Tuesday, October 4, 2011

31 Days of Halloween - Day 2: Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Spoilers might follow. I have noticed that I’ve been avoiding writing movie reviews lately and I think it’s because I’m sick of reining myself in so as not to give anything away. My natural writing style is to just let my brain spill forth onto the paper (or screen or whatever) and it is very unnatural for me to have to edit myself. So from here on out when I review a movie I’m just going to do my normal thing and talk about whatever I want to talk about.
Skip to the bottom if you just want my recommendation and a score.
This movie has been on the periphery of my awareness for quite some time now. I haven’t followed it like I did Your Highness or like I am Knights of Badassdom, but I knew it was happening.
Tucker & Dale stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine; which pretty much explains my interest. Everybody loves Tudyk and Labine is a favorite of mine for his work on Reaper (I’m still bummed that got cancelled). The last time I was made aware of the movie was when Labine was on Attack of the Show and mentioned it while promoting something else. It refreshed my memory at the time, but nothing else came about and I kind of forgot.

Then the other night after the family went to bed I was looking for something new to watch and saw Tucker & Dale in the “Before It Gets To Theaters” section or whatever it’s called. Ten bucks seems a little steep for a rental, but I always feel extra-cool seeing theatrical releases before they come out in the comfort of my own home. Granted, two of my previous experiences with the service were Monsters (that was going to be a link until I remembered I saved over that review - which was excellent) and Rubber and neither of those went well; but I had a good feeling about this one.
The movie opens with your stereotypical vehicle full of college kids on their way somewhere to presumably drink, smoke drugs and have premarital sex. While the movie itself is definitely satirical; it is not played as a comedy necessarily – this isn’t Scary Movie (thank God). The actors all play everything fairly straight and the tone is very much like any 80’s slasher flick you might watch. This is what makes the setup of the van full of coeds so good – they are very recognizable without being parodies.
Just as things are picking up and drugs are being smoked (while driving, no less!), a battered old pickup pulls up to pass and two ornery looking rednecks (Tudyk and Labine; Tucker and Dale, respectively) give the kids the ol’ stinkeye. Everybody gets a little nervous. Shortly after when the coeds pull into a provincial gas station we see a familiar pickup parked out front. Things are looking ominous.
Sure enough, one of the creepy rednecks (Tucker) is at the register talking ammo with the clerk. One of the girls proceeds further into the store and pulls a box off the shelf only to see the other redneck’s face leering at her from the other side. The college kids all get nervous and leave the store to load up the van.
So far, we have a classic setup for a “waylaid and raped/tortured/killed by hill people” movie. Nothing has been presented as comedy and if you were watching this cold with no prior awareness of Tudyk or Labine you’d think that was exactly what you were getting. I’m kind of jealous of anybody that might watch this movie that way, because they’re in for such a well done surprise.
And then all of a sudden the movie’s perspective shifts to Tucker and Dale and we discover they’re just regular good ol’ boys. A little rough around the edges, but perfectly relatable. Dale is shy and unsure of himself and Tucker is abrasive in a good-natured way. They’re on the way to Tucker’s newly acquired vacation home to do some fishing and relaxing and beer drinking while fixing the place up; hence their truck full of tools. Dale thinks one of those college girls is mighty cute but doesn’t feel comfortable talking to her. Tucker encourages him and does a little mild bullying and Dale finally decides, “why the heck not?” and starts to walk over.
But his gait is that of a guy who is a little unsure of himself. And he’s also still carrying the tool he was putting back in the truck when the conversation started.
So when our perspective shifts back to the college kids we see this large, shambling man whose gait resembles that of a weird hillbilly stalking prey carrying a giant scythe.
I don’t remember exactly what poor Dale said to the young lady at that point, but it was another genius bit of work where from his perspective it was merely an awkward and sweet series of questions/compliments but from the girl’s it was creepy and vaguely threatening. I think there’s a good chance I’ve been Dale several times in my life.
After this hilarious setup the groups separate and we stick with Tucker and Dale pretty much for the duration of the movie. It’s now their show; to the point where they are the ones who have the menacing encounter with the local weirdo who tells them their destination is full of pain and suffering. In this case the sheriff. This movie has all kinds of clever little change-ups like that. After the first half hour or so I was afraid that the gimmick would get stale, but the characters were handled so well and there were enough little twists that it never did.
So the college kids arrive at their campsite and start doing all the things you’d expect them to do. This guy Chad is quickly established as the group’s Alpha Male. He’s the perfect picture of your 80’s protagonist, popped collar and all. As a matter of fact, I’d bet money he was hired for his resemblance to and ability to impersonate Tom Cruise. That’s who he reminded me strongly of throughout the movie. Allison is the lead female – the object of Dale’s awkward conversation and Chad’s lust. We get this weird scene where Chad tells Allison they’re perfect for each other because they’re better than everybody else.
