Bubba Ho-Tep Limited Collector’s Edition
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy
MGM Home Entertainment
Before I get started, I have a confession to make”¦ I did not grow up worshiping at the altar of Bruce Campbell. I’d heard the name, but I really had no idea who the guy was. And coming from a self-professed cinephile and pop-culture junkie, I know that this information is a big blow to my credibility”¦ In my defense, I have since seen all of the man’s films, read both of his books, and worship at the altar of Bruce Campbell regularly.
But then I read an article in my local paper about a little movie called Bubba Ho-Tep that was going to be playing at our small, alternative cinema. I really couldn’t believe what I was reading as the article discussed the plot of the film. For those who don’t know, in a nutshell the film is about two residents of an old folks home — who may or may not be Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy — who have to team up to battle an ancient Mummy that is stalking the old folks living in the home.
Brilliant, right? But wait, it gets better!
Elvis is played by Bruce Campbell and JFK is played by”¦ wait for it”¦ Ossie Davis! Yes, African American screen legend and civil rights activist Ossie Davis! For those keeping score at home — JFK was about as Caucasian as it gets”¦ Do you see the brilliance at work here?
And that’s why I said “who may or may not be”¦” for both of the characters. According the film, Elvis, tired of all of his hangers-on and life in the spotlight, switched places with an Elvis impersonator. And JFK survived the assassination attempt, but in order to hide him, the government dyed his skin. But the film constantly keeps you guessing as to whether or not these two old-timers are really who they say they are, or if they’re just losing their marbles. Either way, it’s impossible not to fall in love with both the characters and the premise.
Obviously a film with a premise so outrageous is played for laughs, giving the audience a wink-wink, nudge-nudge every chance it gets, right? WRONG! Another aspect of this film that has planted it firmly in my Top 5 All-Time Favorite Flicks is that it plays the story dead serious. Sure, there are laughs”¦ but they’re not generic. They’re not manufactured. They feel natural and organic. The laughs come because of the firm belief that everyone involved in the film has that this is reality. And it’s better for it. Too often in this post-modern landscape of information-at-our-fingertips we have to make everything feel like an inside joke. In a sense, we pull the curtain away from the Great and Powerful Oz only to find him hamming it up even MORE as himself”¦ and I hate that. Let the story be the story without constantly jumping up and down and yelling “Hey, I’m a STORY! GET IT?!?”
A lot of this praise has to be heaped upon the director, Don Coscarelli, who also adapted the screenplay from a story by Joe R. Lansdale. Don, the man behind the Phantasm series of films as well as the early 80s gem The Beastmaster, crafts a story that in less capable, or loving, hands would have come off like any other shitty, no budget B-movie. But it doesn’t. He makes it work on so many different levels that are impossible to understand until you see the film.
As the creator of Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Werewolves, it’s fairly obvious that this film is a huge influence on me. As the Jesus Hates Zombies story progressed in my mind, I knew that I wanted to find another historical figure to team up alongside Jesus. I’ve always loved the notion of taking characters that are so popular that people feel they know them and playing them against type. If it works, as it does in Bubba Ho-Tep, it’s brilliant. If it fails”¦ it fails hard. I wanted to see if I could make it work as well as Coscarelli and company did. I wanted to capture the sense of fun that Coscarelli had taking these two unlikely partners and pairing them up.
And in one final note, Bruce Campbell was absolutely robbed of an Oscar Nomination for this film. ROBBED, people! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. He doesn’t embody Elvis”¦ he channels him. You never look at a scene and think, “That’s Bruce Campbell.” He’s that good. He plays the King with heart and emotion and humor”¦ in short, he plays him as a real person, not a character. And it’s a shame that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Sure, Bruce is beloved by the fanboys and fangirls of the world. But he should be more widely recognized for what he does.
So while I may be late to the Campbell party, I feel like I arrived at the very best possible time — a time when he made me believe in a King, a Mummy, and an African American JFK. God, I love the movies”¦