At this late date, "smart slasher flick" might seem like an oxymoron, but Tucker & Dale vs. Evil isn't your typical slasher flick. Instead, it's a cleverly plotted gem that uproots the whole genre in a manner that's both savvy and satisfying.
While assembly-line movies like Final Destination 5 and Saw 3D: The Final Chapter open on approximately 3,000 screens and gross tens of millions of dollars, here's this poor little film, which opened in a scant 30 theaters and to date has grossed just slightly above $100,000. (Here in Charlotte, it's only receiving one solitary showing; see below for details.) Yet it's a godsend for anyone looking for something different in their horror-film diet, and even folks who generally shy away from gorefests will appreciate the dark humor, surprising plot pirouettes and, most shockingly, developed characterizations. What's more, film fans who believe there's no way they could ever cheer for rednecks (a lifetime of Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will do that to a person) will sheepishly smirk as they find themselves rooting for the rubes holding center stage here.
In time-honored tradition, a group of college kids heads to the mountains (in the South, natch) for a weekend getaway, only to cross paths with two shuffling backwoods hicks. They're fearful of these good ole boys, not realizing that, despite their verbal inefficiency and apparent lack of hygiene, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) wouldn't even harm a fly. In fact, they even save one of the collegians, a blonde beauty named Allison (Katrina Bowden), after she almost drowns, taking her back to their dilapidated cabin so she can recuperate. The other kids, however, assume the worst ("I think I saw one of them eating her face!"), and the heightened miscommunication between the two factions eventually results in corpses canvassing the woods.
T&DvE isn't one of those dreadful spoofs that merely take random pot shots at recent films, hoping something sticks (e.g. Vampires Suck, Epic Movie). Instead, writer-director Eli Craig (Sally Field's son!) and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson obviously engaged in some late-night sessions of careful genre deconstruction, breaking down the foundation of the slasher film before rebuilding it with shrewdly added satiric elements in place. Thus, the iconic image of Leatherface swinging his Texas chainsaw over his head here gets reconfigured as Tucker wildly waving his chainsaw because he's trying to escape from a hornet's nest. Dale, meanwhile, isn't leering at Allison because he's deranged; it's due to the fact that he's tongue-tied, having never spoken to someone as purty as her before.
And so it goes. Running just shy of 90 minutes, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil keeps its wits about it almost until the end — admittedly, the denouement is a bit sloppy, rushing to wrap everything up. But the actors are game (Labine stands out as the sensitive Dale), the laughs are plentiful, and the wood chipper stays busy.
(Tucker & Dale vs. Evil will be screened as part of the Back Alley Film Series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Crownpoint Stadium 12, 9630 Monroe Road. General admission is $8. For complete information, go to www.backalleyfilmseries.com.)