Bubba Ho-tep: Limited Collector's Edition Review
Since the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, there have been many films and documentaries that have tried to detail his life. Presley is one of those guys who, like Bruce Lee got so deep into people's consciences that when they passed away it was unbelievable. In fact many refuse to believe to this day that Elvis is dead and insist that he's still alive and well and probably flips burgers somewhere in Alabama, or lives in an empty bus in Alaska.
Bubba Ho-tep is adapted from the short story by Joe R. Lansdale and creates a totally new myth surrounding Elvis Presley's life and whereabouts.
The king of Rock 'n' Roll is alive....but not very well. Elvis Aaron Presley (Bruce Campbell) now resides at Mud Creek Shady Rest Convalescent Home, where he nurses a bad hip and spends his days living with regrets that he wishes he could fix. His only friend at the home is Jack, who believes that he is former president, John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), now living the rest of his days as a black man - having been dyed that colour in a cover up conspiracy.
When mysterious deaths begin to occur at the home, Elvis and Jack begin to investigate. Their findings lead them to believe that a 3,000 year old soul-sucking mummy, whom they dub “Bubba Ho-tep", is responsible for bumping off the elderly residents one by one.
It’s time for Elvis and Jack to kick evil's ass and save the day in perhaps the most original feature from 2003.
Bubba Ho-tep is a strange little film with a modest budget that's hard to pin down. It could be described as a horror/drama/comedy - so maybe a "hodramedy". By Jove, I have created a new word - but it is also a really rubbish sounding one.
But I digress. I am not particularly the biggest fan of director, Don Coscerelli's work. Films such as Beast Master and Phantasm have been milked needlessly and I would never have thought that he could come up with a film quite like this. But he does - taking a short, relatively unknown story and making it into a cult feature before it's barely been introduced to the world. It's in my opinion that Coscerelli has made the finest film of his career and likely it shall remain that way.
I've seen some truly awful conversations online about the film that border on being hilarious, due to the questions being raised. Listen, it's a film. Who cares if it is factual or not? This is the last film in the world that needs ultra sad debates in order to try and decipher it. Putting it simply, just sit back and enjoy the crazy romp for what it is. The amazing thing is that you actually become so involved with the characters of Elvis and Jack, that you easily accept them.
Bubba Ho-tep balances out various genres evenly but not always effectively, across a 90-minute run time.
The horror element is both used as an introduction to the mysterious mummy but also as a view point of Elvis himself. He's scared of this place where he is left to live out the last of his days. However, the horror element is largely underplayed. The film is never scary but Coscarelli chooses to depict the home as being a place of horror, rather then the threat that lives near by. We see this in the long, drawn out, depressing corridor shots within the home that are as shady as its name suggests. The horror plays last to what is essentially a drama, featuring well written, comic dialogue.
The comical moments are plentiful and rest largely on the conversations between Elvis and Jack. As the film goes on, the revelations and discussions that entail become more amusing. I defy anyone to not smile throughout Jack and Elvis's most endearing moments. Other comical touches come from seeing Elvis trying to relive parts of his youth by seeing if he still has the moves, but being confined to using a Zimmer frame. To cut it short, I wouldn't want to give away too much for those yet to see it.
And then there is the drama element. This sees Elvis trying to fight his inner ghosts and search for some kind of redemption. He narrates much of what he is thinking and his thoughts capture what you could easily believe is the "real" Elvis's soul. His regrets, hopes and frustrations are explored and in many ways the film is as much tragic as it is funny. The film has so many wonderful moments that are small but effective, between both Elvis and Jack.
This would be a lot less special without its star performers and in all honesty I cannot imagine anyone else playing Jack or Elvis in such a sweet and memorable way as Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis do.
Campbell gives one of his greatest performances of all time, deserving all the praise that he has been getting for this film. Granted, he may not be as convincing as a younger Elvis but as an aging one he is spot on. You can believe that this is the real Elvis, had he been alive today. Bruce Campbell has studied his character to perfection; the result is a sympathetic hero figure that is haunted by his regrets in life. If the Oscars had any real appreciation for film then they should give Campbell a nod.
Ossie Davis should not be overlooked. He has some of the best lines in the entire film. Ossie is wonderful as Jack, who is convinced that he is the ex-president and that Ho-Tep could well be Lyndon Johnson trying to kill him. Jack is so into his research and Ossie embraces the role 100%. Ossie Davis has such an amazing quality and a talent for delivering some of the most ludicrous dialogue you'll likely hear in a film. After hearing Ossie say "But if that thing comes back two or three times in a row and wraps his lips around some elder's arsehole" you can't imagine anyone else being able to match it. His performance is a true testament to his abilities. I have to give him full credit for making me believe he was John F. Kennedy with a bag of sand in his head. And when he is being more dramatic he brings some beautiful moments to a scene. Ossie gives his character a lot of heart and dignity and he deserves as much high praise as Campbell does. Hell, give him an Oscar too.
Together they are a great, odd couple and the choice in casting them is truly inspired.
A few nods should also go to the supporting cast. Ella Joyce is suited as Elvis's nurse and Bob Ivy as Bubba Ho-tep struts around in character well, complete with high boots and hat. Heidi Marnhout brings a nice touch to her role and goes so far as to depict a majority of young people who seem to forget about their elders. But there is no doubt that this picture belongs to Bruce and Ossie.
