For anyone who’s seen Deliverance, or been exposed the lingering cultural aftereffects born from that movie, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil will have a familiar setup. A gaggle of attractive college students go camping only to be beset by some terrifying hillbillies, out for blood. In fact that’s the story being told around the campfire by this collegiate brood—the story of the “Memorial Day Massacre” which happened exactly 20 years before our story takes place. But of course, as anyone who has seen the trailer knows, this film’s intent is to turn that trope on its head
Director: Eli Craig
Producers: Morgan Jurgenson, Albert Klychak, Rosanne Milliken, Deepak Nayar
Writers: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Cinematographer: David Geddes
Editor: Bridget Durnford
Music: Mike Shields
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
Runtime: 89 mins
Premiere: January 22, 2010 – Sundance
US Theatrical Release: Sept. 30, 2011
US Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Far from the faceless, murder-hungry rural monsters of movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, our central Hillbilly duo—Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine)—are a couple of loveable buffoons from the first, awkward around girls and “city folk” and trying to overcome the cultural power of Deliverance that still haunts their existence. Tucker has just bought a vacation home—a legitimately terrifying cabin in the woods and the real site of this massacre two decades before—and the two are on their way out for an inaugural visit to clean the place up when they run into the college kids. One of them, Allison (Katrina Bowden), hits her head while swimming, and Tucker dives in to rescue her, but when the pair takes her back to the cabin to treat her bleeding head, her friends assume she has been kidnapped and initiate a desperate plan to rescue her from the supposedly murderous hillbillies. Most of this is high concept cult fair, even Alan Tudyk is in attendance (the patron saint of contemporary camp from Dodgeball to A Knight’s Tale), but although you can basically smell the elevator pitch that spawned this film, it’s still a joy to see on the screen.
Most of that comes from Dale, a surprisingly kind hearted and sensitive fellow with a genuine, raw humanity that shines through even in this comedic horror. In between the violent comic gore—a kid tries to tackle Tucker only to accidentally dive headfirst into a wood chipper—there is real character development and frank affection between the two. Dale treats Allison with a nervous deference and respect, and in turn she listens to him and sees him as a sweet, gentle soul, far from the terrifying country murderer she and her friends imagined.
Don’t get the wrong impression; this isn’t an emotional character study (though it has its moments). In between the bonding moments, there is enough schlocky gore to satisfy an entry-level horror fan—6 people die gruesome deaths and one is maimed—but all of it is comic and bland. There’s no seriousness or gravitas to any of it. This is not an exciting action thriller by any means, and if you walk into it with that hope you will be disappointed. It is, however, a film with real heart and although it disappoints from most perspectives, it’s worth an hour and a half.