Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010): Inversion of Other Demonization

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
dir: Eli Craig

"It doesn't matter what happened. It only matters what looks like what happened." - Tucker

There is a whole sub-genre called Hicksploitation (or Hixploitation), in which there is demonization of the hick or the hillbilly by city folk.  It's all about being on the wrong side of the tracks, and how the horror movie wants you to be on the right side of the track.  Significant examples include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Wolf Creek, House of 1,000 Corpses, Redneck Zombies, 2000 ManiacsWrong Turn.  That list is not complete.  Every single one of those movies cashes in on the target audience of middle-class big city white people, mostly teenagers or college kids, who end up in a hellscape created by the poorer backwoods folks. In those movies, the hick is generally posed as purely evil demons who only want to kill.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil uses those classist expectations and tropes, and uses them to turn it all on its head through the use of perspective.  Tucker and Dale are the hillbilly title characters on vacation who come into contact with a bevvy of college kids who are going camping in the woods.  Tucker has just bought a rundown cabin in the woods, and is planning on cleaning the place up by sawing down trees, cleaning, and making everything pretty, but at first it is one of those cabins that horror movies present as creepy murder cabins.  Meanwhile, the college kids are freaked out by Dale due to his ineptly trying to hit on the college kids at the beginning of the movie while holding a scythe.

The first half of the movie is presented with the two different perspectives as two different movies flowing between each other. When Tucker and Dale are night fishing, one of the college girls slips on a rock out of view from the other students and falls unconscious into the water.  However, what the college kids see is Tucker and Dale hoisting an unconscious friend into their rowboat and shouting "We got your friend!"

The movie continues as the college kids try to "rescue" Allison and end up killing themselves in increasingly horrific ways.  Meanwhile, Tucker and Dale are trying to do work on their house, and protect Allison, and also inform the kids that they need to come get their friend.  And then the kids start dying all around Tucker and Dale.

When Tucker and Dale's split fades away as both movies start to confront each other, and comes out as an all out war, the movie loses half of the tension it had in the first half of the movie.  Even though it becomes a horror movie with the college kids as the antagonists, and it retains its comedic sensibilities, the tension between the warring perspectives evaporates and we're left with a little more straightforward of a movie.

As Tucker observes in the middle of the movie.  "It doesn't matter what happened.  It only matters what looks like what happened."  Where this movie differs from most horror comedies, is it doesn't just lampoon or abuse tropes, it turns them inside out.  It shows how certain events could be mis-perceived as something completely different based on expectations and tropes.  Effectively, you're watching the movie as a buddy comedy, who keep getting invaded by a hixploitative horror movie with college kids.

Tucker and Dale is heavily political as well.  While it is upending cliches through the dual perspective, it is also confronting the classism that hixploitation movies perpetuate through using the hillbilly as the "other" in the horror movie.  In today's America, there is a split of the cultures that has been accomplished through the Republican's Southern Strategy in the 1960s. In the 1960s, the Republicans were losing ground as the Democrats were embracing the racial progresses that were happening through the Civil War.  In order to regain power, the Republicans sold out their party to better represent the values of the Southern conservative values.  In the 50 or so years since the southern strategy, the Republicans have not abandoned their southern strategy, and most voting maps are split between rural and big city, and north/west and south.

Frequently, the northern media has depicted the southern conservatives as hicks and others, and have labeled some of the states as "flyover" states.  These states, for the most part, were part of the confederacy of the Civil War.  And, as such, the south is demonized as being stupid hicks unworthy of having political opinions because they're racist and full of ultra-religious beliefs which should not be allowed due to separation of church and state.  Its like they're yokels.

Kevin Smith further added to this discussion in 2011's horror movie Red State, where he depicted two teenage boys picked up by a church about to use these sinners as part of some sort of sacrificial ritual. It demonizes the religious as an "other" worthy of being villainized. The religious were a more specific reference to Westboro Baptist Church, the group who goes and protests various funerals and protests in order to spread its message of whatever.

Tucker and Dale is basically saying that everybody has the potential to be demonized.  The college kids are the "other" to Tucker and Dale.  This is shown by them frequently calling out "college kids" in order to get their attention.  The antagonists in this movie are educated, young, mostly white, and middle class.  As such, the message of Tucker and Dale is that everybody deserves to be heard, and that your side may not be right just because it "sounds" right.

In any case, Tucker and Dale is actually a hilarious movie that deserves to be found by more.  It's violent and gruesome enough to satisfy the gorehounds, and hilarious enough to entertain everybody else. While the movie loses steam in the second half, it's first half more than makes up for that loss of momentum.

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