Interview: Eli Craig on ‘Tucker & Dale vs Evil’

Eli Craig will not be a name familiar to many of you reading this – yet. His first feature, Film4 FrightFest favourite Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010), stars Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk in a comical, inverted take on the Hillbilly slasher movie sub-genre. I recently spoke with the director to discuss the project and the hardships he faced with getting his first feature off the ground.

Joe Walsh: Could you could give a brief synopsis for those who haven’t seen the film?

Eli Craig: Basically, Tucker & Dale is a horror/comedy taken from the ‘evil’ Hillbilly point of view, where they turn out not to be so evil. It basically flips the classic story of college kids trapped in the woods and getting attacked by backwards, evil hillbillies – who in this case aren’t so bad and end up getting stalked by college kids.

JW: Being a horror/comedy, it has already been compared to Shaun of the Dead (2004) and the Scary Movie franchise. Do you think this is fair?

EC: I’ll let other people decide. For me, Shaun of the Dead was the film that paved the way for me to make this. I was such a big fan of the film so I really studied it, but I wanted to do something very different to it. I wanted to poke fun at the genre whilst embracing it. I very clearly did not want to make a Scary Movie-type film, spoofing various moments from various [horror] movies and making lots of puns, or poking fun at modern day stereotypes. I wanted it very much to be its own film, but I suppose, in that way, it is similar to Shaun of the Dead.

JW: There are a lot of horror/comedies out there. What do you think makes Tucker & Dale different?

EC: I think ultimately, it’s the comedy – and the comedy is the heart. I call this film a comedy/horror film because we decided really early on in the process that the goriest moments in the film also had to be the funniest; it had to have this charm and the humour had to stay with the film the entire time. The other thing is that you really fall in love with Tucker & Dale – they’re genuine actors and characters who are not there winking at the camera, they are playing real emotions. We treated this as a ‘real’ movie inside of a horror movie – it had to have real heart and not just be goofy.

JW: This being your debut film, how did you find getting it off the ground?

EC: I wrote the script and it took three years to get the financing together. It kept failing apart and looking like it would never happen. I started to work a lot as a producer on music videos and then in 2008 the bottom fell out of the commercial industry. I started to realise I couldn’t pay for anything anymore so I realised I really had to get Tucker & Dale made at all costs. We started shooting a little trailer for it and all of a sudden these producers called me saying “we have the money for it”. That was Deepak Nayar (producer, Bend It Like Beckham [2002]) and Thomas Augsberger (producer, Waiting [2005]). Both of these guys were pretty keen on the film and they are pretty big independent film producers. They wrangled up a couple of million dollars and flew me off to Canada, and about three weeks after we were green-lit we were shooting, so it was really quite unbelievable. We had three weeks of prep and a 28-day shoot, so it was a pretty quick turn around.

JW: You decided to use practical effects over CGI. Was this a financial decision or a personal choice?

EC: I thought this was a good first film to make because with a limited budget I could do what I wanted to do. I actually thought in some ways a limited budget would add to the film, since what I am satirising are generally low budget films…To get a location that is filled with woods and build a log cabin like The Evil Dead’s (1981) is not that expensive, and within that world the only way to go is with practical effects.

JW: What was it like working with Labine and Tudyk?

EC: There were gold together, like long-lost lovers or something. It was amazing because these guys met one day before shooting their first scene at the ‘Last Chance’ store, where Tyler is eating eggs and Alan is telling him how to pick up the girl of his dreams. That was the first scene where they look like they have been friends their whole life, they really had this magic and chemistry that I was just blessed with.

JW: The film’s fans and the cast have already started talking about a sequel. Have you got any plans in mind?

EC: I will have to wait to see how it does in the marketplace, because it has been at film festivals but to get the money for a sequel we will have to pay off our investors. I have been a little preemptive with it, and have got some flack online about promoting my sequel already, but it would be great to work with those guys again. We do have a treatment for a Tucker & Dale vs Evil 2 film. I just think they are unique characters that I would love to work on again.

Joe Walsh