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Bubba Ho-Tep / Dreamcatcher / The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

A review by Trent Walters

Bubba Ho-Tep Bubba Ho-Tep
Bubba Ho-Tep, a film based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale from his collection Writer of the Purple Rage, is a clever conceit: an Elvis Presley impersonator (who may or may not be the real Elvis) and a black man, who thinks he's John F. Kennedy with the remains of a lobotomy stored in the White House, band together against the mummy who'd been stolen from a museum and is now stealing souls from the hind orifices of the residents of the nursing home they live in.

Does the film succeed? It's less a horror or even a parody of horror than a story whose best design is the characterization in lip service to a horror story. There's much to admire in the little touches made to the characters. Watch this to be humored and charmed by the nuance, not frightened or find anything startlingly new in horror.

Although good, strong and original work does come out of Hollywood, it's nice to see filmmakers plundering admirable works of fiction instead of trying to build up something often hackneyed and trite. It's a rich gold mine still awaiting deeper exploration. The DVD includes Lansdale reading from the first chapter of his story which, if slower, has even more character and nuance. Go figure.

Dreamcatcher Dreamcatcher
Stephen King's Dreamcatcher pastes together a number of old alien clichés in a manner that comes up with something original: aliens who spread like parasites throughout the sparse population of a forested mountain country somewhere in the Northeastern U.S.A.

Years earlier, four boys had spared a mentally handicapped child from the abuses of football players (a not unusual motif for King). In gratitude and as an omen for the shape of things to come, the child offers his rescuers ESP and other powers of the mind. Unbeknownst to them, entering the adult world with special abilities has given them a burden of saving the world from the menace of these aliens.

The film is quite a romp of familiar tropes made less familiar in conjunction: the evil aliens on the attack and taking over bodies in two manners, the evil army acting a little too overprotective to the detriment of people whose lives could be spared.

But there is a nest of story problems right in the middle of the movie that, if you can get through, will allow you to enjoy the movie: the old suspense trick invoked through character stupidity. One character has an alien under control until he reaches for a toothpick (why is he reaching for a toothpick?). Another ought to run for a weapon immediately but does not. And the aforementioned toothpick panic could have been entirely avoided if the men had used their mental communications to soothe. And, finally, why doesn't the Army try to blow up the mothership first before the aliens run back to the ship? Why does the Army think it has the aliens contained by maintaining one outpost at a crossroads?

Despite, the litany of complaints, the film still a lark and a speculative wonder once you get past the nest.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is meant to be as silly a 50s scifi as the title implies. The Hollywood term "scifi" is not invoked lightly as the film is a send-up of the old industry clich´s.

The plot is not easy to explain. Our hero scientist is frolicking in the wilderness to find a meteor with the element "atmospherium" so that he may study it in the name of science. A mad "scientist," who should probably have been an archeologist, finds the lost skeleton of Cadavra, which needs the atmospherium to come to life so that they may take over the world. And two aliens have crash landed on Earth and need atmospherium to get back home. The aliens have also lost their pet mutant which is wandering the countryside mutilating the poor local farmers. That's just the setup. It gets even weirder as the groups interact.

There's some great humor here: Skeleton forces his victims to dance, and the aliens learn to eat like earthlings from a creature that's just started learning to be a human itself. The music is also dead-on. The problem is that the filmmakers don't allow the humor to arise out of the situation enough, don't play the humor with more of a straight-face instead of forcing the viewers through far too many silly repetitions of a word like "science," Delivering as close a rendition of the SF horror flicks of old alongside the ridiculous mutant costume and the clearly visible wires making the skeleton move would have delivered far more belly laughs.

Still, if you enjoy the old Hollywood version of SF or general silliness or Mystery Science Television 3000, this may be a movie you'll want to rent.

Copyright © 2004 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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