In director Eli Craig’s comedy-horror movie Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, two hillbillies brutally slaughter a bunch of college kids. Well, that’s what the terrified kids think is happening. In fact, Tucker (Alan Tudyk from Firefly) and Dale (Tyler Labine from Reaper) are two harmless, well-meaning pals who only appear to be vicious, Hills Have Eyes-type maniacs because of some comic misunderstandings and extremely violent accidents. (How violent? Let’s just say that one of the lessons Tucker and Dale teaches us is not to run whilst in the vicinity of a woodchipper.)
Below, Eli Craig talks about his movie debut — and considers whether he should appear at the movie’s Comic-Con panel dressed as Gandalf.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tucker and Dale’s cabin looks remarkably like the one in the Evil Dead movies.
ELI CRAIG: I love you! It’s great when people recognize these little things. I showed my production designer the cabin from Evil Dead and then I showed him the cabin from Wrong Turn and I said, “I want to make a hybrid between the two of these.” Because if you remember, the cabin from the Evil Dead is really really small. Our cabin’s a little bit bigger. But we went off those two references.
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are a great double act. How did you come to cast them?
I was searching for Dale for a long time. He ended up being the lead and he’s really a tricky person to cast. Just like we were playing the reverse of the horror movie, I also wanted to have the reverse of the typical protagonist. It always seems like it’s the slimmer, trimmer, more athletic guy that is always the protagonist and his buddy is always the heavier-set sidekick funny guy. I’m just tired of seeing that. I was like, “I want our hero to be the guy that’s the sidekick normally.” So I was looking for a guy who, if you saw him in the wrong light, or if you saw him from the college kids’ POV, you could see how he might look menacing. But then I needed somebody who just radiated this sweethearted kindness at the same time.
I had watched Tyler’s old TV show Invasion and I was kind of a fan of Reaper. I thought, I’d love to work with this comedic actor and kind of hold him back and give him some calmer moments to play rather than just always being this broad one-liner guy. My producers agreed with me and then they said, “But now we need to get a big star in place.” So we spent six weeks making offers and we had an actor that was lined up to play the part, and then he dropped out three days before going to camera. We had to scramble and we found Alan. Two days later he flew up, we had one day of rehearsals with them together, and the next day we were shooting. It’s really a testament to what great actors they are, that they pull it off as friends.
I want to see that pair starring in 10 more comedies.
I know, and that’s something we’re trying to figure out. You know, every time people interview me, they ask me about a sequel. The movie’s not even out yet so I shouldn’t even be talking about it. But I do love those two guys together. It’s certainly bigger than me and bigger than the writing. They just came to life together and there’s got to be more with them together and I’m trying to figure that out now. Do I put them in my next movie, kind of like a Hot Fuzz kind of thing, with the same guys but with a fresh idea? Or do I do a sequel to Tucker and Dale?
You actually screened Tucker and Dale way back at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Why has it taken so long for the film to be released?
It turns out, when you make an independent film — or any film I guess — you either want it to be really indie or you want it to be really commercial. I guess mine kind of splits the difference between the two. I don’t know. We had so many studios carry us along to this almost huge release. We had Lionsgate, Summit, FilmDistrict, and even Paramount at one point all interested in distributing it. They would all take months looking at it and testing it and finally decided they didn’t want to be in the horror-comedy business. It was just a long road to get to “No” from some studios.
I honestly think it ended up where it should. I’m happy to be with [the film’s distributors] Magnet. I love the films they distribute and they’re really behind this one. So, it’s getting out there and it’s going to get out there in as wide a way as they can. But it’s sort of weird. The studios are very scared to do anything that’s new and a little bit different. Frankly, there haven’t been many horror-comedies that are this comedic. I think they weren’t sure how to promote something that was this much of a comedy-horror film. But maybe you should interview them!
Will this be your first Comic-Con?
It is, yeah. Maybe you can tell me how to prepare.
All I would say is, if you’ve got a Gandalf costume and you’ve been waiting for a suitable occasion to wear it, then this would be the perfect opportunity.
I think as the writer-director, I probably shouldn’t go as Gandalf. But maybe I should! My son’s coming. He’s all excited to dress up like Tucker. He’s got a chainsaw and some overalls and a hat.
An actual chainsaw?
It’s a toy chainsaw. He’s only five. So…
Tucker and Dale will be available on VOD beginning Aug. 26 and hits theaters on Sept. 30. Eli Craig, Alan Tudyk, and Tyler Labine will be bringing their own little piece of hillbilly heaven to Comic-Con this Friday in Hall H at 6.45.
You can check out the trailer for Tucker and Dale vs Evil below.