Tag Archives: 4.0 Star Movies

Excision (2012)

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What starts out as an alternately eerie and cartoonish look at teenage Suburban Hell eventually morphs into full-blown body horror in “Excision,” a devilishly entertaining horror movie that nevertheless fails to really utilize it supporting cast. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord,) a misfit aspiring surgeon with a number of unnerving sexual fantasies, lives with her passive, well-meaning father (Roger Bart,) Her smothering religious-fanatic mother (Traci Lords, yes, THAT Traci Lords,) and her sweet terminally ill sister Grace (Ariel Winter of “Modern Family,”) a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer with a heart of gold.

Pauline is a total outcast at school, partially because she is gawky and homely, and due in a large part to the fact that she is aggressively off-putting and creepy, intentionally vomiting on others and dissecting dead animals. She’s not understood, but the brilliance of geniuses rarely is in their own time. Is Pauline a genius? Not really, but you’d rather she attempt surgery on you than, say, Martin of “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence.)”

“Excision” is a little bit Lucky McKee’s “May,” a little bit Brian De Palma’s “Carrie,” a little bit Tom Six’s “…Pede” movies but enough originality to stand on it’s own merit. It has a lot of famous faces and cult actors, including ‘king of filth’ John Waters as a priest (!), Malcolm McDowell as a teacher unsympathetic to Pauline’s deranged antics, and Marlee Matlin as a member of school staff. The movie works because it is over-the-top but remains just believable enough to suspend disbelief. The characters tend to be a little one-dimensional but still find ways to surprise you.

The gore element is mostly thrown at you at the end but also is utilized through Pauline’s bloody fetishistic dreams, which awaken forbidden desires within her. “Excision” is a bit of slow burner which becomes increasingly better after you get accustomed to the tone, which is relentlessly odd but consistent. There’s a gallows humor that made me chuckle throughout. The acting is competent (even from former porn star Traci Lords!) and each player portrays their characters well.

I was wary about watching this because so much indie horror is total shite (“Escape From Tomorrow,” particularly, was a recent disappointment) but I found myself pleasantly surprised at this quirky little horror picture, which refused to take itself too seriously while not stooping to gory slapstick or ridiculousness. I found myself having mixed feelings about the character of Pauline. She’s a total deviant and oddball, but sometimes she does something, or says something in one of her confessions to God that makes you like her- just a little bit, and just for a little while. For those with strong stomachs and open minds, I recommend “Excision” as a surprisingly good horror debut.

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Waitress (2007)

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Despite occasional glib and sitcomish moments, “Waitress” is mostly a detectible treat and a very entertaining feel-good comedy-drama. Impregnated by her useless husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto,) strong-minded Jenna (Keri Russell,) who has a gift for making pies, despairs at the presumed damper having a baby will have on her life. With the help of her girlfriends (Cheryl Hines and writer/director Adrienne Shelly, who was senselessly murdered shortly after the film was made,) the local diner’s grumpiest patron Old Joe (Andy Griffith,) and her handsome new doctor Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion,) with whom she begins a feverish affair, Jenna summons up the strength to break free of her oafish and increasingly abusive husband.

Jenna is immature, and that shows throughout, but it’s hard not to like her as she struggles with the troglodyte nightmare that is her husband. The entire cast makes the movie a treat worth savoring, but Jeremy Sisto is the stand-out as the possessive husband. Earl is both a total asshole and pathetically needy, and the conflict is established quickly- Jenna needs to earn money to enter and win a pie-making contest, getting away from Earl for good. Earl just wants his woman at home to bed him and make him steak.

The side characters are a little too ‘small-town Southern eccentric,’ but still very funny and entertaining. Old Joe is mean (more like obstinate,) but he’s not THAT mean, and he imparts one final surprise upon Jenna. Ogie (Eddie Jemison) the ‘stalking elf’ romances Jenna’s coworker Dawn (Shelly) with a vengeance, coming up with impromptu poetry and not taking no for an answer. He might would be creepy if we weren’t laughing so hard at his fervor. All the characters are human, if not always respectful or kind, and although adultery (one of the films’ main plotlines) is wrong, “Waitress” handles the subject gently rather than proselytizes.

