Bubba Ho-tep (2002)
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout and Bob Ivy
Directed by Don Coscarelli
The Bubba Ho-tep Special Edition DVD contains two audio commentary tracks. The first, not surprisingly, is commentary by director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell. The second is commentary by “The King.” That’s right, Elvis himself comments on the movie (recording at “an undisclosed location”) at the request of the director. One of those “favor to a friend of a friend of a friend” things.
Based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep is about Elvis, who isn’t nearly as dead as the general public has been lead to believe. The King (played by Bruce Campbell) is alive and (relatively) well, spending most of his time laid up in bed at Shady Pines, a rest home in Mud Creek, Texas. In a coincidence far too bizarre to consider, this rest home also happens to be the current domicile of none other than JFK (Ossie Davis). Together, the decrepit duo must defeat an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy who has been preying upon the residents of Shady Pines.
Why The King of Rock and Roll is spending his last days in a gloomy rest home is explained in a series of flashbacks, as is how an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy came to be in Texas. And JFK? Well, there’s an explanation for his presence at Shady Pines, too; as well as an explanation for him being black.
Ossie Davis and Bruce Campbell play their parts very well. Their interactions are amusing and occasionally touching. Campbell looks the part of an aging Elvis (thanks in no small part to some excellent makeup), and Davis looks the part of an aging Kennedy about as much as any elderly black guy playing an elderly white guy could. As for the ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy, he looks about like you’d expect an ancient, soul-sucking Egyptian mummy living in Mud Creek, Texas would, complete with feathered cowboy hat and stylin’ boots.
The film moves at a decidedly geriatric pace, and there’s not all that much action. Anyone expecting Evil Dead 4 is in for a big disappointment. Still, the main characters are old men, so it’s fitting that the movie not rush along at breakneck speeds. The story is driven largely by dialog, a good portion of which is Campbell’s cantankerous Elvis voice over. When there is action, it is action suited to old men. Every move the heroes make is likely to send them back to bed with a broken hip. When the main character needs a walker to get around, it’s not likely he’ll be doing back flips or flattening the mummy with a crane kick.
Though there isn’t a single Elvis song throughout the entire movie (pesky copyrights), the soundtrack is nonetheless pleasing. The original music by Brian Tyler is very fitting, especially the rich, moody guitar in the main theme. On my home theater system, the sound and music filled the room, making for a very satisfying viewing experience.
The true gem on the DVD is that commentary by “The King.” Elvis is watching Bubba Ho-tep for the first time, and he comments on Bruce Campbell (he’s seen Campbell in some “Evil Death” pictures, but isn’t going to rush out to see his next movie), Ossie Davis (a classically-trained actor who must have been paid a lot of money to do this picture), the film’s budget (the must have spent all the money getting Ossie Davis), and the disturbing amount of profanity (The King would never cuss in front of a lady). The commentary is littered with references to Elvis’ own films and anecdotes about making them, and is interrupted several times when The King takes calls on his cellular phone.
I’ve yet to watch the Campbell/Coscarelli commentary, but I’ve got another couple of days before the movie is due back at Blockbuster, so I’ll likely have a chance to see it before I return the DVD.
Bubba Ho-tep may never achieve the cult status that the Evil Dead films have, but it gives Bruce Campbell a chance to show what he’s capable of when not portraying the dunderheaded Ash or relegated to playing thirty-third fiddle in Sam Raimi’s latest Spider-Man film. I’ve seen several reviews that proclaim this to be Bruce Campbell’s finest acting to date, and I don’t disagree. The slow pace and lack of constant action are likely to alienate a certain subset of Campbell’s fans, but for the rest of us Bubba Ho-tep is a worthy addition to his filmography, and a big step on the long path to atoning for Congo.