Sean K. Cureton

Primordially Post-Modern Horror Comedy

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on October 31, 2015 at 3:41 pm
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Magnet Releasing

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2013)
Directed by Eli Craig
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

Following in the path of such iconic horror comedy masterpieces as Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Eli Craig’s directorial debut, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, is a grimy, gory, backwoods horror romp that plays up the genre for all of its very best camp elements. Seemingly set up as an alternative to Tobe Hooper’s cult-classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Craig’s film depicts two hillbilly-esque, country bumpkins, played to greatly sympathetic effect by veteran comic actors Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, as they become the physical manifestations of a rural mythology projected onto them by a troupe of middle-class, college kids. The socio-cultural prejudices that thematically weave throughout the entire film’s fabric are pointedly articulated, though they never entirely rest away the bite of what is a spectacularly violent splatter-fest. Tucker and Dale play their parts meticulously well, only to have the rug tugged out from under them, leaving them to tumble through an increasingly cliché-ridden, albeit self-aware, manifestation of every horror film perhaps too dependent on the very same tropes, pratfalls, and sight gags that lend so easily to thematic comedy. Craig’s film is on a par with other twenty-first century post-post-modern horror comedy gems as Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods, films that have situated themselves as individual entries within an increasingly well-versed community of genre filmmakers willing to exploit the very cinematic traditions that their films simultaneously mock and unambiguously embrace in kind.

As the found footage horror format continues to proliferate in regards to more straightforward horror films, movies like Craig’s work alongside the former productions as the extant remnants of a by-gone era, Tucker & Dale having more in common with such classic scary movies as John Carpenter’s Halloween than it does with the more thoroughly modern Rob Zombie remake. Where filmmakers like Zombie might wish to peel back sheer terror to discover the monster underneath, it is in films like Craig’s where the monsters are more appropriately distanced beneath the veneer of genre conventionalism. Zombie may be a more intellectually nuanced filmmaker at times, but is also a misguided sentimentalist when it comes to interpreting movie monsters with too much sympathy and self-identification. Craig’s film never seeks to find the humanity in its alluded depravity, and in effect makes a monster out of the very same sort of fanatic schlock-devotee that Zombie often comes across as being. Though Tucker & Dale is by no means the most original horror comedy to come out over the past fifteen years, it is an impeccably crafted comic diversion that earns its humor and gore in its honest approach towards the history of the horror movie.

When everything comes to close in Craig’s reimagining of a thoroughly cinematic, hick horror country, all of the pieces and various stereotypes have reached a conclusion entirely expected and predetermined by the prejudices underlying much of the film’s ironic acknowledgement of what has come before. Dale comes away from the film as the hero in a story not all that far divorced from Hooper’s aforementioned terrified tragedy, both Labine and Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface heroes of an unconventional sort. Much of Craig’s film is concerned with the way in which characters in a horror movie are largely expected to fulfill their given role, but in allowing Dale to overcome the monster role to which he has been assigned by the film’s expected victims, he gets the last laugh and rides off into the sunset with the film’s Final Girl, chainsaw still in hand. It would be easy to make very little of such a tired, simple premise, but in Craig’s hands the film engages with its audience in a deceptively playful manner, allowing them to make sweeping generalizations about the cast while also subverting those same expectations in a method entirely consistent with the film’s broadly applied farce. Tudyk and Labine are obviously made to be the butt of each and every joke that occurs, and much of the on-screen gore is hyper-accentuated to surreal effect, making the film hilarious in its various deconstructions of the narrative tradition at play throughout.

Like Goddard and Whedon did with The Cabin in the Woods, Craig takes a lot of the rustic eeriness at play in such classics as Friday the 13th and The Last House on the Left, and subverts those cinematic worlds into a playground for frenetically dangerous comedy to occur. Tucker and Dale eagerly engage with the backwoods psychopathology already resident to the abandoned summer home bequeathed by Tucker’s ambiguous lineage without knowing anything about the history of the horror film. In the absence of fully autonomous movie monsters, the presumed victims of Craig’s film run amok in recreating the very horror stores which have been otherwise supplied to them by an extant culture of horror aficionados, a la Jamie Kennedy in Scream. Every shock gag and blood spurt can be seen from a mile off, though the reaction from each character in the film is where a lot of the precocious fun is had, as the film devolves into a horror film just like any other despite its attempts to do otherwise. For all intents and purposes, Craig has made the seminal anti-horror film in much that same manner that Jackson and Raimi primordially achieved in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the 2000s, the traditionalism inherent to its very construction alternatively funny and genuinely surprising, proving that the horror film is alive and well despite repeated thematic recursion and repetition.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is available on Netflix Instant View, and is My Movies On Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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