This is a film that was largely ignored by the major studios and thus did not earn a hefty budget. Coscerelli turned to Jason Collins and the KNB FX group. Fans of Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead Trilogy will feel right at home, as Coscerelli shows a similar flair for filming action scenes as Sam has done in the past, before he hit it big time with huge Hollywood, CGI fests. Part of the charm of the film is that there are no computer generated effects - this is good old fashioned film making with hokey special effects that gives it an admirable quality.
The budget constraints are also evident, musically as there is not a single Elvis Presley song to be heard. As Coscarelli explains, it would have cost about half of the films budget to get just one. Coscerelli cleverly designs certain pieces of the film around Elvis's old concerts so that you see him playing to the crowds, in-between songs. It's a level of ingenuity that proves you can take certain liberties with a film and get away with them, still leaving it with credibility.
With Coscerelli having no rights to any of the King's great songs, Six-String Samurai (and much more) composer, Brian Tyler was called in to provide the score. Tyler gets into the heart of the film and comes up with a poignant score the helps the picture become more emotionally involving. The main title piece is a brilliant, guitar based tune that serves as the very essence of Elvis Presley - his hero theme that becomes the main centrepiece which gets re-structured throughout the film to offer a different tempo for key scenes.
Note: The following will contain end spoilers. Only read if you want to.
If there were any complaints to be made regarding the film then it would have to be that it weakens toward the end. Almost twenty minutes is spent with our elderly heroes battling Ho-tep. The most enjoyable parts are when we get dialogue based scenes. The final act does feature some great writing but the battle feels a little more rushed and ends as if Coscerelli didn't really know how to get himself out of the predicament more imaginatively and the final result feels desperate. I'm not talking about Elvis's lament and the final reel but how he deals with the mummy itself.
Aside from this Bubba Ho-tep is a fun ride and its shortcomings are far outweighed by its good points.
MGM/UA lovingly present Bubba Ho-tep on a single DVD, filled with great extras. This limited edition version comes with an embossed slipcase and a 12 page booklet, featuring a note by Bruce Campbell.
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen Bubba Ho-tep looks great. Coscarelli deliberately gave the film a slightly grainy look that works in its favour. Colours are good and the image is sharp but much of the last twenty minutes is filmed outside at night-time. The problem is that black levels aren't particularly strong or natural at times and the result is a mixed bag, but far from awful.
The 5.1 audio track does a fine job with handling dialogue and surrounds while the music which carries the film along gains full benefit from the mix.
Audio Commentary by Director Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell
The star and director take us through much of the production and offer some interesting insights. There are a few laughs to be had here and there and the pair is very enthusiastic and pleased with the way the film was eventually received by audiences. I would have loved Ossie Davis to appear on the track though and it's a shame he wasn't included.
Audio Commentary by "The King"
Bruce Campbell returns as Elvis for this feature commentary. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by this. Campbell has provided much funnier commentaries for his films in the past but here he struggles to maintain the gag for the duration of the run time. The commentary becomes too repetitive and doesn't border on hilarity. I can only assume that the studio felt it to be a good idea. Bruce provides us with a few amusing lines and moments of singing and this will likely appeal more to die hard fans. I consider myself to be a fan of his but this didn't cut it for me.
Joe R. Lansdale Reads from Bubba Ho-tep
The author of the original short story reads chapter one accompanied by stills from the film.
Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell
Three scenes are included here: Hallway, The Lady's Room and Footage From the Temple Room Floor. The latter is the full, extended scene that shows Ho-tep's sacrifice.
Making Bubba Ho-tep
This feature can be played as a whole, running for 46 minutes or you can view each part separately.
The Making of Bubba Ho-tep - This covers the films conception and features interviews with all of the main cast and crew members, providing some interesting comments.
To Make a Mummy - A look at the design process for Bubba, with the KNB group and designer, Shelley Kay.
Fit for a King - This goes behind the scenes of the costumes used for filming. Bruce Campbell shows much enthusiasm for the outfits he had to wear and we also get to hear about how they were for Elvis back in the day and the kind of elaborate designs he came up with.
Rock Like an Egyptian
Brian Tyler takes us through his musical process in another interesting piece, with Don Coscerelli interviewing the man.
Photo Gallery - A nice collection of behind the scenes photographs.
Brian Tyler plays the excellent, main piece for the film. The video shows him playing every instrument himself, with clips of the film thrown in also. This is also featured though in the Rock like an Egyptian feature.
The original theatrical trailer starts off by praising the film to high heaven for 30 seconds, before showing us actual footage. It's a nice appetite wetting trailer though.
A 30 second television trailer for the film.
Other Great MGM Releases
Trailers for: Osama, Barbershop 2, Touching the Void, Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2.
Not a feature really. Upon clicking you will see special thanks go out to Don Coscarelli, Bruce Campbell, Aaron Lean and Jeff Conner.
Bubba Ho-tep is a wonderful little film that finally gets the DVD release it deserves (at one point it didn't look like it was ever going to get distributed). At the time of writing it is still going around the circuits in the United States, gaining a bigger following day by day. Slated for a UK cinema release toward the end of the year, we should hope to see it take off well.
It's a film that defies logic and once again is an example of how the large studios should take bigger risks, rather than constantly focus on a demographic audience. It has deserved its success and place in the cult film annual - which I just made up.
Whether or not it is a film for everyone is hard to say but you won't know until you check it out. Do so and enjoy.