I would have liked to get more background on gal pal Becky (Cheryl Hines)’s unfaithful and downright mean treatment towards he brain-damaged husband, which seems sometimes disturbingly downplayed. I’m not a big pie person, but I would jump for one of Jenna’s scrumptious creations, which are featured in fantasy scenes where Jenna plans her confections in her head. One ‘I hate my husband pie,’ coming up.

“Waitress” is a ‘chick flick,’ but one that boyfriends and husbands shouldn’t mind being dragged to this particular flick. It’s sweet, heartwarming, and often very funny, as Jenna comes to terms with her pregnancy and the symptoms and mood swings that come with it, as well as the big what ifs- will she make a good mother? Will this little boy or girl thank her someday for being brought into a world that seems less and less like a fairy tale? Gently moving entertainment.

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Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

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If you can get past the improbability that transgendered Hilary Swank could go on months without anyone suspecting ‘he’ was a ‘she,’ this is an effective and powerful movie. Brandon Teena, the protagonist of this movie. does have a boyish charm regardless of his biological gender, and he struts into town and befriends some shady types after having a few run in with the law in different locations. The thing is, Brandon’s not a bad kid, just a little misguided, and after he begins a romantic affair with shady type #1’s love interest., there are a series of confrontations that finally, and perhaps inevitably, lead to tragedy.

Lana (Chloe Sevigny) is the love interest. John Lotter (i.e. Shady Type #1, played by Peter Skarsgaard) is her possessive admirer. John is tailed by Shady Type #2 Tom (Brendon Sexton III,) a troubled young man who is a bit of an idiot (not developmentally disabled, you see, just not all there upstairs.) John is the ringleader, and Brandon falls for the social experience that comes with hanging with them a bit too easily.

On the way to sympathizing with Brandon, I had a little trouble getting past the fact that he tricked girls into having sex with him (ditzy girls who couldn’t tell the difference between a girl with a strap-on and a man with a penis, but still.) I’m certainly not implying Brandon deserved the things that happened to him at the films conclusion, far from it, But it was still an unfair thing to do to your sex partners. You will also facepalm at Brandon’s Naivete and the things he does to gain acceptance.

Everything changes with Lana. Lana falls so madly head-over-heels in love with Brandon that she doesn’t care what gender Brandon is. It”s actually kind of romantic, actually. I didn’t like Lana at first because I thought she was an ineffectual sloppy drunk hick, but she ended up being my favorite character. She’s a romantic soul stuck in a shitty Nebraska town, and all the men around her are vile pigs. In hindsight, why wouldn’t she fall for the handsome Brandon?

I heard the director of this, Kimberly Pierce, discuss the MPAA’s attempt to slap it with an NC-17 rating in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” According to Pierce, their biggest qualm was not the violent and degrading events at the end of the film, but the ‘long orgasm’ scene where Brandon goes down on Lana. “Who was ever hurt by an orgasm that was too long?” demands Pierce. People sure have funny priorities, especially when they involve homosexuality and sex.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is sad but not needlessly so. Based upon the real-life 1993 rape/murder of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who identified as male but had female reproductive organs, the film benefits from a great performance from Hilary Swank. I weirdly have never noticed Swank before, but she now takes on a role too raw and subversive for many female actors.

Instead of being tawdry and sensationalistic, “Boys Don’t Cry tells a horrible story poignantly, but celebrates Brandon Teena’s life and spirit as well as grieve his loss. Kimberly Pierce movingly and  depicts the transgendered experience, and we should be grateful for her candor. A worthwhile story. profoundly told.

