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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

November 26th, 2011

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a movie I've been looking forward to since I first heard about it. This is true for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's just a fun name. As I've said in the past, there are times when the name of a movie will make you stop and take notice. Secondly, the film stars two of my favorite actors, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. Like most people, I first noticed Alan Tudyk from his role in Firefly and, while he's rarely been the lead in a movie, he's always impressed me in whatever role he's had. I first saw Tyler Labine, not in Dead Last, but in a teen show called Breaker High. (He played one of the two less-than-cool-guys in the high school, while his fellow outcast was played by Ryan Gosling.) Finally, the film just had an awesome premise. I'm looking forward to seeing this movie so much that I'm worried it just won't be able to live up to my expectations. Will it defy the odds?

The Movie

The film starts from the point of view of a journalist, she and her cameraman are arguing about active crime scenes and Pulitzer Prizes. We don't get to know these two for very long, as they are almost immediately killed by someone we only briefly see.

We then flash back three days to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, where a group of college students are driving on their way to their vacation. Chuck, Chad, Jason, Todd, Mitch and Mike are all in the same fraternity, Omega Beta. They are travelling with a trio of ladies, Allison, Naomi and Chloe, and are planning on camping in the woods. If you are wondering why a group of college students would want to camp in the woods of West Virginia, especially since Chad has a pronounced hatred for those he considers hillbillies. It is simple. They've brought pot.

Meanwhile, we meet Tucker & Dale. They are also travelling along the same road. In fact, the two vehicles nearly get into an accident. They are travelling to their new vacation home, a run down cabin near the lake. When the college kids see the pair, they are more than a little disturbed by the hillbilly vibe they give off. Then when they run into them again at the gas station, Dale manages to freak them out even more when he tries to talk to Allison. (He's really nervous around women. Plus he's holding a scythe, so that doesn't help with the whole killer hillbilly vibe.) When they finally get to their cabin in the woods, it's a little rundown. It's definitely a fixer-upper. But it's perfect in their eyes. Even after seeing bones and teeth hanging from the ceiling and the newspaper clippings about a serial killer in the woods on the wall, they still think it's a dream come true.

Bones? Teeth? What kind of cabin did they buy? We find out as Chad tells the story of the Memorial Day Massacre, which happened in those woods, 20 years ago, that day. A group of college students went into the woods and were attacked. There was only one survivor and the rest were buried right where they were camping. With that happy tale, the group decides to go skinny dipping in the nearby lake, the same lake Tucker & Dale are doing some night fishing. When they see the group getting undressed, Tucker wants to check it out, but Dale thinks they should give them their privacy. Their argument startles Allison, which causes her to fall into the lake. When she doesn't come back up right away, Dale dives in and rescues her. However, the rest of the group thinks they kidnapped her.

Despite her initial terror at waking up in a strange cabin, Allison is perfectly safe with Dale. In fact, the two get along great and even play a board game together. However, her friends don't know that and it isn't long before they try to rescue her from the dangerous hillbillies. It goes poorly.

The details are way into spoiler territory, even though many of them were given away in the red-band trailer, so I'll stop there.

Horror Comedies are really hard to get right, as the two elements generally work against each other. If its too funny, it's not scary. If it is too scary, then it's not funny. Sadly, most of the time in an attempt to be both, the film is neither. If they do manage to get both to work, when the movie switches from one to the other, the mood change is jarring. There are many, many ways to screw up. Fortunately, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is one of the rare exceptions. It's excellent from top to bottom, but special praise has to go to the script. The premise is perfect. There are literally dozens of films where a group of college kids go off into the woods and meet a nasty end at the hands of some slasher, so it's a genre that is ripe for parody. However, instead of making the slasher goofy as the joke, the joke is there is no slasher, for the most part. It's all one big misunderstanding with the two hillbillies being just nice guys, who happen to be the victim of some college kids' overactive imaginations. Actually, the college students are mostly the ones who are the victims of their own imaginations.

As for the Horror half of the film, it doesn't generate a lot of tension, because we see the film from the perspective both sides. However, there are a few scenes where the mood is actually built up really well. Also, the film has excellent kills. They are certainly bloody enough to satisfy most gorehounds. But, there is never a maliciousness to them like you would see in torture porn, so it doesn't cause too wide a swing in mood from the comedy.

The acting is also a real asset to the movies with Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine pitch perfect as the kind, and in the case of Dale, painfully naïve men. Also, the college students are actually quite sympathetic, again for the most part. You expect Katrina Bowmen to play Allison in a way that will get the audience on her side. If you don't buy the Dale / Allison relationship, the movie is sunk. However, in most films, the cast of victims are at best disposable, at worst you actively cheer for them to die, because you hate the characters so much. That is not the case here. Granted, not every side character is well developed, but some don't have a lot of screen time before the chaos starts.

The film does devolve into a more typical teenage slasher in the end, but by the time it does, it has built up enough goodwill that it still works right till the credits start.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary with the writer / director Eli Craig, who is joined by the two leading men, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. It's a very entertaining track with lots of energy and information. Next up is a twelve-minute making of featurette. Tucker & Dale ARE Evil is a 17-minute re-cut of the movie from the point of view of the college students. It's a rather unique extra. There eight minutes of outtakes. You can look at the film in storyboard form. There is the usual HDNet EPK.

There are no real exclusive extras on the Blu-ray. (It is BD-Live enabled, but there are only some trailers online.) The film does look and sound a whole lot better than its low budget origins. The detail levels are constantly strong, even in the many darker scenes. The colors of the forest are lively, the blood stands out. There's not problems with compression. The audio is always clear with good separation, some directional effects, etc. It is rather uncomplicated.

Finally we get to the price. The DVD only costs $13, while the Blu-ray is a bargain at $16.

The Verdict

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil was filmed in 2009 and for a while sat on a studio shelf. I don't know what it took so long to be released, but I'm sure glad it finally made it. It's one of the best of the genre and it is so good it should appeal even to those who are not major fans of horror comedies. The DVD and the Blu-ray have enough extras that they are worth picking up, while the latter is Pick of the Week material.

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