It’s a slasher subgenre that we have become all too familiar with: The Backwoods Horror film featuring deranged rednecks who cross paths with naive city slickers. At a glance Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil appears to follow the same predictable formula, but in fact the classic tale is told with a hilarious twist. The story unfolds with two lovable hillbillies who purchase a dilapidated cabin in the middle of the woods as their dream vacation home, and are mistaken for murderers by a group of pretentious college students camping nearby.
The film depicts embodiments of slasher film icons while offering innocent explanations through the point of view of either Dale (Alan Tudyk) or Tucker (Tyler Labine). The opening scene shows the two parties stopping at “Last Chance Gas Station” (a nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), where Tucker becomes enamored with Allisson (Katrina Bowden), a pretty college girl. While loading their truck with supplies, Dale convinces Tucker he should talk to her and tells him he should “just smile and laugh,” advice he takes while unfortunately still holding a scythe from his supplies. From the perspective of the college students, Tucker appears to be unbalanced and threatening when the reality is he’s merely shy and awkward. Later, when the two accidentally scare Allie and she nearly drowns in a lake, Tucker jumps in after her. After she is safely in their boat, Dale calls out, “We got your friend!” Her friends take this as a taunt and flee the scene with the intention to return to rescue Allie from her supposed kidnappers, thus creating the massive misunderstanding that results in much death and bloodshed.
The film offers a large cast, but most of the characters have no real development, otherwise relying heavily on caricatures and intentional stereotypes. The result of this is that the audience remains sympathetic to the two country bumpkin leads, and can find amusement in the over-the-top and often bloody ends of most of the students meet as a consequence to their own stupidity, (such as when one young man attempts to attack Dale as he feeds logs into a wood chipper and instead leaps head first into the machine.) Horror movie buffs will enjoy the many homages to classics, as well as this film’s playful pokes at the genre’s many cliches, such as when our heroes enter the decrepit cabin (reminiscent of the one featured in Evil Dead) and are innocently unphased by old animal bones and a wall of brutal newspaper clippings. We come to the conclusion that the previous owner must have been a hunter interested in local news. Other satisfying staples include an injured blonde girl running alone in the woods, an apparent chainsaw-wielding maniac chase, and a creepy small-town cop who delivers cryptic warnings.
The satirical turn that Tucker & Dale vs. Evil takesis a fun ride down an otherwise familiar path, with unexpected commentary on prejudices and miscommunication.