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The King vs. The King of the Dead
What do you get when you take the creator of the Phantasm series, the star of the Evil Dead trilogy, an aged Elvis, a black JFK, an old-age home, and an anal soul-sucking monstrosity from beyond the grave?
Bubba Ho-Tep, of course!
Facts of the Case
You see, Elvis didn't really die. On the contrary, he's alive and well in a Texas retirement home where he spends his days worrying about a sore on that part of the body which you should never get sores, and watching the world go by without him. At the height of his popularity, Elvis (played with giddy delight by Bruce Campbell) decided to chuck it all by getting an impersonator to take his place while he enjoyed a life of leisure out of the public eye. When the impersonator died of a drug overdose and the real Elvis lost his end of the contract to come back in a BBQ accident, the King of rock and roll was suddenly no more.
Elvis strikes up a friendship with another of the home's residents, a man claiming to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis, Grumpy Old Men). Elvis points out that JFK was white, and this particular Kennedy sitting in front of him is…well, black. "They dyed me this color," Jack shoots back, "That's how clever they are!" After a little investigative work, the two men discover that their retirement home is under siege—it seems that an ancient Egyptian mummy (nicknamed "Bubba Ho-Tep" by Elvis) has been sucking the souls of elderly men and woman through various orifices. This doesn't sit well with our heroes, who decide to take it up upon themselves to rid their Texas retirement home of ol' Bubba Ho-Tep once and for all.
Let me first get this out of the way: I'd heard so much about Bubba Ho-Tep that when I finally saw the movie I was slightly disappointed. This isn't to say that Bubba Ho-Tep isn't a good movie; on the contrary, I think it's one of the goofiest, most original films to come out of Hollywood (or at least the back alleys of Hollywood) in quite sometime. But, the fact is that I had heard so many great things about it that, inevitably, the film ended up meeting some but not all of my expectations. Even so, Bubba Ho-Tep has enough going on in it to please almost any genre fan.
You have to give director Don Coscarelli credit: Bubba Ho-Tep is a movie with style, wit, and originality. Here's a flick that throws all caution to the wind and winds up being truly a unique moviegoing experience. At the heart of the film is Bruce Campbell's touching, funny, eccentric performance as a disheveled, paunchy Elvis Presley. It's a shame that the Academy did not recognize Campbell's ballsy performance in Bubba Ho-Tep—this was easily one of the best performances of the year. Swaggering on a walker and attempting to show off his kung-fu moves (with disastrous results), Campbell made me believe that he truly was Elvis incarnated.
The other standout in the film is Ossie Davis as John Kennedy, though unlike Elvis I don't think we're supposed to believe he's actually the former President. No matter—Davis's performance is touching and funny, a rarity for senior citizens in Hollywood's youth market. Pairing up with Campbell, the two make formidable foes against the lanky, dust-ridden Bubba Ho-Tep.
Speaking of which, while Bubba himself seems little more than a guy in a rubber suit, it somehow fits with the tone of the film—100 million dollar special effects weren't needed to bring the mythology of Bubba Ho-Tep to life. The film's low budget origins are often apparent, though never a hindrance on one's enjoyment of the film.
In its own strange way, Bubba Ho-Tep has something to say about the elderly (they're largely forgotten), and at the same time doles out its fair share of laughs and frights. I'm a bit surprised this film was able to be made considering how much Hollywood seems to pride itself on churning out the same old, same old. If you're a fan of either Elvis movies, horror flicks, or suppositories, then it will be worth your while to check out Bubba Ho-Tep.
And that ain't no lie, baby.
Bubba Ho-Tep is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall MGM has done a great job of making sure this transfer is in great shape. The film was shot on a very low budget, though the picture doesn't show it—the colors, black levels, and flesh tones are all in great shape. There is a bit of graininess to some of the shots, as well as some muted colors, though generally speaking this transfer looks far better than I anticipated. Fans of the film will be very happy to see Bubba Ho-Tep, unlike Elvis's private parts, is in very good shape.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Once again I was a bit surprised at how good this soundtrack ended up being—there are some discreet sound effects through both the front and rear speakers. For a B-movie, MGM has produced a sound mix that actually uses the surround sound feature. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Presented in a "collector's edition," this first ever DVD of Bubba Ho-Tep sports some fun extra features. Starting off the disc is not one but two commentary tracks. The first is by director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell, and the second is by Elvis himself, played by Mr. Campbell. The Elvis commentary track is strictly for laughs—while it's not a laugh-a-second listen, Campbell is more than entertaining as the King, commenting on what may be considered his best film. The director/star track is a much more straightforward commentary that includes stories about the production, screenplay, special effects, casting, etcetera. Basically, it's a good track for those who want to learn more about the production instead of giggle for an hour and a half.
Next up are four featurettes: "The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep," "To Make a Mummy," "Fit for a King," and "Rock Like An Egyptian." Each of these focus on various aspects of the film, though "The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep" lasts the longest at nearly a half-hour long. It includes interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and other snippets about the film. The rest of the featurettes focuses on the music from the film, the special effects, and creating the mummy, the costumes, and other bits and pieces of the film's history.
Finally there are some deleted scenes from the film, all presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and featuring commentary by the director; short story author Joe R. Lansdale reading from the short story that inspired the film; a music video for composer Brian Tyler's main theme (a clip montage); a TV spot for the film; and an original theatrical trailer for Bubba Ho-Tep.
I enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep enough to recommend it, though a rental is advised before a purchase. Bruce Campbell gives a great performance and the movie, while flawed, is a fun mixture of horror and comedy. MGM's work on this disc is a great combo of a nice video/audio presentation and fun supplements.
Fix me up a banana and peanut butter sandwich and throw be the remote, baby! Bubba Ho-Tep has left the building!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Don Coscarelli and Star Bruce Campbell
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