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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL!

THE STORY:  A bunch of dumb, drunk college kids mistake two creepy-looking, but well-meaning hillbillies — the eponymous Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) — for serial killers. After a misunderstanding, the college kids spend the rest of the film attacking Tucker and Dale, while managing to accidentally kill themselves off gruesomely (and hilariously) one by one. Rinse-and-repeat.

THE PLAYERS: Starring Alan Tudyk, Tyler LabineKatrina Bowden, and Jesse Moss. Directed by Eli Craig.  

THE HISTORY: Eli Craig was a USC film student who loved horror movies, and especially horror-comedies, like those made by a young Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Craig then set out to make his own horror-comedy, this time based on flipping the roles of the villains that are usually associated with horror films - i.e. murderous hillbillies like those from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or WRONG TURN - into the protagonists, instead of the partying college kids that are usually the focus of these types of films. After a few years, he was finally able to barely raise enough finances to get the film made, casting Tyler Labine - known at the time for the show REAPER - and Alan Tudyk to the roles of Dale and Tucker, respectively.

But it wasn't all moonshine and deer meat after finishing the film, as Craig hit a lot of roadblocks getting the film distributed. As he told it:

It turns out, when you make an independent film — or any film I guess — you either want it to be really indie or you want it to be really commercial. I guess mine kind of splits the difference between the two. I don’t know. We had so many studios carry us along to this almost huge release. We had Lionsgate, Summit, FilmDistrict, and even Paramount at one point all interested in distributing it. They would all take months looking at it and testing it and finally decided they didn’t want to be in the horror-comedy business. It was just a long road to get to “No” from some studios.

And while the smaller distribution company Magnet Films ended up giving TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL a small - but respectable - release, it may now finally be getting the cult reputation it deserves. Craig even parlayed that newfound success into the Netflix horror-comedy LITTLE EVIL starring Adam Scott and Evangeline Lily. Not only that, but as recently as last year, Labine and Tudyk have mentioned their intention of producing a sequel to the film. Here's hoping!

WHY IT'S GREAT: Now, I know what you’re thinking. This premise sounds like an SNL or (puke) MADtv skit stretched out to feature-length. How can that possibly be good Well, first off, there's Alan “Firefly” Tudyk and Tyler Labine as our leads. This movie is utterly dependent on their chemistry, and luckily director Eli Craig Lavoisier’d that bitch (Ed note: famous chemist. We had to look him up). They are just so warm, likable and believable as long-time pals, that it would be impossible to not be on their side. Which is important for the film to work at all. What also makes the movie work is just how creepy these actors look. When they’re first introduced, it’s totally understandable how the college students would be frightened by these unkempt, dirty, steely-eyed, good ol’ boys carrying sharp objects. If they looked too nice we’d never believe the kids would be frightened, and if they weren’t able to let humanity shine past their horrible visages, we wouldn’t have a movie. It is a delicate balance, but they are able to make it work gracefully.

Finally, we arrive at the heart of the movie. The core of the story is about how Dale feels inadequate — he thinks he’s ugly, dumb and fat. Tucker then spends the whole movie trying to get Dale to feel better. However, when Dale saves one of the college kids, Allison (30 ROCK’s Katrina Bowden), from drowning at the beginning of the film, we see a cute romance bloom as they learn to look past their exteriors (Dale as chubby hillbilly and Alison as unattainable blonde) to see who they really are as people. And it’s believable, for the most part. So beyond the idea of gruesome deaths and Southern-fried humor, it’s a cute story about believing in yourself and the power of friendship. Without that core, the film would just be an amusing farce that’s fun but disposable. But the aforementioned chemistry of the leads, combined with the dark humor, deepens the foundation and lets this movie blossom into a potential cult classic.

Now, no film is without its missteps. The villain is a bit too serious, there are a few scenes that don’t seem to fit well with the others (like a scene where Dale intentionally shoots at the kids with a nail gun), and the climax was a tad too dark for the overall tone of the film. But these are all nitpicks, and the movie is still great.

BEST SCENE: The movie gets a lot of mileage out of its send-up of Southern horror flicks by playing our prejudices against us. The best example occurs when one of the kids decides to investigate Tucker and Dale’s (obviously creepy-looking) cabin, where he sees Tucker outside revving up a chainsaw. It turns out Tucker is simply going to cut down some trees. The setup is obvious, but the anticipation makes it hilarious. It only gets better once Tucker hits a beehive embedded in the log, making him swing the chainsaw wildly like a madman. So it a) makes it obvious Tucker is oblivious to how psycho he appears, and b) makes it obvious why the college kids would believe he is evil. There’s even a part at the end of the scene where Tucker wonders if the college kid was allergic to bees since he was running so fast. The fact that the script could do so many variations on this type of gag is a testament to the talent of the cast and crew. In fact, many of the setups are predictable (another memorable one involves a woodchipper that rivals FARGO); however, they are all perfectly executed. 

SEE IT: TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL is widely available on Blu-ray/DVD, and currently streaming on Netflix.

PARTING SHOT: I’m not typically a fan of Southern horror, so I’m not recommending as a genre fan who got all the references and allusions or anything, but simply as a testament to plain ol' good fashioned filmmaking and storytelling. Anyone should be able to pick this up and enjoy it. Yes, even Grandma (as long as she can handle redneck jokes). So spread the word, people!

Extra Tidbit: The director wanted Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis for the titular roles, but the studio didn't want them because it thought they weren't bankable enough stars.
Source: JoBlo.com

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