Monday, March 31, 2008

Bubba Ho-tep (2002)

Contrary to popular assumption, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is not dead. No, he's now an overweight geriatric in need of a walker and with a cancerous growth on his penis who is living the sad tail-end of his life at a nursing home in Mud Creek, Texas. How he got there is explained shortly into the film and is believable in its own way, but for most of the people that work or visit the home, he's a has-been Elvis impersonator with delusions.
His best bud at the home is Jack (Ossie Davis), a black man who's convinced that he is JFK. (As Jack says
at one point when Elvis points out that JFK was white man: "They dyed me this color! That's how clever they are!") But it's not the CIA, FBI, AA, ASCPA or any other insidiously evil anti-democratic organization that Jack has to fear now: the never-ending hallways of the nursing home he and Elvis share has been invaded by Bubba Ho-tep (Bob Ivy), an Egyptian soul-sucking mummy wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson who knows a good free lunch when he sees one. And as the other old folks begin to drop like flies, Elvis decides that the time has come to fight back. As he says, "Ask not what your rest home can do for you. Ask what you can do for your rest home."
There is a really valid reason why Bubba Ho-tep (trailer) keeps getting so much positive word of mouth: it's good. True, it is a far cry from the type of film one might expect from director Don Coscarelli, a man better known for the never-ending, highly unsubtle and continually over-rated Phantasm franchise, but as ridiculous as the plot of Bubba Ho-tep might sound, Coscarelli displays a remarkable subtle hand and delivers neither a typically disrespectful throw-a-lot-of-shit-everywhere-and-some-of-it- will-stick "comedy" (ala the Scary Movie franchise) nor does he go for a straight horror movie (like that he is known for). Instead, Coscarelli delivers a truly creative film that is both humorously serious and melancholically endearing and that never once resorts to condescension.
As ludicrous as the course of events are, Coscarelli and his actors treat everything with totally straight faces — to the great advantage of the film as a whole. Which is not to say the film isn't funny; indeed, for all it innate pensiveness of the topics ruminated upon by the aged Odd Couple, Bubba Ho-tep remains nonetheless enjoyably fun and well-peppered with laughs. But much like how the horror and action is far from over-the-top, the comedy is not played broad. As silly as everything is, it never devolves into camp, but remains amazingly believable — a remarkable directorial and thespian feat, to say the least.
Based on a story by the cult Texan "mojo" author Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep cost around a half-million dollars to make; and even with a budget of probably 1% of the average big-budget Hollywood project, the film easily delivers 100% more satisfaction than the average mainstream drivel that gets released on a daily basis.

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