What do you get when you mix the Bad Seed and Texas Chainsaw Massacre then film them from the wrong perspective? An hour and a half of pure, unadulterated movie bliss. I was mildly concerned that I had waited too long to see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and the anticipation would kill all hopes for enjoying it, but occasionally a movie is so good it lives up to its hype. I should probably preface this review by restating that I am not a fan of the horror genre. I find slasher films to be particularly horrible. My suspension of disbelief does not extend to the sheer idiocy of the victims found in these films. The fact that I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, albeit in 2003 remake form, is a small miracle in and of itself. Not only do I hate horror films, but I also hate satires of the genre in the vein of the Scary Movie series. So why did I love a movie that is essentially making fun of Texas Chainsaw?
First and foremost the Scary Movie series serves to water down movies that started at the IQ level of a grapefruit. Tucker and Dale does not. In fact, Tucker and Dale is incredibly unassuming. It doesn’t leap out of the screen and beat you over the head with a mutilated humor bone. It just walks along calmly talking to you about the facts of life. The complete lack of stereotypes and lack of cheap easy humor makes it glaringly obvious the movie was made outside of Hollywood’s clutches. In fact the writers have gone out of their way to draw attention to the lack of stereotypes for the West Virginia hillbillies Tucker and Dale. Having spent the last six months working for an ammo and camo shop in Kentucky I can assure you these two are incredibly well fleshed out characters. You just don’t see this level of character development in a satire of the horror genre.
I say the movie is derivative of Texas Chainsaw, but that may not be an obvious conclusion. After all, the movie is set in West Virginia. The similarities begin in the opening scene as we follow a reporter through a crime scene from a wobbly home video style camera. The similarities continue with an SUV full of college kids heading down a lonely road with the music blasting. Unfortunately the Skynard has been replaced with some kind of thumping bass banging tune, but I digress. They pull off at an ancient gas station full of Appalachian charm and begin playing up the Deliverance vibe. That’s about the time the movie quietly switches perspectives and we realize that the film’s namesakes are not among the frat boys, but the good ‘ole boys in the store.
There is a clearer Texas Chainsaw feel when the kids again meet up with Tucker and Dale at the lake they all happen to be camping around, but this time we’re seeing the action from both sides. Tucker and Dale are not insane leather-faced rednecks bent on eating human flesh. They’re just misunderstood country boys caught in a series of bizarre and unfortunate events. They’re also not a strange Amish cult bent on killing campers in their woods like the frat leader would have you believe.
Speaking of Chad. Actor Jesse Moss, whose previous acting highlights include a solitary episode of Stargate SG-1, was blatantly playing Tom Cruise for this movie. He wasn’t even trying to hide it. His stature, hair color and facial structure all led us in the Tom Cruise direction, then Moss took us the rest of the way with his mannerisms. It was so blatant it could not have been anything but intentional which led me to the big question. Why? Why is Tom Cruise running around the woods being his general crazy self while trying to exact some strange revenge fantasy? If nothing else it serves to ratchet up the comedic value a few more notches.
I’ve been describing this movie as a horror satire, but at its core it’s really a buddy comedy in the vein of Tommy Boy that happens to take place on the set of Evil Dead. Tucker and Dale have an on-screen dynamic that certainly rivals Tommy and Richard. You may have noticed I haven’t slipped into full on “Seven degrees of Kevin Bacon” mode for this one. That’s because aside from Tucker, who is played by Alan Tudyk, this movie is chock full of unknowns. I mean the only thing noteworthy about the director is that he shares the name of a particularly smooth Kentucky bourbon. Tudyk is by no means a Hollywood A-lister, but as the pilot of the Serenity he certainly tops my list of favorite actors. Particularly comedy actors. I mean heck, one of his first big roles was my first date movie.
Speaking of date movies, this one would fit the bill nicely. There’s an underlying current of romance to drive the plot forward with an abundance of absurdest humor and Final Destination levels of gore to distract you from the mushy stuff. I know my wife loved it. Final Destination. That’s another movie series that reflects poorly on humanity. Tucker and Dale does share Final Destination’s ability to telegraph impending death methods at times, but like Chekhov always says, if there’s a wood chipper hitched the truck in the first act you can bet it’s going to swallow someone in the following one.