Movies

Movie Review: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Also known by its working titles of Night Of The Living Preppies and Stop The Chainsaw Massacre, I Want To Get Off!

In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two well-meaning but simple hillbillies looking to enjoy some time away in the cabin Tucker has just purchased. At the same time, a group of obnoxious college kids has chosen the same woods to take a camping trip. When Allison (Katrina Bowden) falls into a lake during a skinny-dip gone awry, Tucker and Dale save her from drowning and take her to the cabin to rest and recover. However, her friends assume that she’s been kidnapped and that Tucker and Dale are psycho redneck serial killers. Led by arrogant alpha male Chad (Jesse Moss), her friends try to “save” her and wind up on the receiving end of a number of nasty freak accidents in the process, much to Tucker and Dale’s complete bafflement.

WARNING Y’ALL: THERE COULD BE SOME ‘A THOSE SPOILERS IN HERE!

Thanks to Deliverance and the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the “psychotic redneck” has become a staple archetype in horror cinema. Friday The 13th gave us the used and abused “rowdy teens in the woods meet a serial killer” trope. Combining the two and essentially reversing the polarity 180 degrees, writer/director Eli Craig has created a consistently funny satire of a subgenre that has grown increasingly stale and tired. 

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No! Not another horror movie cliche!

It’s become unfortunately common in cinema to depict rural people (aka “hillbillies”) who don’t live in Beverly Hills as either hopelessly ignorant hicks or inbred, murderous psychopaths. By making the hillbillies the protagonists of the picture, Craig shifts the perspective and the audience sympathy. Tucker and Dale are simple folk, but they’re also good folk, and they deal with the situations in the film as calmly as they can using their own brand of logic and resourcefulness. Allison is quickly won over by Dale’s gentlemanly demeanor and respect for her: the first time they meet, she panics when he enters the room…and he panics because he thinks she hates the pancakes he made her for breakfast. Tucker and Dale are just two guys trying to enjoy their vacation, constantly worried by the kids who keep “killing themselves” on their property.

The college kids, on the other hand, are almost uniformly unlikable, it not downright loathsome. Chad, especially, is a particularly repellant creature. With his popped collar and unearned swagger, he’s an amalgamation of every preppy bad guy from every 80s nerds-vs-snobs comedy fueled by entitlement, Axe body spray, and a surprisingly violent streak. From some of the first scenes, it’s clear that he might as well have “date rapist” tattooed on his forehead. His friends generally aren’t any better. None of them stop to think that maybe Tucker and Dale AREN’T backwoods axe murderers, and in the end, they’re really no smarter than Tucker or Dale themselves. The difference, though, is that while Tucker and Dale admit they might not be the brightest, the college kids assume that they’re smarter than everybody else because they don’t speak with a drawl.

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Okay, everybody pick one that you’d like to smack.

That’s totally on purpose, though. The college kids are a commentary on the typical cast of a mainstream horror film: a pack of pretty teenagers and early 20-somethings, mostly white with a couple of minorities thrown in (who almost always get killed off immediately), with a character to appeal to every demographic even if it makes no logical sense why kids of such disparate attitudes would be hanging out with each other. We don’t really learn the names of many of the kids because they honestly aren’t important. The fact that they’re played by an all-Canadian cast (the film was made in Alberta) adds to the anonymity and further strengthens the satire of the film. The kids all do a fine job, though; each one heartily embracing the stereotypes that the genre calls on them to fill. 

In fact, the casting of the film is one of its strongest assets. Tudyk and Labine do an excellent job as Tucker and Dale. They rarely give in to the temptation to play their characters for total comedic value. Both of them approach the role as they would any other, and they’re both sympathetic and funny as characters, not as stereotypes. Katrina Bowden does a good job in her turn, adding life to a role that really only requires her to look pretty and either scream or smile as appropriate. Jesse Moss tends to overplay his part, but he dives into Chad’s slimy, noxious skin with gusto and makes a great antagonist.

The film isn’t a true horror film, aiming squarely for the Bruce Campbell/Sam Raimi gross/sweet spot. There are plenty of gore scenes, but they’re all played over the top and never come off as scary, eliciting as many laughs as squirms. The kids meet their demises in increasingly ludicrous ways and always caused by their own arrogance, recklessness and stupidity. Frankly, they all deserve exactly what they get, and part of the fun of the movie is seeing their uppances come so dramatically. It’s everything you expect in a rural vs. urban horror film—including impalements, immolation and the best woodchipper scene since Fargo—but played in a completely straight way. There’s never any winking at the camera. The film thrives and scores by pointing out the utter ridiculousness of the situations that we as a genre audience have come to see as standard issue horror movie elements.

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I regret nothing!

While the film is funny from start to finish, it’s still a one-joke movie. Even at 88 minutes, it seems overlong. Part of that is because Craig lingers on many scenes far longer than he should, extending them at least a couple of beats over their welcome. This is his first feature, so it’s understandable that it’s not perfect. The third act especially starts to drag, and a last-minute twist is neither all that shocking nor entirely unexpected, although like the rest of the film, it’s played completely straight. The only scene that isn’t funny at all is the prologue, a short parody of found-footage horror films that just seems unnecessary and tacked on.

The film is so consistently hilarious, however, that you quickly forget the flaws. It’s the kind of movie that you may have to see twice because the audience is laughing so hard that you’ll miss lines. The last time I personally experienced that was at a showing of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and like that film, this is a pitch-perfect parody of a genre that takes itself far too seriously. If you only see one rednecks vs. preppies film this year—because trust me, there will be more—this should be the one. Oh, and watch out for that woodchipper.

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There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this.  Sort of.

Rating: 7 ouf of 10 / B

JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and has seen the Appalachains and lived to tell about it.<a href="http://www.fanboysoftheuniverse.com/index.php/forums/member/21/" title="imageimage

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