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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

 

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Rougher, rawer, and realer than other horror-killer films of it’s ilk (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven,”) “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” engaged me from beginning to end. Beware- people who don’t want to see the dark, dark side of the human psyche should stay far away from this innovative low-budget classic. The titular serial killer of the title (played by Michael Rooker, who many will no as Daryl Dixon’s no good brother Merle) never stays in one place for long, and the film follows in startlingly true-to-life style as he stays for a while at the home of his worthless white-trash friend Otis (Tom Towles,) and Otis’ sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold.)

(Somewhat) innocent Becky just came out of an abusive relationship and is suckered in immediately by Henry’s sad story, but Otis has less-than-brotherly feelings for his attractive sis. So follows a plunge into darkness, as Henry initiates Otis into his homicidal lifestyle, while Becky, not fully aware of the extent of Henry’s crimes, only falls harder for the taciturn killer.

“Henry- Portrait of a Serial Killer” is extremely creepy with natural-looking actors who are convincing in their roles. There certainly aren’t a lot of sympathizable characters (Becky is ultimately the only one you’ll feel anything for,) but I ended up thinking that Otis was even worse than his murderously inclined buddy. His unscrupulous intentions toward his sister were less than savory, and although he didn’t initially kill anybody, he sure took to the pastime (with Henry’s mentorship) like gangbusters.

Obviously a low-budget movie, this movie actually uses that to it’s asset, and it provides it’s most harrowing scene on home video as something that Henry and Otis have shot on their expeditions. The weird sound effects and general eeriness reminded me of “Angst,” another discomforting movie from the 1980’s which is hard to find on DVD. The ‘bad mama’ trope is a little cliched (the serial killer genre’s take on the refrigerator mother,) but being that it’s true to the events this was based on, I didn’t sweat it too much.

I personally didn’t find this movie too disturbing and I found it captivating in it’s own freaky way, but I understand it won’t float everyone’s boat. People for loads and loads of gore (a ‘la “Dead Alive”) will be sorely disappointed, only the aftermath most of the murders is shown. Just remember the real story was a helluva lot worse (the ‘Becky’ character was Henry’s 12-year-old lover, whereas in this she was a young woman) This is now my 2nd-favorite serial killer movie (yep, “Tony”‘s still the best.) It’s a must-see for horror fans who aren’t afraid of getting their hands a little dirty film-wise.

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Broadchurch (2013)

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In a sleepy close-knit coastal town, 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara) is found murdered, his body dumped on the beach. At first, it seems like the crime nobody could have committed- the people of Broadchurch are like friends and family to each other, and even the black sheep seem more or less harmless. But as surly outsider DI Alec Hardy (a worn-down, sunken-cheeked post-“Who” David Tennant) and D.S. Ellie Miller (the wonderful Olivia Colman,) who has ties to the victim investigate, they find that everyone in this town’s got secrets. And some of them are worth killing for.

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There are only eight episodes here, so you don’t have as much of a commitment as a viewer than a lot of TV shows. All the actors in this series are wonderful, and the show keeps you  on the edge of your seat. It’s nice to see that David Tennant is expanding his horizons beyond being the ‘cute funny foreign guy with the crazy hair.’ He’s genuinely good here as a disgraced detective with an serious heart condition that’s interfering with his work. What’s not nice is the fact that he will be duplicating the role in the pointless American remake “Gracepoint.” But I’ll explain my feelings about the superfluous “Broadchurch” carbon copy later.

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I’ve thought Olivia Colman was a tremendous talent since I saw her play the abused Christian charity shop worker in Paddy Considine’s wrenching “Tyrannosaur.” She does the great work we expect of her after her powerful portrayal of that character. Lots of the supporting players do great jobs too. I always thought of David Bradley as ‘that nasty greasy old dude’ as a faithful watcher of the Harry Potter movies. Here he shows range and depth playing a lonely man who may or may not be a sex offender.

