If ever there was a film that deserved it’s “cult” status, it’d have to be BUBBA HO-TEP; an independent movie based on a short story by Joe Lansdale, adapted for the screen by the director of PHANTASM and staring that EVIL DEAD guy as an aging Elvis Presley, only he’s the real Elvis. Add to that a black JFK, along with a cowboy mummy and you’ve got yourself easily one of the most original and unique genre pictures ever made.
Don Coscarelli made the movie independently and was able to tour a film print of it from college to college, and horror convention to horror convention, hence building the cult following in the old-fashioned grass roots tradition. MGM was smart to acquire it for a home video DVD release, but it’s long been one of those titles I’ve eagerly anticipated making the upgrade to high def. Now, thanks to those wonderful fiends at Scream Factory, BUBBA HO-TEP is available on Blu-Ray. Carted over are all the bonus features from the original release, along with some brand new ones for good measure.
I was extremely fortunate in the way that I personally got to see BUBBA HO-TEP. I had heard Bruce Campbell briefly describe it on one of his first book tours for “If Chins Could Kill,” and after a silent pause from the audience, he concluded by saying, “Yeah, it’s a real sicko movie.” I was at the first Flashback Weekend horror convention and on the agenda for that Saturday night was a big-screen presentation of the original EVIL DEAD with Bruce and the Ladies of The EVIL DEAD in attendance. Before they screened the film, Campbell joked that people have always commented on the “acting” in EVIL DEAD, and so to prove the naysayers wrong, they pulled a volunteer out of the audience to play Scott and performed a few pages from the script.
It was great fun and set the mood for the entire evening. We were informed that if we wanted to, we should stick around for a special surprise screening immediately following EVIL DEAD. And it turned out to be the premiere of BUBBA HO-TEP. I laughed, I cried, I jumped. I got to see one of the most interesting genre films ever with the perfect audience. Every couple of years, I revisit it, but before cracking open the new Blu-Ray, it’d been a while, and almost as soon as Brian Tyler’s main theme kicks in as Elvis begins recounting his backstory, I fell in love all over again. It’s a great movie, and if you’ve seen it, you should upgrade. And if you haven’t, well, here’s 6 solid reasons you should.
It Features Bruce Campbell’s Best Performance
Judging from the premise, I’m sure you must think this is the silliest concept ever. So, Bruce Campbell is putting on old age make-up to portray a 70-year-old version of Elvis Presley? Only he faked his death, traded with an Elvis impersonator and now no one believes that he’s the real Elvis? As ridiculous as this sounds, this is easily one of Bruce’s most poignant, understated, nuanced performances as an actor. Sure, he manages to get Elvis’s voice and mannerism’s down pretty well, but to me, it’s all about the emotion he expresses in his face during his many, frequent voice-overs. Pain, regret, sorrow. It’s all there, and it’s actually the awakening of the Mummy and sudden death of his friends and peers that gives him one last spark of life. He’s so, so good in this. Just take any scene where he references his daughter and wonders if she’d even care to know he was still alive, and fight back the tears.
It’s A Heartfelt Tale About Ageism
Very rarely do we get to see a movie that focuses on our elders. This one does, and it shines a spotlight on how cruel we can be to the people that raised and took care of us. It’s hammered home when Bull’s daughter comes to collect her recently deceased father’s belongings from the room he shared with Elvis. She chucks his purple heart right into the garbage, and Elvis asks, “can I have that? He was pretty proud of that.” When he questions why she hadn’t been by to visit her dad in the 3 years since she dropped him off, she says she was busy and wouldn’t have afforded the place had it not been for medicare. “You could’ve visited. It doesn’t cost anything to do that.” To me, it’s the whole emotional core of the movie that illustrates how we dump, tuck away and forget the old. This movie always gets me. There’s also a documentary called YOUNG @ HEART about a group of senior citizens that sing modern pop rock songs, which will probably also make you cry your eyes out.
It’s Don Coscarelli At His Best
Every time Don Coscarelli steps up and delivers a new movie, it has the vibrant energy of an ambitious first time director. This is the same guy who gave us the beautiful coming-of-age dramedy KENNY & COMPANY, as well as PHANTASM and BEASTMASTER. And yet, if you look at JOHN DIES AT THE END and BUBBA HO-TEP, they are truly stories unlike anything you’ve ever seen. I’ve since read the original Joe Lansdale story that BUBBA HO-TEP is adapted from, and I have no idea what Coscarelli saw in that novel that he could make a great movie out of it, but he did, and he delivered something that’s honestly pretty darned close to the source material. He did the same with JOHN DIES AT THE END, which I’ve read and also couldn’t have fathomed a movie version of before he did it. He’s one of our most underrated and underappreciated “masters of horror” and BUBBA HO-TEP is one of his best. I watched it on a double bill with KENNY & COMPANY, which was an interesting dichotomy. One focused on youth. The other on twilight years. Both equally as touching.
Ossie Mother-F-ing Davis
You know why Bruce is so darned good in this movie? Because he had to step up his game to act against the great Ossie Davis! In BUBBA HO-TEP, he portrays Jack, a black man convinced he’s the former President JFK, and that the government dyed him that color to hide the truth. The sincerity in which Ossie delivers his performance is awe-inspiring. He’s funny, he’s classy, and he adds just the right gravitas to what is otherwise a ludicrous premise. Bless him for accepting this role and giving it his all. I believe in the new interview with Coscarelli on the disc, he says that Mick Garris, who directed Ossie in THE STAND, put in a good word for him about the project. That coupled with the fact that Davis’s grandchildren were PHANTASM fans led him to be a part of the film, and thank God that he is.
It’s Got A Freakin’ Mummy With Cowboy Boots!
Robert Kurtzman, who founded KNB with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is the fellow behind BUBBA HO-TEP’s FX, and that includes the title character of the Mummy! As the opening title card suggests, “bubba” could be defined as a male from the Southern US, a good ole boy, a trailer park resident. And so the Mummy has to match that description. He looks pretty bad-ass, as is, with rib cage and skull protruding. But the extra icing on the cake is him wearing cowboy boots and a hat. When an action figure finally became available, I made sure to snatch that sucker up!
That Brian Tyler Score
On top of being a funny, radical, and tremendously moving story, BUBBA HO-TEP’s greatest strength is in the amazing score by Brian Tyler. The main theme is filled with so much emotion and warmth that it sets the tone for the entire film. In my old-school band days, we once walked on stage to the cue “The Heroes Hallway.” Now, my former bandmates and I are not the heroes that freakin’ Elvis Presley and JFK were in the movie, but it was our tribute and acknowledgement at what great heroes they turned out to be. Have a listen below.
BUBBA HO-TEP is now available on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory.