Movie Time with Breakfastman: Bubba Ho-Tep
Bubba Ho-tep is a black comedy/drama movie based on a novella by Joe R. Landsdale, and adapted for film and directed by Don Coscarelli, otherwise known as the man behind the Phantasm movies and the first Beastmaster movie, but not much else. While I have not seen anything of The Beastmaster beyond Spoony's review of the film, I have seen the first Phantasm movie, and I frakin' loved it. It was gloriously cheesy, campy, weird, and just plain fun. It was one of my favorite horror films of the 70's (beaten out only by the original Halloween), and is an incredibly underrated cult classic. If you haven't watched it, do so immediately. Go on, I'll wait. Okay, finished? Awesome movie, wasn't it? Well, what if I told you that the man responsible for that movie created a movie where an elderly Elvis, played by Bruce frellin' Campbell himself, and an elderly John F. Kennedy, played by Ossie Davis, fought a mummy that dresses up like a cowboy and eats souls in a rest home? You would want to know what that movie was called, right? Well, look up. We are talking about that movie today. This is Bubba Ho-tep.
Bruce Campbell as Elvis. I am pretty sure someone's argument is invalid.
The film starts out in the Shady Rest retirement home, the camera panning through the yard outside, the hallways lined with rooms inside before we finally see Bruce as Elvis, lying in a bed, asleep. We then hear him thinking about his penis, which becomes a bit of a running gag in this movie. He then wakes up to the sound of his roommate coughing. He tries sees if he is okay, but as it turns out, he is not. He, in fact, dies in front of his eyes. After his body is taken away by two bumbling undertakers (another running gag), we see another old woman, wandering through the halls of the home, stealing anything that looks interesting. She makes off with a box of chocolates, and proceeds to eat them in her room. A scarab comes out of the box of chocolates (I think it came out of the box anyway), and proceeds to attack here. She manages to attack it back with here cane, but the little bugger is persistent. She is then attacked by a mummy in a cowboy who suddenly appears in a corner of the room. We then switch back to Elvis to see the old woman hanging onto the door for dear life, whispering "help me". She then gets dragged of. Elvis, confused, goes back to sleep. The next day, the two bumbling undertakers return to take the old ladies body away, and we see that a young female relative of Elvis's old roommate has come to take care of his things.
Excuse me, I seem to be lost. Can you please direct me to the set of The Mummy Returns?
Elvis strikes up a conversation with the girl about his old roommate, and tells her his sad story. You see, it turns out he is the real Elvis. In a desire to escape the pressures of fame and super-stardom, he decided to switch places with an Elvis impersonator, for who better to impersonate Elvis than someone who does it for a living, eh? Anyway, he made a contract with the impersonator that he can switch back anytime he wants. Unfortunately, his side of the contract was destroyed in a trailer park fire. He didn't care though. He loved his new life. Unfortunately, one day while performing, he fell and broke his hip, in addition to going into a coma for 20 years. She obviously doesn't believe him and writes him off as a wacko (which he just might be. The film never makes it quite clear whether he is or not). That night, he too is attacked by the same bug, but manages to kill the thing by stabbing it with a fork and shoving it into an electric heater. After that happens, he wanders into the hall to inform the workers that they have a massive bug problem. He wanders into the room of his friend, Jack, who thinks he is John F. Kennedy. He finds him on the floor, and summons the orderlies. The next night, Jack comes to his room and informs him of a strange find. Jack shows him writing in Egyptian on the bathroom wall, and insists it is a sign that they are being stalked by a soul sucking mummy. Elvis doesn't believe him until he sees the mummy himself. He and Jack then take it into their own hands to defeat this mummy and save the souls of all who live in the rest home. The plot proceeds as expected, but it was well paced enough to keep my interest through it's entire runtime.
Bruce Campbell fighting a mummy with a walker. Awesome.
What is the most surprising about this movie is how understated the whole thing is. I know that sounds odd talking about a movie where Elvis lights a cowboy mummy on fire, but it really is. It is much more of a character study than anything. The parts with the mummy feel almost incidental. Both of the main characters, Jack and Elvis, despite how crazy or crass they act, are always portrayed with a strange sort of dignity and respect. They reminisce former glories, contemplate old grudges, and talk about lost chances. Their is very little that is over-the-top about their characters, surprisingly enough, and both actors who portray them put in strong performances, Campbell especially. While one might think that he might flounder when is out of his element, he actually performs wonderfully, making his character, an aging (and possibly dying) Elvis, all that more believable. The entire film itself is, in essence, about the realities of aging and how the elderly are treated. It really is quite extraordinary how well written and deep a film like this is. It shows that you can make a great film with real depth about nearly anything.
While very odd, this is still not the strangest thing I have seen in a movie. That award still goes to the entirety of Eraserhead. David Lynch, you crazy man you.
The rest of the movie holds up pretty well. The music is what you would expect, lots of southern twang and Elvis sound-a-likes. The plot does have some holes here and there, but none of them really hampered my enjoyment of the film. The cinematography is excellent, and really helps to add to the atmosphere of both melancholy and claustrophobia that seems to be present throughout the film. The writing is generally good, except for the aforementioned plotholes, and the jokes are generally funny.
*Insert "DAT ASS" joke here*
Bubba Ho-Tep is a very strange film. Yet, surprisingly enough, it works, and it works well. The characters are interesting, the principal actors do a great job, and the plot is surprisingly deep. It might have some problems with the plot here and there, but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable, memorable film. If you have the opportunity to see, I say go for it. I doubt you will regret it.