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The side plot portraying the grief of Danny’s family- his mother, Beth (Jodie Whittaker,) his father, Mark (Andrew Buchan,) and his big sister Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont)- was heartbreaking. I had previously seen Jodie Whittaker in “Attack the Block,” which was a lot of fun, and she does a good job as a mother whose grief swallows up her life. And it was a laugh seeing Arthur Darvill (“Doctor Who”) as a vicar. I was glad they portrayed Rev. Paul Coates (Darvill) fairly instead of making him the babbling mindless hypocrite they usually portray religious authorities as. And I’m so glad they didn’t go the pedophile route with his character.

The mystery is really hard to figure out (at least for me, someone who doesn’t read or watch mysteries, but that might not be saying much.) At the end I had it narrowed down to a few characters, and one of the characters I picked turned out to be the killer, but I was still surprised. The scenery is beautiful, and the show shows that even in a idyllic town, there are still some people who are missing a few nuts and bolts. A murder can happen anywhere, but in my opinion, you shouldn’t surrender to fear and you should still let your kids live the freest life you can allow.

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This is a highly entertaining show, but it lacks the extra ‘umph’ to make me give it a higher rating than 4/5. My dad won’t watch it because he likes ‘fun’ shows and he thinks it will be depressing, but it is no more depressing than a murder mystery concerning a child has to be. And as far as sensitive viewers go there’s barely any violence whatsoever. I’m mad that the American remade it with the same damn actor (!) and as far as I can tell from the trailer, the show is exactly the same. Why the heck can’t Americans watch the original program instead of some cheap rip-off? But I digress. “Broadchurch” is a worthy watch carried on the shoulders of Colman and Tennant.

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Frozen (2013)

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To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to “Frozen” when it hit theaters. The advertisements offered (as far as I could tell) corny jokes, typical animation, and the antics of an annoying comic-relief snowman. Cynical? Maybe. But that’s the way I felt, until I actually saw the movie and became a convert. Frozen is an adorable movie, and one that children are likely to love. For some reason expected Elsa, the ice queen to be some kind of deranged psycho, but I was was immediately compelled by her story. Even Olaf, a sidekick I’d been thoroughly prepared to dislike, had his moments.

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Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is hidden like a leper for her volatile magical powers that make objects she comes into contact with turn to ice. Afraid of hurting her sunny and bewilderingly naive sister, Anna (voice of Kristen Bell,) she sits in a solitary room until tings go terribly wrong at the royal coronation and she takes to the wild. Anna, who hitherto wasn’t aware of her sister’s strange powers, goes of to find Elsa, accompanied by  gruff working man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff.) Kristoff loves his reindeer, Sven. Like, a lot. Anthropomorphic snowman Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) comes along, happy for the attention. Meanwhile, Hans (Santino Fontana,) Anna’s recently acquired crush guards the kingdom, and a permanent winter (which Elsa inadvertently caused) looms over the landscape.

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All the musical sequences were delightful with the exception of the ‘fixer-upper’ song performed by a group of mystical… trolls. That one just didn’t do it for me. Anna and Elsa were both well-written, but I was drawn more to Elsa, probably because I dig troubled characters. The animation was beautiful. The humor was a little hit or miss, but more often than not it hit it’s target. I love some of the little details like how Anna’s hair is a rat nest in the morning. Ever since I was a child I’ve been waiting for this- a princess who looked like a real person when she got up in the morning, before she put on her make-up, did her hair, and went out to face the world. Classic Disney princesses always look like they sleepwalked through the meadow to the beauty salon.

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The villain here is a little different as well, not only because he only reveals himself in the later portion of the movie, but because he isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of a villain. He’s handsome, well-groomed, and seems for all accounts and purposes to be quite charming. It’s never a bad idea to remind children that not all villains have moles and wild hair and yellow teeth, and feast on rat flesh in dark, dank dens. This movie isn’t one of the best kids’ films of all time, but it’s appealing, visually stunning, and sometimes even a little emotional. Find an excuse to see it, even if you have to take a friend’s kid to save your pride.

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Michael (2011)

A tricky film about a tricky subject, Michael is handled somewhat more tactfully than you might expect, but remains a tough watch. Left deliberately ambiguous by the oblique festival trailer and poster, which shows a man and a boy framed by puzzle pieces, it is a sometimes unbearably tense portrayal of human perversion.