Meanwhile, Tucker and Dale arrive at their cabin. This is the first of many awesome scenes that display their absolute innocence. The cabin exterior is very Evil Dead (although what cabin isn’t, really) and the interior is straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But our heroes don’t see any of that. They see the bones hanging from the ceiling and assume the former owner must have been into archaeology. And the strange jars of fluids and body parts merely lead them to assume he must’ve been a doctor. There is a fine line between innocent and idiot and Tudyk and Labine tread it very skillfully. It would have been easy for Labine to fall into a Larry the Cable Guy impersonation, but he maintains a likeability and proactiveness that keep his character from just looking like a retard.
With both camps established, the real fun can begin.
That night, the coeds naturally come up with the idea to go skinny-dipping in the nearby lake that Tucker and Dale happen to be fishing on. While most of the group stick to the shore, Allison (put off by Chad’s weirdness) heads off on her own to disrobe atop some large rocks. In full view of our heroes. Dale’s first reaction is to say, “Oh, Lord!” and cover his eyes and look away while tucker sits there fascinated. The two disagree on whether or not they should be sitting there enjoying the sights, and it gets loud enough that Allison hears them. Startled, she slips and falls into the lake; hitting her head on the way down. Tucker and Dale are horrified and row over to fish her out of the water. Once they get her out, they stand up to let the other coeds know what’s going on.
Naturally, what is an innocent proclamation from Tucker is interpreted wrong and the kids all scream and run out of the lake.
Tucker and Dale are confused and left with no option other than returning to the cabin with Allison to try and patch her up and go to the hospital in the morning.
The next morning Allison wakes up to find herself in this strange, admittedly off-putting cabin being stared at by an admittedly threatening-looking dog. Of course she panics. Then a door is flung open and an ominously backlit form emerges bearing a sinister tray full of… breakfast. Allison screams and poor Dale doesn’t know what to do.
Oh, gosh. I’m sorry! I get it – you don’t like pancakes. I’ll make you something else! I’ll be right back. So stupid…”
Eventually the confusion is sorted out and Allison realizes Dale is just this guy – not threat at all. She feels bad for the misunderstanding and we see things have a good chance of working out just fine. Even Dale’s scary dog is just sweet and slobbery.
So of course while all this is going on the coeds are back at their camp planning to rescue their friend from the twisted hillbillies. They arm themselves the best they can and set off through the woods to set up my favorite part of any movie I have seen this year:
While Dale is inside the cabin feeding Allison and convincing her that he and Tucker aren’t psychopaths, Tucker is outside clearing trees. With a chainsaw. Naturally this is when the coeds start creeping up on the house and of course this is when Tucker saws through a hollow log into a beehive. So just as Chad is creeping up to the front porch, Tucker comes screaming around the side of the cabin like a maniac, waving his chainsaw and spinning around in the most uncanny impersonation of Leatherface you might ever want to see Alan Tudyk perform. I laughed so hard I was kneeling on the floor in front of my chair and tears were rolling out of my eyes. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever seen anything that funny. And what nearly killed me is the fact that the scene just keeps going. Tucker runs screaming through the woods, completely oblivious to the kids that think he’s chasing them until one of the kids – understandably paying more attention to the screaming guy running around with a chainsaw than where he is going – runs directly into a broken tree and impales the fuck out of himself.
Dude – I absolutely lost it. I had to pause the movie. This sequence is so brilliant and so perfectly executed. It may well be my favorite comedy bit of all time. A lot of that is owed to clever writing and cinematography, but most of it falls on the shoulders of Alan Tudyk. He – and the impaled kid – play the whole thing so straight. It’s so perfect.
Tucker is unaware of what has happened and returns to the cabin. The remaining coeds find their friend and assume the madman with the chainsaw did it. It’s time for a full assault on that cabin.
Tucker and Dale can’t figure out why Allison’s friends haven’t come back, but Allison has warmed up to Dale and is enjoying the pair’s company more than that of Chad, so she’s just kind of sticking around. Dale is outside digging a hole for an outhouse and Allison offers to help. Naturally he is a gentleman and tries to dissuade her, but she insists and explains that she grew up on a farm. She wants to do her part after they rescued her. Meanwhile, Tucker is on the other side of the cabin disposing of cleared trees in the wood chipper. The pair have been hauling that wood chipper around since the opening scene and let me tell you – the anticipation of seeing whatever was going to happen with it was almost unbearable.
