they see are hillbillies, malice, and danger. They feel under attack because they are programmed to be the victims in this situation. By reacting violently against that stereotype, without considering their own stereotyping of the predicament, the college kids become the villains, leaving Tucker and Dale as unlikely, unprepared, and almost blissfully unaware heroes.

If horror has never been your cup of tea – and it is not for a lot of people, which is fine because, again, it is alright for friends to disagree – I still would urge you to give this a try. It is gory and constantly threatening to fly of the rails into insanity, but it is hilarious, honestly unparalleled. I have seen a lot of parody, even good parody, but I have never laughed as hard as I have at Tucker and Dale battling evil.

Tomorrow, we tag along with another unwitting duo in a classic horror-comedy of the first order.

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