WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
For some reason, horror movies seem to be particularly susceptible to parody and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction. I haven’t seen as many parodies of action movies or romances. Even sci-fi movies haven’t had as many parodies or deconstructions as horror. Maybe it’s because there’s tension both in horror and comedy, leading to sudden releases.
And people might point to Cabin in the Woods (Joss Whedon is an overrated ass) as a primo example, or the Scary Movie movies, or Young Frankenstein for a classic… but in my opinion, one of the greatest is Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. This is a parody of slasher-killer/killer-hillbilly movies that also just happens to be a really good movie.
The reversal of the hero/villain dynamic is the most obvious way of lampooning the genre — in this, the protagonists are the hapless hillbillies who just want to go hang out at their decayed vacation house, catch some fish, and fix their new place up. Tucker and Dale could not be more amiable and down-to-earth, and the only reason they ever come across as creepy to anyone is A) Dale’s social awkwardness, and B) the college kids’ preconceptions of hillbillies as dangerous, disgusting and amoral.
Conversely, the college kids — usually depicted as hapless victims in horror — are mostly morons who accidentally kill themselves by doing things like leaping into wood chippers or splashing paint thinner on a fire. The antagonist, however, is one of these college kids, a psychotic hater of hillbillies who decides to declare war on Tucker and Dale after the two rescue the girl he’s hoping to molest.
So the subversion of horror is pretty well handled in its own right — it takes the stuff we’re familiar with and flips it on its head. But the movie wouldn’t be as excellent as it is if it were just “haw haw, it’s funny because they’re dying due to their own stupidity rather than because of killer hillbillies! It is funny because that usually doesn’t happen in horror movies!”
Because… the characters are almost all really good and well-handled, and everything that happens more or less organically flowers from who those people are. Even the less developed characters (such as the various college kids) have fairly consistent and sensibly-drawn characters (despite the blonde girl who’s dressed very badly for a woodland camp-out). Except for the psychotic guy, they all behave like… real people. Sometimes not very smart real people, but real people. For instance, one guy decides “screw this, I’m finding the police” and does just that. It doesn’t turn out well, but he does do the sensible thing.
And there are character arcs (Dale having to develop self-confidence and strength), developed character relationships (both romantic and platonic), several Chekhov’s guns (I won’t mention what they are, because some are spoilers), and it ramps up the tension gradually, punctuated by some hilarious accidental deaths.
I won’t go into too much detail about Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, but I will say that I really don’t think it would be as effective a horror-comedy/deconstruction/parody if it didn’t have such well-developed characters and such a solid plot.
Oh, and it’s insanely funny as well.