FrightFest 2011: ‘Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil’ twists the horror-comedy formula and concocts a future cult classic

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Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil

Directed by Eli Craig

Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden

USA / Canada, 2010

What can possibly be said about Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil that hasn’t already been screamed before in a bloody roar from the hilltops? It’s one of those ultra-rare genre movies that manages to perfectly hem horror with comedy, sewing them together with finely-tuned precision, a relentless build, comic-book gore, and loveable characters. It even manages to throw in a romance arc for good measure. Yes, Tucker & Dale is a truly spectacular midnight movie that can be appreciated by all tropes of cinemagoers, but ultimately is made for the FRIGHTFEST crowd – the devoted, dedicated fanboys and girls who sit through year-after-year of misjudged, ill-conceived titles just to unearth something special like this.

Half the battle is in the set-up, which sees the film open as a typical teens-go-to-cabin-for-an-ill-advised-spring-break-and-end-up-stalked-by-deranged-hillbillies narrative. A couple of scenes in however and the movies attention is flipped – focusing on said hillbillies who turn out to be our real protagonists; a pair of endearingly well-intentioned best friends who are off to spend the week doing up their recently purchased ‘holiday home’ (read: dilapidated, ominous shack).

When the duo accidentally scare a young girl from the group of debaucherous teens and subsequently rescue her from drowning, her friends of course misconstrue the situation and a rapidly accelerating sequences of similar misunderstandings act as the bones of the film – allowing for spectacularly gruesome death sequences and hilarious genre-cliché defining moments to stem naturally from the set-up.

For most films, such a simple and effective premise would be enough and (sadly) for most of us horror nuts –  we’d lap it up regardless of how well the actual film is made. But rest easy as Tucker & Dale is far more than just a good idea – it’s a beautifully made, slickly polished, punchily edited, brilliantly visceral and well-acted flick that, with the right setting and audience, makes for a nigh-on perfect late night horror experience.

Much of this comes down to the lead trio of characters who are effortlessly likeable and give the film genuine charm and heart. Alan Tudyk (fan-favourite from Firefly and Serenity) is the ‘brains’ of the pair and hits his comedic beats perfectly (the wasp-induced Leatherface rampage parody is sensational). Katrina Bowden (Sex Drive, the upcoming Piranha 3DD) somehow manages to convince as a member of both camps – the teens and the hillbillies — and pulls-off a difficult romance sub-plot. But it’s Tyler Labine (tiny roles in Zack & Miri Make a Porno and Rise of the Planet of the Apes) who steals the show with his affable, loveable and generous-hearted protagonist that fuels the film’s love story. If there’s any justice, he will be propelled to bigger roles within the next year or so.

It’s that rare magic of charm and charisma between a collection of actors on screen that is so hard to come by, particularly in this genre, and that Tucker & Dale exudes so effortlessly.

It’s not a perfect film. Toward the finale it begins to sag a little bit like most comedies, but manages to exit on a fresh and confident note. And due to the nature of the set-up; the audience is required to suspend all disbelief at the door, but you’d have to be a stone-hearted cynic not to welcome this trade-off for the joy on screen. 

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is an absolute cult classic in the making and deserves to be treated as the horror / comedy gem it is, allowing it to sit proudly alongside Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon as an insanely inventive and enjoyable twist on classic horror genre formulas.

And first-time director Eli Craig should be proud of himself.  

Hits UK cinemas 23rd September.

Al White

Visit the FrightFest website

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