|Let it never be said that every good story has already been told. In truth even some of the best films to come out of Hollywood are retreads (note the plot similarities of Gangs of New York to so many other films, including New Jack City), but every so often someone comes along and breaks the mold. Imagine a film based in an East Texas nursing home featuring two eccentric senior citizens doing battle with an Egyptian Mummy who dresses like Trent Lott and sucks souls from any (and I mean any) major orifice (also like Trent Lott). Now imagine further that one of the heroes believes he is (and just might be) Elvis "The King" Presley, and the other is convinced that he is (and... well, who knows) John Fitzgerald Kennedy!
Now, imagine that this unashamed "B-Movie" is not only good, but great, and handles a crazy genre with wit and class that transcends the very send up that they're obviously in the mood for. If you've imagined all this, you might just have a grasp on just the seed of the flower that Bubba Ho-Tep is! I was reminded here of Tim Burton's Ed Wood, which was a brilliant and ironically hilarious bio-pic of one of the worst movie-makers in history done in a style reminiscent of Wood's own films. People walked out demanding their money back, stating that this film was, and I quote, "the worst movie I've ever seen!" Similarly, if you can't handle satire, irony, or (let's face it) silliness while watching a strangely effective horror comedy, you need not apply for Bubba Ho-Tep! Go rent Basic instead.
It breaks down like this: Elvis (Bruce Campbell... who else could play this part in this film?) gets sick of the life he has and changes places with a dead-on Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff. Haff is in to the excesses Elvis was tired of even more than Elvis, so it was him that died on the Privvy, not "the King!" Naturally, by that time, it was too late to "switch back!" Eventually he ends up a disenchanted old man lamenting his past and present. The closet thing he has to a friend is "Jack" (as in Kennedy) played by Ossie Davis (yeah, that Ossie Davis). When Scarab Beetles and supernatural occurrences take various denizens of the home an end as painful as an episode of That's My Momma, it's up to Elvis and JFK to save the day. Dude, you can't pass up an offering this delish.
Director Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm and Beastmaster fame) has written an incredible script (based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale best known for his Animated TV work) filled to the rim with more deadpan one liners than a Larry David Convention. There's more to laugh at in just one of Elvis' lines than in most "comedies" today. It's striking that a horror film-maker can do so much with dialogue. The show is made by Campbell and Davis however, both of whom are perfect as their parts. Davis adds an air of class to this film and his turn here is as striking as if Peter O'Toole agreed to star in a remake of Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh. He has so much class as Kennedy that the strangeness of the casting is easily enjoyed. Campbell is just incredible as Elvis. His impression is dead-on both as a subdued Southerner, and as a vaguely over the top impersonator. He also gets the chance to do things that are uniquely Campbell. Essentially, it takes two actors like this to turn an intentional B-Movie into a classic. Their performances are Subtle, Ironic, Deadpan, and somehow sympathetic and hilarious at the same time.
It's also a sign of Coscarelli's skills that somehow both of these characters (so strange not even the Weekly World News could come up with them) manage to evoke feelings of Pathos in the audience. Oh, they're incredibly funny, but one roots for them and feels for them as they do their best to save the day. In some ways this film manages to be a comment on the forgotten plights of the lonely elderly in homes everywhere. It's a hell of a balance, and man, do they pull it off here. All the while Coscarelli manages to keep things strangely scary, and at no part is it ever not funny... sort of like if Jim Steinman were to write a fugue elegy (What? Too obscure?)! It would be easy to relegate this film as a sub-entry in an Alan Smithee retrospective. Coscarelli has the class and talent to make this actually work.
Surprisingly the budget of this film isn't an obstacle. I imagined that because they were setting out to make a B-Movie this might just be a spoof all the way through, but the special effects aren't bad at all! Specifically the Title character (Bob Ivy) is well made and well performed. Bubba Ho-Tep the character (nicknamed so because of his resemblance to a Cowboy Mummy a la Im Ho-Tep meets the man with no name) is as funny and scary as the rest of the film. The effects further the silly (not stupid) comedy that courses through this movie like funny-blood.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a true classic and the flaws are really minor. For example, there is a scene that is a direct homage to Campbell's own plight in Evil Dead 2 (albeit an inverted and almost funnier version). There are also a few stock horror clichés that don't seem to be spoofs so much as, well, stock horror clichés. There's also a lot of profanity. No, I don't have a problem with Profanity, but the film is so much fun it's a shame not to bring your teenagers to the film! Make no mistake though, the film is excellent fun to watch!
Four Stars out of Five for Bubba Ho-Tep! Yeah, I said Four Stars! Is it Lawrence of Arabia? No! But it's a purely entertaining and well-written movie that is completely original and possibly the best of its kind. It also makes you want to give your Grandpa a call once in a while and let him know you're thinking about him... or else... God only knows what he's up to in that place! You might like it if... you're a Campbell fan, or a fan of Campy fun movies that aren't an insult to your intelligence (again, think Ed Wood)! You might not like it if... you walked out of Ed Wood saying that it's the worst movie you've ever seen; ironic humor and campy horror aren't your thing; your name is Lisa Marie.
Bubba Ho-Tep is in incredibly limited release, so keep a close eye on your local art house theatre, or simply browse to http://www.bubbahotep.com and watch for it in your area (or on video even). THANKYOUVERYMUCH!