January 19, 2005

"No one f*cks with the King"

Ho Tep: 1. Relative or descendant of the 17 Egyptian Dynasties, 3100-1550 B.C. 2. Family surname of an Egyptian pharaoh (king).

Bubba: 1. Male from the Southern U.S. 2. Good ole boy. 3. Cracker, red neck, trailer park resident.

We had a mini Bruce Campbell movie marathon last weekend, culminating in our first viewing of Bubba Ho-Tep. Basic storyline:

Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell) is still alive and living in a nursing home in Texas. He had switched places with an Elvis impersonator years before when he got tired of all the hype and burdens of his celebrity. Also living in the nursing home is John F. Kennedy, who's being kept hidden there by the government. His disguise is so complete that they made him black (played by Ossie Davis). These two elderly gentlemen must team up to defeat an ancient Egyptian mummy who's killing the residents of their nursing home.

Keep that in mind, because they play this movie absolutely straight within the parameters of that backdrop.

In other words, this is not the movie that you expect to see. Given the plot, you ready yourself for horror served up with a thick frosting of comedic farce. Instead, what you get is a surprisingly introspective and complex look at life. At the start, Elvis is just existing, and doesn't really start to live until JFK piques his curiosity about the mysterious deaths happening in the home. Yes, there is a mummy and he's killing elderly residents and that's central to the plot, but it also manages to be peripheral to the real story of two old guys taking control of their lives again and standing up for what they know is right.

This is a low-budget indie film, but thankfully most of the money was spent on casting and not special effects. Campbell's Elvis is subtle and brilliant, and Ossie Davis's JFK is eminently dignified, yet occasionally there are lapses that make you wonder if he's not just a mentally unstable old man. Besides Campbell and Davis, Ella Joyce (who co-starred in television's Rock) plays the nurse who takes care of Elvis. Her character is at once professional and compassionate, and she manages to portray the weary detachment of one who's spent too long taking care of and watching the elderly die without completely burying her affection for those under her care. One of the administrators is played by Reggie Bannister, who you might remember as the guitar-strumming tuning-fork-wielding ice-cream dude from Phantasm.

The movie is based on the novella by Joe Lansdale and according to what I've heard remained faithful to the original work.

A funny moment was when Elvis and JFK were talking about the mummy and how he was a "soul sucker". This made me think of another Elvis-themed movie (but I couldn't remember the title). In that flick, a teenage rocker kidnaps Elvis for his mom's birthday because she's a huge fan. In that movie the little sister sleeps with the lights on because she's afraid of "the slimy soul sucker". When I mentioned it to my wife, she immediately knew the movie and title (Heartbreak Hotel).

Back to Bubba. The plot makes sense in the context of the background story, with plenty of wry little twists and snicker-inducing moments. The special effects aren't awful, and at times they're pretty darn good. The ending was a little hokey, but it matched the tone of the rest of the movie.


On to the DVD itself. I got the collectors edition for Christmas, and the extra features are wonderful. There's a "music video" that basically highlights the guy who did all the music, and he did a helluva job too. Remember the low-budget that these guys worked with? There isn't a single actual Elvis song in the movie, but you don't even realize it until after it's over, and it isn't because the sound track is full of soundalike crap. There are two commentary tracks, the first with the producer and Bruce Campbell talking about the making of the film (very nice), and the second with "the King" providing his insights as the story unfolds (lame). There are a few other extras included too.

Posted by Ted at January 19, 2005 04:35 AM | TrackBack
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