June has been a crazy month, so crazy, I’m not sure where to begin. Do I with the happenings of the outside world? How I learned via texts about looting in Best Buy near my parents’ house, then heard about George Floyd and a state curfew and defund the police and protests? Or maybe I should talk about America opening for business before spikes in the Coronavirus reached an all-time high? Disneyland was going to re-open in July; now it’s not. New movies were weeks away; they got delayed. Turmoil erupted just as I was making my mind up to re-enter the world.
Re-entering the world meant going to Panera to do my writing. There was a restaurant not five minutes from my apartment. I drove there and ordered coffee--small hazelnut, with cream and sweetener--and chose one of the tables bearing the green circle of availability. I’d sit with my homemade mask still on my face, not drinking my coffee (lest I need to run to the bathroom), with my computer, my composition book, and my cheap ball point pen ready to go.
I had determined, early on, that the month of June felt like a test. It felt like a test on a national level, but for me, personally, I knew I needed to make substantial progress on Company or I was not going to get it published. It was time to buckle down and write.
Unfortunately, I had a problem. My roommate’s puppy, Atlas, kept demanding my attention. He whined and barked and jumped up on the kitchen stove, all to get my attention. My roommate was struggling with a host of health issues and couldn’t bring the dog in her room. My bedroom is the living room, so there was no barrier to keep the dog’s yip from drilling into my ears. Even sitting in the patio, I could hear him.
I give the dog a lot of attention. I walk him for 45 minutes in the morning and the evening. But I needed time in the morning to write. Specifically, I needed the hours between 9:00 and 11:00 in the morning, my most creative time. These hours were the keystone to my productivity. I could work around the dog’s schedule the rest of the day, but I needed these two hours unbroken.
It got so bad that I decided to risk going out into the world again, just to get time to write. I spoke to my roommate and my roommate’s mother to make sure they were comfortable with me breaking quarantine. My roommate’s mother also volunteered to look after the dog in the morning. I was worried about finances, the cost of going out every day, but I learned Panera had a coffee subscription. For $8.99 a month, I could get unlimited coffee. I could afford that. It seemed like all the pieces were falling into place.
Reading The Snow and the Darkness put me in a bad mood, so I decided to watch Tucker & Dale Vs Evil to cheer myself up. It’s a comedic riff on a hillbilly slasher movie, and it’s available on Netflix right now. I’ve watched it before, and I really love it, because it's clever and funny and leaves me feeling good.
When a group of college kids travel deep into the Appalachian Mountains for a camping trip, they encounter a couple of hillbillies who occupy a creepy-looking cabin. It seems like the perfect set-up for a horror movie. However, the hillbillies turn out to be harmless. Pragmatic, beer-loving Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and hopeless romantic Dale (Tyler Labine) just want to renovate their “vacation home” and go fishing. When Dale rescues college student Allison (Katrina Bowden) from drowning, a series of misunderstandings lead the remaining college kids to believe that Tucker and Dale are psycho killers. Soon the bodies start piling up in violent, gory, and hilarious ways.
Tucker & Dale is a kind of a parody movie, and I, personally, love parodies. They play with the conventions of genre, which I’m always a fan of. But whereas some parody movies are content to rest on laughs and not really bother with a story (I’m looking at you Scary Movie), Tucker & Dale Vs Evil delivers a well-written tale with fleshed out characters and plenty of heart. Also, it’s funny. Really funny.
The humor, as I see it, comes from two major sources. The first is that the college kids, through a combination of misunderstanding, bad luck, and extreme stupidity, end up killing themselves and each other. This is played for laughs, and it works because the deaths are so extreme, they’re ridiculous. However, this humor is predicated on shock value, and it becomes less and less effective as the movie wears on.
Fortunately, the second kind of humor is more consistent, as it relies on the charms of Tucker and Dale. They’re pretty funny from the start, but it’s their reaction to the extreme circumstances that’s particularly hilarious. Tucker and Dale are horrified and confused by the profusion of college kids “killing themselves all over [their] property.” This humor never lessens because it is rooted in character. It also helps that the actors are funny, especially, Alan Tudyk, who has excellent comedic timing.
The humor peaks in the middle, during a brutally gory and hilarious scene, where two college kids manage to kill themselves right near Tucker and Dale. Our two heroes first react in shock and horror, and then come together to try and figure out what’s going on. They decide that the college kids must have some sort of suicide pact and realize that the dead bodies are going to make the two of them look pretty bad. Right in the middle of cleaning up, a cop arrives. It’s a scene that’s genuinely tense, and watching Tucker and Dale squirm is oh-so-delightful.
But even if the humor declines somewhat after that second act, the story continues strong. As the college kids decide to “fight back,” Tucker and Dale struggle to survive. One college kid, meanwhile, is morphing into the titular evil. Will Dale find the confidence to become the hero and win the affections of the girl? Will Tucker ever get to have a beer and enjoy his vacation home? I won’t spoil the ending, but it is a happy one.
Now as I was watching this flick for the hundredth time, I was thinking that, in order to be effective, Tucker & Dale has to make us care for the title characters very deeply and not care about the college kids at all--and it has to do both at the same time. As a writer, I find this a fascinating study. How do you make an audience care for certain characters? Likewise, what makes an audience stop caring to the degree that they actively root for the characters’ deaths? I have my theories.
Title: The Snow and the Darkness
Author: Matthew Warren Wilson
Jason doesn’t care that a snowstorm is coming. He spent $800 on plane tickets for him and his girlfriend Valerie to travel to Virginia, and he intends to use them. At the airport, Jason’s brother Frank and his girlfriend Lucy meet them. As Frank drives them home amid a freezing blizzard, an accident causes them to divert to a side road. There, Frank sees a lone man walking in the snow. He picks up the stranger out of a sense of compassion. But the stranger gives Jason a bad feeling. The worst seems to be confirmed when, on a pit stop, Lucy is attacked and their tires are slashed. But is it the work of the stranger? Jason thinks he saw… something… in the darkness. Can it be that a monster lurks in the snow?
I was on Amazon, buying some DVDs, when The Snow and the Darkness popped up on the suggestion screen. Normally, I’d download a sample, but this book happened to be free, so I “bought” it. Since it was a gloomy day and I was feeling tired, I decided to go through my books and see which one would be worth reading. The Snow and the Darkness was that lucky book.
The Snow and the Darkness is a horror novel that contains lots of gore, some of it very creative. But it has little in the way of scares. I felt disturbed once or twice in the beginning, but eventually the fountains of blood caused me to feel detached and repulsed. This was because I never felt more than a mild interest in the human characters. Rather than reveal deeper personalities and develop heroic traits, Jason and the survivors unraveled, and I found myself liking them less and less.
The character that came across as the most sympathetic was, ironically, the monster. The monster kept me reading, as I became curious about its origins, its relationship to the human villains, and its fate. Unfortunately, none of these things were answered in a way I found satisfying. Toward the end, the action was so bizarre and ridiculous it was almost comedic, and the ending put me in a bad mood.
As you may imagine, this book contains copious amounts of violence and gore, including mutilation and attempted rape. There is a healthy amount of cursing, mostly the f-word, and some sexual content and nudity.
(Warning: Light Spoilers Ahead.)
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.