Tucker And Dale vs. Evil is a comedy of mishaps disguised as an 80s throwback slasher. We have the tropes that horror fans know and love. The hapless band of college students. The senseless – and excessive – carnage. Weird conservatives values about sex and gender. The hillbilly killers and incompetent police. The virginal final girl. All of that turned on its head, examined, and poked fun at.
There’s a machete/chainsaw fight and the final villain is defeated with a box of chamomile tea. It’s just as awesome as it sounds.
Comedy-horror films aren’t common and don’t always work. When they do, it’s because the filmmakers aren’t mocking their subject – but rather poking gentle fun at something that they know and love. Cabin In The Woods and Scream are both excellent examples. Tucker and Dale can join the short but much beloved list of horror comedies that entertain while also doing critical analytical work on the genre. Where Cabin In The Woods takes a more pessimistic attitude about horror films, arguing that horror is a way for people to face and deal with the darkness inherent in the world, Tucker and Dale has no such lofty questions. Tucker and Dale isn’t interested in why people watch horror or why they find it compelling: they accept that the audience already has their own reason. Instead, the film looks at the old tropes, how they have evolved with the times – or failed to – and what it looks like to come back to the stories of a generation or two back. All of the problems in Tucker and Dale are caused by stereotyping and a failure of communication. The hillbilly leads – the titular Tucker and Dale – are likable and comically in over their heads the entire time, besieged by a group of college students who believe they are in an 80s slasher film. Which, through their actions, Tucker and Dale eventually becomes. And what a fun one it is.
That being said, Tucker and Dale’s attitude towards its female characters is…interesting. The women who do show up are either unnamed, rape victims, idiots, or the final girl. All of them are subjected to an uncomfortable male gaze. Tucker and Dale raises plenty of questions about stereotyping and appearances, but seems stuck in the original slasher mindset that women should be half-naked, imperiled, and constructed as an object of male desire if they are depicted at all. Only one scene depicts a female “hillbilly” and she disappears afterwards without speaking. Though Allie, the final girl, reveals herself to be no stranger to manual labor – she grew up on a farm – she nonetheless fails to really subvert or challenge any of the stereotypes that Tucker and Dale confront throughout the film. At the end of the day, she’s the stereotypical plucky blonde, and the joke of how she constantly gets knocked unconscious seems less funny and more sexist the longer it goes on. I don’t think the film did this intentionally, but it is important to point out that while Tucker and Dale got a great deal to do with the story and the expectations it starts out with, Allie begins as and remains an object of desire throughout. Her journey starts with her fending off the attentions of a classmate and ends with her on a date with Tucker.
I wish more films would try what Tucker and Dale did, to really look at the stories and tropes of the horror films that have become classics. The stories have survived, as has their popularity, but some of the messages are no longer accepted. It’s important to look at where we’ve come from in terms of horror, and where we might go. Tucker and Dale is a good start.
This is one of my favorite horror films. Go watch it.