|directed by Don Coscarelli|
|written by Joe R. Lansdale (short story), Don Coscarelli (screenplay)|
Based on the Joe R. Lansdale novella of the same name, Bubba Ho-tep is the story of the elderly Elvis and his best buddy, President Jack Kennedy who is black. The duo fight an Egyptian mummy at a nursing home in present day East Texas. Elvis, JFK, a mummy, East Texas. Get all that? This is pure Weirdness.
Only a handful of directors could have successfully pulled off such a challenging and unusual project. Luckily for us, Don Coscarelli, late of Phantasm and Beastmaster, is just such a person. As always, Coscarelli wore many hats as he produced, adapted, and directed this B-movie masterpiece. (I was surprised that he didn't also compose the soundtrack and play a role in the film. Seems like he did everything else.) The direction is good in this wonderfully paced story. Events unfold in due time but not so slow that you feel the urge to break out into your own rendition of "Jailhouse Rock." The screenplay is a literal adaptation of the Lansdale story with some minor additions. Sadly, these bits are the weakest components of the movie. A duo of bumbling morticians that remove each dead body from the nursing home aren't so funny nor do they lend anything to the story. Thankfully, it's a minor distraction, and really the only thing wrong with what is destined to become a cult classic.
The elderly Elvis is played by B-movie icon Bruce Campbell. I've often wondered if Campbell could act. He always seems to be just hamming it up, or relying more on presence than acting skill. He proved me wrong. Campbell plays the part straight, and it is easily the best acting of his career. Soon after the opening scene, he was Elvis. Or rather, an elderly Elvis. He was perfect. Turns out that back in the 70s, Elvis got tired of being Elvis and decided to switch places with an impersonator. Problem was that the replacement had a bad ticker and died. Now no one believes that our hero is the real deal.
The real scene stealer of the movie is the amazing Ossie Davis as the eminent John F. Kennedy. After the events in Dallas, "They" replaced the injured part of his brain with sand and then changed his complexion to better hide him from those that want him dead. The functioning parts of his brain are kept alive in the basement of the White House. Got that? Davis dominates every scene he is in. Every bit of dialogue he utters is done with the authority of a Shakespearean actor. By the end of the picture, his dignity and grace in portraying JFK had me believing he was the president.
The special effects are above average for a low budget feature. The mummy is creepy and convincing. Coscarelli wisely managed to keep one of the coolest tricks from the original story: when the mummy speaks, hieroglyphics explode from his mouth, complete with subtitles.
Being a big Joe R. Lansdale fan, I eagerly awaited the release of Bubba Ho-tep. On the surface this seemed to be an odd story to become the first full length Lansdale film (there have been short movies made of "Drive-In Date" and "The Job"), but I'm glad to say the Don Coscarelli proved me wrong. This was the perfect choice.
Bubba Ho-tep teases and tantalizes its way to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. As an Elvis devotee said upon seeing the movie: "This may be the finest Elvis movie EVER!" I'm no Elvis scholar, but I know a good B-movie when I see it and this isn't it. It is a GREAT B-movie.
I'd encourage everyone to see it, but this is when we get to the sad bit. For some unfathomable reason, Bubba Ho-tep has yet to secure distribution. A movie as refreshingly original and well-crafted should be seen by everyone. If the chance to see this incredible film comes your way, see it. How often does the chance to spend an evening with Elvis, JFK, and a mummy come around?
Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw is also the fiction editor for RevolutionSF. As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. Somehow early in his life, Klaw developed a fascination with B-movies. He blames his mother.
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