Michael (Michael Fuith), a weasily little man who you might expect for this kind of role, lives an inconspicuous existence in Suburban Austria. In reality, he is anything but ordinary — he is the abductor and captor of ten-year-old Wolfgang (Markus Schleinzer), who is becoming increasingly defiant about his living situation.

Wolfgang lives in Michael’s padlocked basement, where he is periodically raped (obliquely implied by a non-graphic scene where Michael washes his scrotum after an encounter with the boy), bullied into submission, and given what Michael hopes is enough warm and fuzzy time and traces of a normal childhood to keep Wolfgang compliant.

It is implied that Michael plans to kill Wolfgang once he reaches puberty. Living a nightmare, Wolfgang becomes more and more rebellious, culminating in an eventual escape attempt.

The film is minimalism at its most intense, focusing on the practices that make Michael seem at times like a normal human being. He and Wolfgang occasionally seem to have an almost father-son-like relationship, washing dishes, purchasing a Christmas tree, and passing discreetly into the fray of a petting zoo. Sometimes you nearly forget anything’s wrong at all, until some pedophilic dirty talk or foreplay brings you back to reality and forces you to face facts.

Something is terribly wrong. Wolfgang has parents somewhere who love and miss him, and psychologically, he is splintering, turning into the polar opposite of the unknowing boy Michael goes after later in the film.

To ask for more excitement in a movie like this is to ask for a nasty brand of moviemaking. Despite its relentless ugliness and bleakness, Michael never sinks to the sewers of  child exploitation. As a critic, though, I would have asked for a more conclusive ending. Placing an ending like this in any movie, let alone a film of this intensity, seems, frankly, a little like cheating.

Note – Praised by critics for its subtle take on its subject. Free of heavy-handedness and melodrama, the film’s director, Marcus Schleinzer, got several calls from grateful pedophiles, thanking him for his “non-judgmental” portrayal of their kind. It’s sad to think there are people like that out there, who will probably never benefit from any kind of therapy an are best kept away from children for the rest of their natural lives.

An Infinite Tenderness (1972)

“An Infinite Tenderness” is a beautiful piece of fiction, disguising itself as a documentary, exploring the world of brain-damaged children. It has no A-listers and no dialogue, but is probably more moving than any other film you’ll see this year.


Hollywood is full of saccharine, off-putting, and thoroughly uninspiring films about the mentally disabled. This French experiment challenges preconceptions of a group of people viewed alternately with pity and mocking derision.

Simon is a boy confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, who spends his lonely and monotonous days in a white-washed children’s home, cared for with a grim sense of duty by a black nurse.

The beginning of the film is reminiscent of the first 20 minutes of Mark Hanlon’s 1999 indie thriller “Buddy Boy” in its sense of gloom and repetition, but unlike Hanlon’s abused stuttering protagonist Francis, Simon keeps a positive attitude for a while, until he too loses his thunder and begins to look at each new day with apprehension and low spirits.

That is, until he meets Emmanuele, who, contrary to the Netflix description, is quite male. Emmanuelle, who has a very similar disability to Simon, communicates through dog-like barks and howls. They begin to connect through touch, art, and music, and open a door inside themselves they didn’t know existed.

Now this all sounds very Hollywood, with big-name actors hammily trying to get in touch with their inner spastic, but these kids have an inherent lovability that makes you sympathize with their plight.

They are resilient, without self-pity, even as life takes a s**t in their face. I felt a connection with Simon within the first five minutes. How often can you say that about a character, even one who does speak?

The film is tough going at first, with nothing happening within the first 45 minutes or so, but hang in there, because at about that point it picks up its pace. There’s even a death.

Moreover, this movie changed the way I looked at the severely retarded. Previously I saw these people as having little to offer anyone, almost parasitic in their dependance. When I watched this movie, I saw how much these two had to offer each other, in comfort, in affection. I know pretty, sappy, right? The child actors are physically disabled and mute but intellectually unimpaired, and Pierre Jallaud, directs them with finesse.