This is when Allison’s friends show up and see what appears to be Dale forcing Allison to dig her own grave. Clearly these sick bastards have to be stopped. One of the guys is wielding a homemade spear and charges Dale while another rushes off towards Tucker with a knife. Allison spots her charging friend and warns Dale, who spins around and whacks Allison in the head with his shovel. He is horrified and leans over to check on her, causing the onrushing dude with the spear to overshoot an land in the hole, impaling himself on his spear. Which he slowly slides down.
Elsewhere, the kid with the knife is running at Tucker, who happens to lean over to pick up a branch. This kid, too, overshoots his target and flies straight into the wood chipper. Tucker stands up, takes a second to process what he’s looking at and then starts screaming and trying to pull the kid back out. Of course, to the other kids still in hiding and watching from the other side of the chipper it looks like Tucker is laughing maniacally and shoving the kid in.
This movie is so fucking good. I should also mention that the FX are gruesome. You might be thinking with Tucker & Dale being a comedy the gore might be toned down a bit. Not so. Again, the kills are just as gory (but not over-the-top silly) as what you’d see in any 80’s slasher flick. It’s another facet of the perfect tone of the movie.
So Allison is knocked out (again), the kids have run off in terror and Dale gets up to see Tucker trying to pull these legs out of the wood chipper. Being a helpful friend, he goes over to assist. They finally manage to pull the kid out. Well, from the waist down. Tucker and Dale are mystified by what’s going on and think the kids must be part of some kind of suicide cult. Or maybe they all just went crazy and decided to start killing themselves. Our heroes are genuinely confused and the fine line between idiocy and innocence is once again tread very skillfully.
And of course, as they drag the severed legs off into the woods trying to figure out just what the heck they’re going to do, that’s when the sheriff shows up.
The pair try to explain what they think is going on to the sheriff, who follows them into the cabin where a beam full of nails comes loose from the ceiling and smashes the sheriff in the face. He goes flying out the front door in front of the coeds who have returned after seeing the cop car. There is a whole segment here that I’m going to skip because I can’t remember how everything went down. Somehow Tucker gets captured by the kids, who cut two of his fingers off and send them to Dale as a message. Dale rescues his friend, but eventually we end up with Chad in the cabin pointing the sheriff’s gun at Dale. He goes into this story about his parents being assaulted by crazy hillbillies in the area and how his dad was killed but his mom got away and Tucker and Dale are more of the same kind of scum.
Allison convinces everybody to just calm the heck down and have a cup of tea and talk things out. Chad points out that he can’t drink chamomile because of his asthma but it’s all cool because this is Earl Grey. Dale loves Earl Grey.
Our surviving coeds are outside the cabin watching and assume Chad is being held hostage. They bust in and through another series of pretty hilarious mishaps we get two more dead coeds and Chad and the cabin on fire. Tucker, Dale and Allison manage to escape the burning domicile; but of course with all conventions being reversed Chad comes screaming out of the flames – he’s not done yet.
Our trio of protagonists attempt to make their escape in Tucker’s truck, but Dale runs them into a tree.
When he wakes up, Allison is gone and Tucker is seriously injured. Tucker tells dale that Chad has gone crazy and took Allison and he has to go rescue her. Dale doesn’t want to leave his friend, but knows he has to save the girl.
Chad has gone full-bore nuts at this point and has tied Allison up in a sawmill in a straight-up Snidely Whiplash move where she’s being fed into a giant circular saw. I kind of glossed over Chad’s progression from creep to lunatic – trust me, in the movie it makes sense.
Dale shows up to save the day and an oddly convincing fight ensues. While Chad is clearly full of murderous intent, we can see that Dale still doesn’t really want to kill anybody. Maim, yes; kill, not so much.
Dale and Allison escape to the office of the sawmill and find a bunch of old newspapers – one of which happens to detail a certain hillbilly attack on a certain group of coeds back in the day. But the hillbilly that was apprehended looks an awful lot like Chad and there’s no mention of Chad’s daddy (this made sense in the movie – I don’t remember how they were so certain of all that). Chad busts in at this point and Dale and Allison explain to him that he’s actually part hillbilly and Chad gives the classic Vader “NOOOOO!” and Tucker takes the opportunity to throw some chamomile tea he conveniently discovered into Chad’s face, throwing the asthmatic maniac into anaphylactic shock. Nicely, we end the action with neither Tucker nor Dale actually killing anybody.
Afterwards we get a nice little wrap-up scene with Tucker recovering in the hospital and Dale revealing he and Allison are going bowling. Aww… It’s a little weird that Allison isn’t more broken up about all of her dead friends, but at the same time the movie has earned just a bit of storytelling leeway.
To close – you need to see this movie. It’s a keeper. You should definitely check it out in theaters if it gets any kind of release, but go ahead and buy the disc whenever it comes out. Tucker & Dale vs Evil gets my strongest recommendation.
5 OUT OF 5 Extremely Flammable Jars of Organs
31 Days of Halloween vs. 31 Days of Halloween!
  • 11 AM – 11:30 AM – The end of the Locust movie starring Dan Cortese. I covered this one yesterday.
  • 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM – Swarmed – Michael Shanks versus bees. You should read the Wikipedia entry. It’s pretty great.
Halloween score – 3

