We live in a post-Shaun of the Dead world. Not only can the comedy horror film be done, but it can be done well — and it can make a lot of money. The key is character development. Zombieland worked. Jennifer's Body? Not so much. Written and directed by Eli Craig, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil sits comfortably somewhere between the two. Set in the utterly terrifying landscape of West Virginia, the hyperbolically named film employs an interesting concept: What if the villains in the typical slasher film weren't really all that bad? What if it was all in the minds of their "victims"?
We meet Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) on their way to the mountain cabin that Tucker has just used all his savings to purchase. It's a fixer-upper, but the guys, simple-folk, are impressed. They're perfectly normal dudes and not the least bit crazy, but they are socially awkward — so much so that they occasionally come off as crazy. And they have very bad luck with phrasing; when Dale says he "beat the crap" out of someone, it's not what you think. They're hillbillies with hearts of gold, and for people who admit to having very little formal education, they seem to have mastered comedic timing and dry wit.
Meanwhile, a group of the klutziest college kids you ever did meet are camping in the woods nearby. Tucker and Dale are enjoying a night of fishin' and PBR drinkin' when they spot Allison (Katrina Bowden, Cerie on 30 Rock) as she's undressing to skinny-dip with the rest of her friends. Dale has fancied Allison ever since spotting her at a gas station, but he didn't make the best first impression, so she freaks out when she spots the pair, hitting her head and plunging into the water, unconscious. Tucker and Dale pull her out of the water, a heroic act that's perceived as a kidnapping by Allison's ditzy gal pal. Egged on by alpha male Chad (Jesse Moss), the college kids are convinced that since these guys wear ball caps and overalls and drive an old pick-up, they must be blood-thirsty lunatics.
As Allison heals up in Tucker's cabin, making friends with Dale in the process, her friends make plans for a rescue. Some of them are caricatures of what we normally see in a slasher film: the bimbo who runs through the woods in platform heels, the sassy black character, the overzealous leader intent on saving the day. But it's not like Tucker and Dale could hurt these kids if they wanted to; they take care of that themselves. One runs into a spear, another accidentally shoots himself in the face, and so on and so forth. You can almost predict the brutal ways that these kids are accidentally going to kill themselves. It's just one bad coincidence after the other until the real villain of the film shows himself. The climax is a bit of a stretch, but it's goofy enough to forgive.
And goofy is the best way to describe Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. It is not a horror film. At no point will you be scared. Grossed out, yes, but not scared. Counseling sessions between the good guys and the bad guys are not the stuff of nightmares. You will root for Tucker and Dale, both in life and in love. And you will sleep comfortably when all is said and done.
The Park Circle Film Society will host a screening of Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil at the Olde North Charleston Picture House (4820 Jenkins Ave.) on Sat. Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. Visit parkcirclefilms.org for more.