“An Infinite Tenderness” is for the patient only. But if you are one of those patient few, looking for that obscure film to move and wow you, I have one thing to say — watch this movie. Because if you are patient, chances are you won’t be disappointed.

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Mama (2013)

“Mama” is a eerily different and creepy ghost story with great performances from the child actors. Young Victoria and Lily (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) have spent 5 years in a cabin in the woods after their father (Nikolaj Coster-Waldaudies,) alone except for a ghostly presence they call Mama. When they are rescued by and put into the custody their dad’s twin brother (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his metalhead musician  wife Annabelle (Jessica Chastain,) who doesn’t want the responsibility of kids.

The special thing thing about this movie is the lack of typical ‘bad guys’ (Mama is disturbed and overprotective, but also a tragic figure) and the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT many horror films lack. You end up both feeling for these little girls (who return to civilization filthy, emaciated and feral) and being a little creeped out by them due to the clever writing and the girl’s great performances.

The CGI can be a little shoddy and there are plot holes present, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying the creepy, emotional, and compelling story. There where some very touching moments and I found myself still becoming uneasy on my second viewing, which hardly ever happens. I found the development of Annabelle’s character and her transformation from rocker with no real responsibilities to devoted surrogate mom fighting a jealous supernatural force interesting.

I will now voice my minority opinion and say this movie was better than the recent supernatural thriller “The Conjuring.” While “The Conjuring” was perhaps a movie with better visual effects and more audience appeal, it never really got me interested in the characters. They were simply victims, struggling against a tide of bizarre supernatural events that were beyond their earthly grasp.

On the other hand, I felt like the characters in “Mama” were well written and developed, and well I thought the young girls were the highlight of the film, the rest of the cast was quite good too. The child actors display range and prowess beyond their young years, and I hope to see more of them in the time to come.

And then there’s ‘Mama’, who’s overall a rather confusing character, but also eerie and ambiguous. You feel for her, and you fear her wrath, in equal measure. I recommend this movie to horror buffs, but also to people who like just a good emotional riveting story. It’s not a horror classic, but it’s worth watching as ‘light horror’ for genre fans and scaredy cats alike.

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a willfully ridiculous, ridiculously bloody, balls-out and slightly touching film that allows the hillbillies to be the heroes for a change.

Tucker and Dale, far from the chainsaw-wielding, pig-raping rednecks we have come to expect from horror movies and West Virginia jokes, are just trying to have a nice time at their vacation home when out of the blue come a group of college kids who also want to have a nice time… but quickly become an incompetent lynch-mob over a series of misunderstandings.

The progression of the plot is super simple — somehow, under various circumstances, these doltheads keep killing themselves all around Tucker and Dale’s vacation home. Meanwhile, lovelorn Dale (Tyler Labine) harbors a crush on one of the college girls (Katrina Bowden,) while Tucker (Firefly’s Alan Tudyk) encourages him to believe in himself.

What really matters here are the jokes, delivered steadily and evoking a lot of laughs. The dialogue is one of the funniest in recent indie horror-comedies. The kills are brilliant in their own way, straining credulity to the extreme while still remaining hilarious and entertaining.

I don’t know how they did it, but I actually found the romance between bearish, backwoods boy Dale and slim, blonde college student Alison (Bowden) to be believable in the context of the movie. Anyway, it’s no less plausible than the college students somehow killing themselves, whether by fire, woodchipper (shades of “Fargo”) or tree branch (WTF?!)

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” has a big, warm, squishy heart at the middle of it, for all its guts and gore. It also provides a valuable message about not making snap judgments about people, without making the audience slog through the after-school special shit.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine give hilarious performances as the two harmless hillbillies at the center of the story, while Katrina Bowden is fittingly likable as the college girl that Dale falls head over heels for. The ending gets a little overly silly, but the movie will have won your heart long beforehand. “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a awesome entry into the horror/comedy genre.