Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days, 31 Horror Moves: Horror Comedy Double Feature: Return of the Living Dead/Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Another October gaming weekend down (10th/11th), and I'm behind on writeups as usual. Was only able to watch a couple of movies (and not What We Do in the Shadows), so at least I'm only a couple back. The theme was still horror/comedy, however. I could have stuck with a zombie comedy theme and done a triple feature of Return of the Living Dead/Fido/Shaun of the Dead - but I promised my aunt Theresa that I'd review Tucker & Dale vs Evil, so...

Return of the Living Dead
I can't believe I haven't watched this for a previous thread. It's a classic, a staple of my horror watching when I was young, and still freakin' hilarious. It's technically an 'official' sequel of Night of the Living Dead in the sense that the original story was by John Russo, co-screenwriter of the original Night. (Though, really, the only official sequels are Romero sequels, right?) It also kicked Day of the Dead's ass at the box office in the summer if 1985. Is it a better movie than Day? I dunno - but it's a helluva lot more fun.

So we've got these two guys, Frank and Freddie, who are working late at a medical supply warehouse. In an effort to impress his younger co-worker Frank shows him some canisters in the basement that contain the REAL corpses from the incident that Night of the Living Dead was based on. Why are they in the basement of a medical supply company? Well, typical Army screwup - they shipped them to the wrong place! There's also some workmanship issues with the canisters, as one knock by Frank releases a burst of toxic gas into the place, overwhelming him and Freddie and sending a flood of the stuff through the building.

Meanwhile, Freddie's incredibly 80's group of friends decides to wait for him in the abandoned cemetery next door. Because, yeah, that's totally a good idea. (Serious about the 80's thing - it's like The Breakfast Club as done by Troma.) Punk music and inappropriate nudity ensue.

Back at Uneeda Medical Supply, things are not going well for Frank and Freddie. There's the smell, for one thing - definitely gag inducing. Frank in particular doesn't seem to have a strong stomach. There's the aftereffects of the gas - neither of them feel well. Oh, and there's the whole bringing-the-dead-back-to-life thing. Yep - the gas also revives the dead, including half-dogs (for veterinary schools) and the one cadaver they've got stored in the freezer (for medical schools). This is definitely above Frank and Freddie's pay grade, so they call the owner, Burt.

After a brief interlude in which they try and put down the cadaver and fail - despite putting a pickax through its skull, leading to one of the best sets of lines in a movie rife with them, "It worked in the movie!" "You mean the movie lied?!" - the three men take the corpse and the half-dogs (all in pieces) over to the mortuary. Ernie knows the owner, Burt (yes, Burt and Ernie), and thinks he'll help them burn all of the unliving pieces in the crematorium.

Things go horrifically awry, the substance goes into the atmosphere, rain sends it into the ground, corpses rise from their grave in some awesome special effects sequences. There's running, screaming, tar zombies growling for brains, more paramedics are sent for and the army decides nuking the city may be the only option.

It's so good, so full of awesome lines - "Send more paramedics." "Brains!" "Watch your tongue boy if you like this job!" "Like this job?!" This is where pulp culture got the idea that zombies like brains specifically. This is where Linnea Quiggly got her first big break. This... this is not really the first zombie horror comedy (probably Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things takes that spot), but it's the best. I'm sorry Shaun of the Dead - I dearly love you too - but Return is still the rotting corpse at the top of the heap.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Alan Tudyk can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. Well, Transformers, Dark of the Moon... nah, he killed in that as well. Anyway, when I heard Wash was doing a horror movie I knew I'd have to see it. When I heard Tyler Labine was going to be in it... I was confused. I like his work and have since I first saw him on Invasion (and Reaper), but to have him in a horror movie was weird. What kind of horror movie was this gonna be?

And then I saw the trailer and all was made clear.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a horror comedy that uses the very narrow sub-genre of the hillbilly slasher flick as its template. Our titular heroes fulfill the hillbilly role and our first view of them - passing the car of our requisite teen victi... er, protagonists, all dead-eyed and slow-mo'd - make them seem like they could easily dismember a corpse or make someone squeal like a pig. It's all about perception, though, and Tucker and Dale are really the most sweet-natured, nice guys you could imagine.

They do have some hygiene issues and an over-fondness for Pabst Blue-Ribbon, however. Dale also suffers from social anxiety and self-esteem issues, problems his friend Tucker does his best to help him overcome. Like when Dale sees Allison - one of the group of college kids they passed earlier - at the local gas station. Tucker urges Dale to go talk to her - but his approach is, of course, interpreted as threatening. (Next time, Dale, leave the scythe back at the truck.)

Really, all Tucker and Dale want is to enjoy a weekend at their new vacation cabin - a bit of a fixer upper, but with potential! Just needs some tender care, which is why they have all the chainsaws, axes and... still not sure why they need the scythe, actually. The woodchipper makes sense, though. The kids, for their part, just want to party and hook up and have an occasional creepy-ass story around the campfire.

You can see these two groups are on a collision course and eventually the kids skinny dipping runs smack into Tucker & Dale's night fishing. (You'll note that I never really learned the kids names - except for Allison. Honestly, I just never saw the point. Although I do remember Chad...) The two men startle Allison, who falls off a rock and knocks herself out. The other kids just see the two men hauling her unconscious form out of the water into their canoe. "We got your friend!" Dale calls out, trying to be helpful. Screaming and running ensues.

The kids assume Allison has been kidnapped by murderous hillbillies and go to some pretty crazy, and unlucky, extremes to try and save her. Tucker and Dale can't figure out why the kids would do such horrible things as impale themselves in a shitter hole - er, outhouse hole - or throw themselves headlong into the woodchipper. Misunderstandings all around, really.

Allison gets to see the other side of the duo, though - primarily Dale - and realizes they're just good guys, a little more blue collar than she's used to, but decent, hard working folk like her own family (she grew up on a farm). The college kids, urged on by the murderously preppy Chad, stumble, flail, react as if Tucker & Dale are monsters, and as a result end up offing themselves in a number of increasingly gory (and hilarious ways).

Unlike Return of the Living Dead, which achieves a lot of its humor through dialogue, most of Tucker & Dale's best bits are almost entirely physical - watching Tucker struggling to pull the poor kid out of the woodchipper as blood soaks him completely could be depressing and stomach churning. Instead, Tudyk turns it into a three-stooges bit, ending with the hopeful "You okay?" The whole bit with the kid running from Tucker (swinging his chainsaw at the hornets chasing him) is completely wordless - even the wasp landing on his nose. Not to say there aren't good lines - "Hideyho officer! We've had a doozy of a day." remains one of my favorite things ever said in a film.

The best parts of the film are the in the first two-thirds - poor Tucker - and things bog down a bit with some Chad oriented stuff in the last third. It's not that its bad, it just requires more setup and dialogue than the rest and as a result just doesn't have the energy (or gore) that really elevates the earlier parts of the film.

The thing about Tucker & Dale that lifts it above films like, say, Zombeavers, is that it has some heart to it. You get invested in Tucker and Dale (and Allison) and actually care about what happens to them. The comedy is earned and, while often pointed, isn't really that mean-spirited. It's a weirdly warm-hearted slasher/hillbilly horror comedy.

Last year Tudyk mentioned that they were working on a script for a followup. Tucker & Dale vs Satan, maybe? Or vs Frankenstein? Doesn't matter - I'm on board, either way.


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