Writer/director Eli Craig spent his childhood in two worlds, between his father’s remote cabin in Oregon and in Hollywood with his mother, Oscar winning actress Sally Field.
His first movie is Tucker & Dale vs Evil which stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as the title characters. They play best friends on vacation at their crumbling cabin in the remote woods. But when a group of arrogant preppy college kids, out for a wild weekend, mistake them for murderous backwoods hillbillies, the bodies begin to pile up – and none of them are Tucker or Dale.
What were your influences for this movie?
Actually it was more of a reenactment of my life. This is a docudrama, I didn’t realize it was a comedy! I grew up between these two worlds. I grew up partly in the remote backwoods in Oregon with my dad helping him build a cabin. I was driving bulldozers by the time I was six and using chainsaws. And then I grew up in the Hollywood and the dichotomy was so huge.
I didn’t think about it, you don’t as a kid, but I watched Wrong Turn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, all of these movies about these evil backwoods killers, and I thought, ‘They’re kind of like my dad!’ He lives in a crappy cabin, he’s always working with chainsaws, he’s got nail guns hanging around the house.
I thought, ‘Why are they always the bad guys?’ And my writing partner, Morgan Jurgenson, came up with the idea which was brilliant. He said, ‘What if they were all accidents, and some kid threw himself into the woodchipper [by mistake]?’ So it was really weird to think how much I called upon from my life for this.
How did you cast this? I can’t believe Tyler and Alan had never met before this movie.
You know what is funny too, they’re both from similar worlds in a way. I never thought they were big stars, but we went to Comic-Con recently and they were attacked by thousands of zombies. So they both come from this [genre]. I wasn’t really thinking about that as much as they were both great actors.
I spent my time looking for Dale first because he had to look menacing in a certain light, but have this heart of gold. Even when he was drenched in blood he had to look amicable and sweet. I saw Tyler in Reaper and I was like, ‘God, this guy steals the scene every time.’
I went back and look at him in the series Invasion, where he had a little bit more subtlety, and we offered him the part. He said, ‘Hell, yeah, I’ll do this. I’ll play the lead in this film.’
Alan came on board three days before going to camera, and they only met for two days before we started filming. And our first scene is of them being really good friends outside the store.
In those two days we really worked on back story, we worked on defining how long these guys have known each other, what kinds of things they did together; their world.
Because these guys are such great actors, and also great guys, they aren’t those kinds of actors who go back to their trailers, they worked really hard and they hung out together all the time and I think it shows on the screen.
Both men are capable of such depth and range beyond the jokes. They are playing full characters. The humor comes not only from the lines, but from their looks and how they react with each other.
Did you ever think twice about the amount of gore that’s in this movie and maybe pulling that aspect back a little bit?
I was concerned I wasn’t going to push it far enough initially, because I’m not a big gore fan. So my take was I wanted to do gore for comedy. If it was funny I was going to do it. If it didn’t feel funny, if it felt like it was just gratuitous, then I wanted to pull it back. It is gratuitous comedy.
After shooting it the producers came to me and they said they wanted more gore. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it for the sake of that.’ I always thought that [Quentin] Tarantino has fairly gory films, and I always feel like they’ve minimize the impact of the gore a little bit.
I didn’t want to be seen as a [wimp] so whenever I felt like I was being [wimpy] I said, ‘Pour more blood on her.’ (he laughs)
Do you have an idea of what a sequel could be for this?
Yeah, I do. We were thinking of taking Tucker and Dale to college, but go a little bit supernatural with it, so that college turns into a From Dust Till Dawn type thing. Tucker and Dale don’t know that because they just figure college kids are trying to kill each other.
They’re like, ‘Why would anyone want to go to college?’ Everywhere they go there are college kids coming at them, trying to kill them, but they are really demons. There has been a demon outbreak on the campus, so they have to fight them off.
The reason we would go supernatural with it is I don’t think we could pull off the same exact twist again, that it’s this big misunderstanding. I think it gets too cute after awhile. That was my fear with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. But I have two awesome characters, so why not do Zombieland in college?