If you like horror movies, then you’ve seen the one with the college kids that go for a weekend in the woods, only to encounter evil hillbillies who terrorize and slaughter them. But what if the whole thing was a big misunderstanding? What if the hillbillies are actually loveable, bumbling buddies just trying to get away?
That’s the question posed by Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, a horror film that’s more silliness than slaughter. The film opens on said typical group of college kids headed to the woods for the weekend. We’re quickly drawn to tall, dark and handsome Chad, the obvious leader of the group, who clearly has his eyes on blonde beauty Allison (Katrina Bowden). They’re passed on the road by a couple of scary-looking hillbillies in a beat-up old truck. They encounter these same two when they stop for gas and beer.
From that moment on, every encounter between the college kids and the two hillbillies – whom we learn are named Tucker and Dale – is a hilarious and barely plausible misadventure. It turns out that Tucker and Dale are actually normal everyday guys who’ve just purchased a vacation home. Just like the college kids, they’re on their way out of town for the weekend, just to have a good time. Every interaction increases the kids’ suspicion of the duo, unbeknownst to Tucker and Dale.
From the college kids’ perspective, it’s easy to see how Tucker and Dale come off as maniacal and threatening. But there’s much more to the story…
Tucker and Dale arrive at the cabin and their euphoria over what the cabin will be blinds them to what it clearly has been: some sort of crazed maniac clearly called this home at some point. Meanwhile, the college kids have set up camp and are telling ghost stories around the campfire. Chad tells them about a crazed killer who used to live in these very woods. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess where he might have lived. According to Chad’s story, the killer once captured a married couple and killed the husband. His pregnant wife, however, escaped.
Ghost story finished, the kids decide to do what all college kids do next: skinny dip! As they all make for the lake, Chad hangs back to try to seduce Allison. When she rebuffs his advances, he storms off and she’s left to catch up. While the others swim further up the bank, Allison climbs a rock in full view of Tucker and Dale, who are fishing in their boat. They all startle each other, and Allison slips off the rock, hitting her head and falling into the lake.
Tucker and Dale paddle over to help her, and only now to Allison’s friends take note. They see the two menacing hillbillies from the gas station dragging their unconscious friend into their boat and paddling away, as one yells out,
Hey college kids! We’ve got your friend!
Needless to say, Tucker and Dale’s saving intervention is not perceived as helpful by Allison’s friends.
The next day, Allison awakens in the cabin to find Dale nervously tending to her as she recovers. Tucker, meanwhile, is continuing to work in and around the cabin. Allison quickly realizes her friends’ mistake: Tucker and Dale are not savage, scary hillbillies. They’re kind, relatable and normal guys who just happen to wear flannel.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t have an opportunity to communicate this to her friends before they mount a series of rescue missions. Hilarious, twisted hijinks ensue, and one by one the college kids die increasingly gruesome and totally accidental deaths.
Tucker, Dale and Allison are baffled by what seem to be bizarre suicides. Chad, meanwhile, has gotten more and more malicious. As his friends die around him, he concocts increasingly elaborate, dangerous and cruel plots to revenge himself on Tucker and Dale. For what?
It turns out that Chad’s mother was the one kidnapped by hillbillies. Chad harbors a deep-seated hatred for hillbillies, and this a perfect excuse for him to get some vengeance.
Fortunately, it turns out that Allison – whose romance with Dale is blossoming – aspires to use her psychology major to bring about peace. She wants to become a negotiator, helping to achieve world peace. She finally manages to get Chad and Dale to sit down together to talk this all out.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Chad’s rage has blinded him to reason. He ends up destroying the cabin and killing the rest of his friends. Tucker and Dale escape, but Dale returns to pursue Chad, who’s kidnapped Allison. He’s holed up at the Abandoned Saw Mill, as lovely a setting as any for a final confrontation.
Dale and Allison manage to overpower Chad long enough to hide, and discover an old newspaper that reveals the truth:
Faced with the truth that he is half-hillbilly, Chad flies into an even-more-murderous rage. Dale and Allison are finally able to overpower him, and he falls to his death. Though the police are never able to find a body…
Somewhere along the way, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil turns into a hilarious, gruesome morality tale.
Instead of Christians and Muslims, or Americans and Immigrants, we get College Kids and Hillbillies. And instead of holy wars or hate speech, we get over-the-top, slasher-flick-style death. The gratuitous gore makes the whole story too silly to take seriously. This is a by-the-numbers, uber-predictable slasher flick that subverts the conventions of the genre to get us thinking. You can’t ask for more than that from most movies. To find it in a slasher flick is a surprising joy.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil reminds us that it’s always better to talk before we shoot. Or stab. Or dive into a wood chipper. Or attack someone with a weed-wacker. Or throw gasoline on someone. Or… well, you get the idea.
It’s profound without being preachy. It’s about how hatred blinds us to truth, how miscommunication is easier than you think, and how easy it is to demonize the Other who’s a lot more like you than you think. It’s worth your time.