Immediately after the Sundance press screening of the new horror comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, one of my colleagues (it was either James Rocchi or J. Sperling Reich; one of the smart ones) said it was "a slasher flick by way of Three's Company," and since I can't think of anything more clever than that phrase, I'm stealing it. As anyone who grew up idolizing John Ritter on Three's Company (even if you didn't really "get" the sexual innuendo) can tell you, much of the comedy was derived from simple (some would say simplistic) misunderstandings. One classic scene for example, has Janet listening outside a bathroom door while Jack and Chrissy discuss a shower curtain. Janet assumes they're talking about a penis.
The 'goofy misunderstanding' is a comedy tool as old as raunchy cave paintings (it's particularly prevalent in the stupidest of stupid chick flicks), but when it works well ... you can have some real fun with a farce. It's a tricky balance, because the movie is giving the audience the upper hand. You know everything, while the characters know practically nothing. Without a clever concept, a strong sense of energy, and a game cast, this sort of comedy can get very old, very fast.
Fortunately that's not the case with the exceedingly amusing Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, a low-budget but good-looking comedy that takes place in a generic slasher universe. The characters are the key here, because the concept is already a winner: You know those scummy hillbillies that live inside cabins in 73% of the horror flicks you've ever seen? At best these guys are extra meat for the body count; at worst they're the bloodthirsty killers. But in the case of Tucker & Dale ... they're just plain old nice guys! A little sloppy to look at, and entirely lacking in social skills, but they're just a pair of goofy hayseeds on their way to their brand-new vacation cabin.
First-time director Eli Craig smartly starts us out with the other crew: You know them from the first half hour of every Friday the 13th movie. The college kids. In most slasher flicks these would be your victims and potential heroes. In Tucker & Dale, they're the troublemakers and the carnage-causers. The jock, the dork, the tramp, the nice girl, the joker, etc. They all butt heads with Tucker and Dale at a sleazy gas station, but the craziness doesn't take hold until both parties take their separate ways into the woods.
I'll let the movie deliver the finer points on all the amusing misunderstandings, but suffice to say that the college kids are convinced that Tucker and Dale are raving murderers, while for their part ... the hillbilly buddies can't figure out why all these college kids keep dropping dead in their vicinity! And if you think 90 minutes seems like a pretty long time to stretch a Three's Company-style series of murderous misunderstandings, well so did I. Aside from a few slow moments during the set-up, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil coasts on its concept, but doles out enough of the gruesome stuff to keep the horror fans happy. The college kids are a basic but colorful lot, and the kid playing the Alpha Male (Jesse Moss) is hilariously over the top.
It doesn't hurt that the three leads are Katrina Bowden as the sweet and gorgeous Allison, the always-fun Alan Tudyk as Tucker, and the instantly lovable Tyler Labine as Dale. Not only do Tudyk and Dale strike and instant and effortless comedic chemistry together, but the guys are also given funny stuff to do on their own. They're sort of a backwoods horror flick version of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, but the actors also bring a strange warmth and sweetness to this broad and bloody comedy. (Genre fans know Tudyk from Serenity and tons of smaller roles in bigger movies. Labine is mostly new to me, but the guy steals huge chunks of Tucker & Dale and has fun doing it. He's just a funny guy.)
Comedy duos and clever concepts aside, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil passes the main and most important tests of comedy/horror combos: A) It finds its own angle (as in, it's not another Shaun of the Dead wannabe), B) it actually IS both comedy and horror, and C) it displays some sort of affection for the genre it's poking fun at. Tudyk, Labine, and Bowden are certainly appealing enough for casual genre fans, but if you grew up feasting on the silliest of slasher sequels, you'll have a nostalgic good time with Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. On top of that, it's got solid music, a confident pace, and it was shot and lit like a an actual movie. Pretty impressive package from a first-time team on limited funds.