Quality score - 2
  • 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM – Infestation – Sounds like 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead but with bugs. This one’s Wiki entry does not inspire much hope. Sounds like a 1:30 PM movie.
          I don’t know what that means, but if Infestation is any indication it can’t be good.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 1
  • 3:30 PM – 5:30 PM – Ice Spiders -  I’ve seen some of this one. I can’t remember if I stopped watching it because it was bad or because spiders scare the fucking shit out of me. Seriously – if this movie was even partially effective I probably turned it off because of the spiders.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score - 2
  • 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM – Arachnophobia – Excellent movie with an excellent cast. It’s not often I can bear to sit through a spider movie (this, that David Arquette one, and Kingdom of the Spiders are pretty much it), but this is a damn good flick.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score - 5
  • 8:00 PM – 1:30 AM – Starship Troopers –Obviously Tuesday's schedule went off the rails with the last entry. Arachnophobia shouldn't take 2 1/2 hours and Starship Troopers wasn't 5 1/2 hours long last time I checked. Don't get me wrong - I fucking love this movie and if there's a crazy-ass Extended Cut I'd love to see it. But I kind of doubt that.
Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 5
  • 1:30 AM – 4:30 AM – Starship Troopers – Okay, for real. I don't buy any of this.

Halloween score – 3
Quality score – 5
SyFy's schedule accuracy score - 2

  • 4:30 PM – 5:00 AM – Scare Tactics – Blech. Garbage.
Halloween score – 4
Quality score – 1

  • 5:00 AM – 8:00 AM – Paid Programming – Okay, I guess I'd rather watch Scare Tactics than this.
Halloween score – 0
Quality score – 0

  • 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Ghost Hunters – I don't like this stupid show. The only time I could bear to watch it was when CM Punk was on making fun of them. And even that got old after three hours. Does anything ever fucking happen on this thing?
    "Did you hear that!?!"
    "This noise..."
    Fucking retarded. Firefly doesn't even get a full season and this piece of shit is on its seventh.
Halloween score – 5
Quality score – 0

Until next time, stay creepy

1 comment: