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When you think of a movie about Elvis and John F. Kennedy going head to head with a Mummy, it definitely raises an eyebrow. Add that it stars campy cult legend Bruce Campbell as “The King”, you immediately assume that this is going to be a silly farce with cheesy gore galore. Well I’m sorry to break it to you but Bubba Ho-Tep is hardly a cheesy farce. It’s just no that kind of movie. The real surprise is that it’s actually quite compelling. The end result almost left me the slightest bit misty.
It’s a hard concept to grasp; Elvis’ still alive, JFK is a black man, and a Mummy is running around sucking souls from old people. But, the movie centers around Elvis current abode, a nursing home in West Texas where sooner or later all its inhabitants die of old age or by the hands of the Egyptian soul sucker who feeds on the sleeping. Before all the Mummy related chaos really ensues, Elvis has to cope with the fact that people believe he’s insane, because after all the King is Dead. Only one man believes him, and he’s the biggest wacko in the place. His name is Jack (Davis) and he’s convinced that he is ex-president John F. Kennedy. The two form an odd friendship that seems genuine and when Bubba starts sucking souls it’s them who have to put a stop to it.
Bruce Campbell gives his best performance...ever. And it has nothing to do with the impression. He gives a depth of reality to it with feelings of loss and regret. Hell, the first half hour of the movie he doesn’t even get out of bed. But it works. One easily forgets the fact that Bruce isn’t a 70+ year old man. Ossie Davis is another whose performance is phenomenal. He doesn’t try to impersonate JFK, it’s all in his manner, his body language, and the set design in his room. Bruce and Ossie form a team of honest friends. In Hollywood movies when the black guy and the white guy team up it’s usually a bicker-fest until the end when they realize they have to unite to get the bad guy, then the bickering is over. JFK and Elvis barely bicker, more so they just playfully grunt at each other as senior citizens would. No matter how many times Elvis mentions the “growth on his pecker” the funniest bit of dialogue in the entire movie comes from JFK when he asks Elvis if he wants a ding-dong.
It’s funny. It’s heartwarming. It’s brilliantly acted. But hey! Isn’t it a horror movie? In a way it is. Are there cheap scares like every horror movie? Sure there are. Is there a body count? Yes indeedy. The ominous empty halls of a nursing home at night can get really creepy. Once several of the inhabitants of the home pass on, all bets are off; JFK and Elvis suit up for a final confrontation, complete with their respective walker and electric wheelchair. The final confrontation between the duo and Bubba isn’t as physical as you’d imagine. It’s not like The Mummy Returns where Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo have a martial arts inspired fight with weapons. No, the final conflict in Bubba Ho-Tep is about what you’d expect when you have two guys in their 70's butting heads with a 3,000 year old Mummy. It’s slow and it is simple yet all through maintains that same heartwarming comedic tone.
Bubba Ho-Tep is quite landmark. To be able to combine the absolutely ludicrous with the compelling is quite a feat. Heck, mixing in stellar performances in what can easily be branded as a silly horror picture is another big step. If this was a Hollywood flick and not independent, it would’ve been gutted to appease some demographic. It’s a shame Bruce can’t break out of his cult status. This movie has opened my eyes. He’s not just a chainsaw wielding, shotgun touting, catch phrase throwing clown fighting Raimi puppets anymore. Bruce Campbell is a damn fine actor. For the first time I can safely say that with a straight face.
This “Special Edition” doesn’t skimp on the extras. There are a couple behind the scenes featurettes that show Bruce getting into character and some on Elvis jumpsuit production. There’s also deleted scenes showing the original take on how they were going to go about with the layout of the film and thankfully why they cut it, and finally the obligatory theatrical trailer.
Usually little featurettes on movie scoring bore me to tears. This one doesn’t. One of the big suprises of Bubba Ho-Tep was it’s use of music. It was so interesting I had to know more. So, for the first time ever I found myself engrossed by a scoring featurette. Shocking.
There are two commentaries on this disc. One is from Campbell and Coscarelli poking fun at little things and just having a good old time while being remotely informative (which every commentary should be). The other seems like a good idea on paper, but sad to say was executed rather poorly: “Commentary from the King”. A sole commentary from Campbell doing the entire thing as Elvis. You’d think it would be funny and silly, but sadly no. He makes it too real. He’s munching on popcorn talking about Jailhouse Rock and Clam Bake. It’s like having a commentary from that annoying friend who just won’t shut up when you’re trying to watch a movie.
If you haven’t seen this flick, go rent it right now. If you have then you know everything I’m talking about no matter how ludicrous it may sound. Decent extras, great flick, what are you waiting for?
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