Screams From The Crypt: Bubba Ho-Tep
As far back as I can remember, I've always loved collecting movies. There's something invigorating about seeking out hidden gems or discovering some hidden gem among the thousands of films released each year, especially going in with no preconceived notions about what exactly it is that may (or may not) stimulate those cinema-loving taste buds.
As a huge horror nutcase, specialty companies like Arrow films, Kino Lorber, Synapse films, and Code Red releasing, are always at the on my list for top-tier quality presentation and bonus features. Many come loaded with alternate versions, international cuts, documentaries galore, and commentaries brimming with fascinating insight on how things unfolded while the camera was running.
With that said, and with all due respect to those wonderful companies doing amazing things, proper respect must be given to my favorite purveyors of genre films, the one and only... Scream Factory!
Earlier this month, Scream Factory released Don Coscarelli's 2002 cult favorite, Bubba Ho-Tep. So what exactly is Bubba Ho-Tep? Well, after falling into a lengthy coma following a freak accident involving hip gyration, a now aged Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) wakes up in an East Texas nursing home, where he befriends Jack (Ossie Davis), a fellow senior who claims to be President John F. Kennedy. After residents of their quiet retirement community start dying of dubiously unnatural causes, Elvis and Jack discover that the perpetrator is Bubba Ho-Tep, an Egyptian mummy who gains power by sucking the souls from the assholes of the elderly (Yep, you read right!)
I grew up an Elvis fan, always have been and always will be. He's the reason I've always had sideburns, and his recordings have deeply impacted my life. Back in 2002, I was attending a Halloween party at a friends house. Her family was well off, and her room was an entire finished basement complete with a bar and giant home theater setup. There was about 25 or so people in attendance, getting restless for movie time. Well, she put on Bubba Ho-Tep and my mouth hit the floor. To this day, that is one of my favorite Halloween memories ever.
So what is this ridiculous premise I just described? What exactly IS Bubba Ho-Tep? Take your pick of one or all: Drama. Horror. Comedy. Tear Jerker. Life Lesson. The film not only succeeds in each genre, but excels. Lesser movies have attempted to be a jack-of-all-trades, but usually fall far short of one goal. One movie may be hilarious at its core, but preachy in the moral lesson. Another could be a fantastic horror film, but the creature ends up more interesting and sympathetic than its human co-stars. Yet another movie can teach a valuable lesson on life, but leave you depressed as you're exiting the theater. Bubba Ho-Tep succeeds where many others have failed.
The performances in this picture are really what make it remarkable, specifically Bruce Campbell. Campbell, an actor not known for his restrained acting style, is here completely encompassed in the role of the elderly Elvis Presley. This is a real feat for the actor, not merely portraying the manic version of himself seen in so many other films, but rather, a recognizable character. He pulls it off wonderfully. With a lesser script, there would have been serious danger of the Presley character becoming a one-dimensional Elvis caricature. To my surprise and delight, Elvis here is a fully-fleshed out character. A good portion of the film is devoted to his inner monologue, ruminating on such deeply philosophical topics as the nature of growing old and the costs of fame and fortune. Proper respect must go out to Ossie Davis, as he presents an equally impressive performance in the face of an even sillier premise; an elderly black man in a run-down East Texas rest home convinced he is JFK; dyed brown, with a sandbag filling the bullet hole in his head. The film does not present this character in as nearly a ridiculous light as it could have. Rather, it seems that both characters are presented as having these bizarre delusions (or not so bizarre, as both are supremely believable) in order to heighten the suspense of the final battle.
The Collector's Edition Blu is ripe with special features; a new commentary with writer Joe Lansdale, new interviews with Coscarelli, Campbell, and makeup artist Robert Kurtzman (one third of KNB effects), commentary with Coscarelli and Campbell, and some really great featurettes on the making of, makeup, costuming, and great musical compositions of Brian Tyler. Also featured is one of my favorite commentary tracks of all time, Bruce Campbell doing "Commentary with the King" in character as Elvis.
If you want to watch something that exceeds expectations, pick this up. Stay spooky, stay tuned for the next installment of Screams From The Crypt!