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EXCL: Eli Craig Talks Tucker and Dale Versus Evil

Starring Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labin

The last time writer-director Eli Craig attended the Sundance Film Festival it was seven years ago and he was, admittedly, “just a dude without a film trying to get into a party. I was at film school and the ultimate douche bag there.” Craig has entered another level of douchery, he jokes, as a filmmaker at Sundance with an actual film. “It’s a higher echelon, getting other people into the party.”

Craig, married and a father (he met his wife during his last Sundance excursion), is introduced festival audiences over the weekend to Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, a horror-comedy starring Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Tyler Labin (Reaper) as two hillbillies trying to enjoy their “vacation home” out in the woods. Their good times are destroyed when they’re mistaken for killers by a group of college kids.

To learn more about his take on the mistaken identity formula and killer hillbilly subgenre, we spoke to Craig on the phone just as he was preparing for his jaunt to Park City, Utah.

Shock Till You Drop: Is Sundance ready for Tucker and Dale?

Eli Craig: I’m wondering if people will get it. It’s really just silly and over-the-top, but there’s something at the heart of it. I compare it to a parody of Crash but hillbillies are the racial stereotypes. It’s fun to be deep and say, “We should not be racist and we should all appreciate hillbillies.” Show them respect!

Shock: Were there two good ol’ boys in real life that were your driving force for this film?

Craig: It’s not specifically based on any movie or thing, but so many of these movies are similar. That’s why we try to steer away from the word “spoof,” we’re more satirizing that genre. A parody of the backwoods killers. You think about the films that are that you could go to: Texas Chainsaw, Jason is in the backwoods somewhere, we looked at Wrong Turn – this is the flip of Wrong Turn in a way. But all of the movies in this genre have the same set up of the guys going out in the woods, getting lost and running into hillbillies. The original, to me, was Deliverance. We took all of those movies, then watched them and tried to make a movie that stood on its own. Even if you’re not a big fan of the genre, you’ll be a fan of this movie. The people who know and love that genre will love this movie even more. Just deconstruct the genre and tear them up.

Shock: How arduous was the process to find the right leading men?

Craig: I had been looking for a while for the right actor for Dale. I needed someone who could look somewhat menacing if you saw him in a different light, but he also had to project this heart of gold and have a sweetness to him. I had been watching Tyler Labine for a while and I thought it’d be interesting to take this loud-mouth and suppress his instincts to project jokes and keep it internal. It turns out he’s just brilliant. When you take a great comedian and you take away their schtick and make them uncomfortable with something else, it comes out through their eyes and face. I had seen Alan in Death at a Funeral, Dodgeball and a few other things. He read the script and gave me a call. It was right when we were five days before shooting, we were in a desperate search for Tucker. Actors I wanted were blowing up big and Alan just felt he connected to the material and we had the same approach on it.

Shock: Interesting approach to suppressing the norm for these actors. How did you go about finding the comedy then? Because comedy and horror, as they say, is always a tough thing to pull off.

Craig: It is. The part that’s harder on this side is horror. Because once you get what the movie is about, it’s really funny, but I don’t know if anyone’s going to be really scared. The focus was trying to create real moments of suspense and fear. The gags themselves, I think, went off surprisingly – because I spent so much time planning and thinking about these gags were going to go – without a hitch. We had this big wood chipper, but we couldn’t afford one that actually worked. We’re going to show a guy getting ground up in a wood chipper so we need chips and stuff to fly out the top of it. You think that’s going to be no problem. We just need a nice little insert shot, but then you spend the next two hours trying to get wood chips flying out. And then you turn the camera around and step back, we call “action” on the guy that’s supposed to dive into the wood chipper, he nails it in one take. Go figure. It was a mix of challenges. It’s the little things that are no problem are the hardest and the hardest things wind up going without a hitch.

Shock: Are you guys vying for distribution at Sundance?

Craig: Yeah, we don’t have a domestically distributor on board. The real goal is obviously to get the film into theaters. The whole thing all the way through is to try to make decisions that are going to be best for the theater. I hope people will see it that way. It’ll be movie that will potentially tear the house down. I know it’s a difficult time right now for acquisitions but we’ll see!

Shock: It’s an interesting time for horror-comedy right now…

Craig: I think it’s really fun. What you couldn’t do a year ago, everybody’s doing. Zombieland opened a lot of doors for that. A couple of years ago, people were saying horror and comedy didn’t work together. We’ll do horror or we’ll do comedy, but we won’t do both together. Now it seems like a prerequisite. You have Drag Me to Hell and Zombieland. Horror has to have some comedy in it. There’s still a bit of the full-on grind house-type stuff, which, to me, is on its way out. The doors are being opened to a broader audience, I think.

Shock: Is there a bug in you that wants to do a balls-to-the-wall horror film now?

Craig: I think I’m more in the comedy camp. I love the push in comedy to the point where “I can’t f**kin’ believe you did that.” That’s the approach I took on this film where it’s definitely balls-to-the-wall comedy, it’s within the horror genre. But I’m looking at doing another comedy that pushes the limits on humor.

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Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor