The other night while sleepless at 2 a.m. (it happens sometimes), I slid Tucker and Dale vs. Evil into the DVD player. The film has a solid 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes despite an unimpressive box office when it was released in 2011: it grossed $52,843 on opening weekend and never did crack $250,000 in the
market. (Worldwide box office
was 4.7 million.) It deserved better. US
Think the horror movie plot of "preppy college kids attacked and killed one-by-one by hillbilly cannibals" has been done to death? Yes, me too: Offspring, Hatchet, The Devils Rejects, The Cottage, Wrong Turn (I –V), etc., etc. So, it seems, did Eli Craig (writer/director) and Morgan Jurgenson (writer), the makers of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. After giving us an obligatorily gory opening shot, their movie flashes back three days and presents us with a classic horror set-up: exceptionally attractive preppy college lads and lasses are driving into deep backwoods hill country for a vacation. At a gas station they cross paths with two creepy rustics who own a ramshackle cabin near the lake where the kids are going. In fact, the men are just a couple of completely harmless good ol' boys on a fishing weekend. Their only real fault is unsophisticated social awkwardness, but the college kids have seen so many teen slasher movies with redneck villains that they are frightened by the encounter. Later, when the two men rescue one of the girls who has had a swimming accident, the remaining kids misinterpret what they see. Believing the worst, the kids create havoc with their overreaction. The script is clever, dark, and very funny.
The film recalls to mind a book that received some critical attention about fifteen years ago: The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad. In a polemic definitely not for the easily offended, Goad argues (rudely and scabrously) that the various clashes based on race, culture, gender, orientation, and so on, that so dominate American political discourse, divert our attention from the divide that really matters: class. He says that members of the working class, regardless of color, have more in common with each other than with the white-collar elite (of whatever hue); stirring up differences among them on social issues muddies the more fundamental similarity. He says that habitual condescension toward the redneck, whom it remains strangely PC to disparage, is particularly effective at blinding us to classism. He asserts that this division of the working class is not an accident, but a deliberate strategy of the business and government elite. The summary at books.google notes that Goad “is certain that the trailer park holds more honest people than the House of Representatives, and he knows from personal experience that truck drivers are more trustworthy than lawyers.” I can’t argue with this assessment. The summary then calls the book “a literary laxative for a constipated public.” I’m not quite sure what to make of that imagery, but it sounds like something that demands good plumbing.
Goad is worth a read, though I think that a class perspective, while useful, also can blind us to seeing people as individuals if overemphasized this way – losing sight of the trees for the forest is always as much a risk as the reverse. With some gentleness and humor (in a horror movie, no less), Tucker and Dale makes the point that failing to treat people as individuals is not only destructive but self-destructive. Of course, some caution when dealing with strangers (and not just strangers) is warranted regardless of their social group, since some individuals are dangerous, as recent events in the news make clear. We ought to remember that 6% of American adults are convicted felons. But that does mean 94% are not, and in a pinch, when you ask any stranger for help anywhere, you are most likely to get it.
As for the political implications, if we accept Goad’s ratings of honesty and trustworthiness, we might be better off if we replaced our current 535 Representatives and Senators with truck drivers selected by lottery. I doubt it would do any harm.