Halloween movies month: Bubba Ho-tep

>> Monday, October 13, 2008

"Great" is one of those words that gets overused. There's all sorts of different kinds of "great"; when you talk about movies, of course there's Citizen Kane great. And then there's Bubba-Ho-tep great.

The King and The President off to kick some assNo, really. If you're one of the multitudes who missed this little B-movie when it came out in 2004 (after bobbing around here and there at various festivals for two years), you're looking at the title and thinking I've surely lost my mind. And when I tell you that this is a movie about Elvis and JFK fighting a mummy and that it stars Bruce "Evil Dead" Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as John Kennedy, and it's directed by the dude who did Phatasm, Don Coscarelli, I may lose you instantly. Then again, some of you may well have read that sentence and already noticed, just from that description, that Bubba Ho-tep is absolutely freaking awesome.

It might win some of you over when I point out that Bubba Ho-tep is based on a short story by the mighty Joe R. Lansdale, one of the sharpest horror writers privileging the English language with his rapier writing and ironic sensibilities. Or it should.

Campbell and Davis as Elvis and KennedyDo I need to summarize the plot, or did I already do it with the words and phrases "Elvis," "JFK," and "fighting a mummy"? Elvis is alive--maybe--in a nursing home in Texas, musing about his imminent mortality, long list of regrets, and the tumor growing on his penis. Except maybe he's not Elvis Presley, maybe he's an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff who's gone off the deep end. His best friend at the home is John F. Kennedy--except JFK was, as best anyone can recall, white. It doesn't say anything nice, King(They dyed his skin when they dumped off in the nursing home after that fateful day in Dallas, he explains, with a bag of sand in his head and his brain alive in a jar somewhere in Washington DC, powered by electricity.) And then there's the mummy, stolen from a museum tour by crooks who crashed their getaway vehicle in the local creek: stomping the halls of the nursing home in cowboy boots, sucking out the souls of the forgotten elderly, and scratching hieroglyphic graffiti in bathroom stalls.

If that were all of the movie, it might not get far past the concept... what am I talking about? The concept alone is epic. But, no, there's more to Bubba Ho-tep than the insanity of Elvis and Kennedy battling the Egyptian undead with what appears to be some kind of Time-Life book of black magic and He knows how to break somebody's bones doing thatkarate skills that are considerably impaired by a broken hip. Ironically, Bubba Ho-tep manages to impart a degree of dignity and respect to its iconic heroes that they were arguably denied in their real historic deaths, one shot in the back by a washed-out failure and the other on the crapper as both the punch-line and the big-joke his entire life had coiled itself into. And there's a certain somberness when one considers what Bubba Ho-tep says about how America treats its elderly: the movie shows it's hand quite early, in a depressing scene near the beginning when Elvis/Sebastian's roommate dies and his daughter throws out the man's Purple Heart while she's cleaning up his things; we live in a culture where it's actually not that hard to imagine a couple of historic figures being shucked off to die slowly and much-ignored.

He has a nice hatBubba Ho-tep is crude, brilliant, funny, sad, cheap and cool and really, really awesome, and yes, I say that a lot around here. It's not a particularly gory film, so don't let that be an excuse. It's worth a rental some night this month if you're in the mood for something scary and funny and silly and smart, something that isn't really like any other horror movie you're likely to see--or like many other movies you're likely to see, period. No, it's not Citizen Kane great. But it's all sorts of other kinds of great.

9 comments:

Jeri Monday, October 13, 2008 at 12:59:00 AM EDT  

You know, I never did watch a lot of horror movies because I don't have a high tolerance for gruesomeness and gore. (Nor idiot teenage girls who run into dark rooms when they think there's an intruder in the house, but I digress.)

I did manage to see more than my share of Stephen King movies for whatever reason. Care to rate/rank them - if you've also indulged?

Eric Monday, October 13, 2008 at 1:24:00 AM EDT  

I may have to do that at some point--it might even be a great idea for October 2009! This month's Halloween picks are things I happen to have on my shelf, actually, and I don't have any King movies.

No, not even this one.

(Go to the complete cast and crew and scroll down to "other crew.")

Offhand, I think it's probably easy enough to say that the best King adaptation was Stand By Me (adapted from the novella "The Body") followed closely by Misery, and the worst (almost without a doubt) has to be Maximum Overdrive. How things stack in between is where it gets tricky. I will go ahead and volunteer that I think Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining is highly overrated and pretty terrible, and that Creepshow remains a guilty pleasure.

Bubba Ho-tep, by the way, has no teenagers running into dark rooms. There's a very tiny amount of gore, but the movie's "R" rating is mostly for language and content.

mattw Monday, October 13, 2008 at 9:22:00 AM EDT  

Bubba Ho-tep is awesome. I haven't watched that in years. I should go pull it off the shelf. But you forgot to mention how it is that the mummy sucks out their souls.

Eric Monday, October 13, 2008 at 10:22:00 AM EDT  

Hehheheh--well, we should leave a few surprises for the uninitiated. But you should definitely pull it off the shelf and watch it again, Matt. It lives up to repeat viewings.

Tania Monday, October 13, 2008 at 2:54:00 PM EDT  

*coughs* I own a copy, courtesy of my friend Cindy *cough*

Eric Monday, October 13, 2008 at 7:53:00 PM EDT  

Tania--the coughing: you have Bubba Ho-tep, or one of the other movies mentioned?

You don't mean to say you have a copy of... ahem... a certain low-budget Stephen King adaptation made in Wilmington NC during the summer of 1996, do you?

Say it ain't so. Or watch the credits. And freeze frame on the "wall of shame" at the newspaper office, in which headlines visible in the background refer ominously to certain stories and novels by a certain horror writer, a gag that was suggested by a certain office production assistant who was then diverted to the task of coming up with a list for the art department, a list he still retains a copy of in a box upstairs somewhere. Just saying.

But I really hope you meant Bubba Ho-tep. Because, unlike the other movie referenced in this comment, Bubba Ho-tep does not suck. The movie, I mean. The character, as Matt mentioned, on the other hand....

Tania Monday, October 13, 2008 at 10:09:00 PM EDT  

Blogger hates me! Try #3
Bubba Ho-tep is the film Cindy sent John and I, not that other fine fine fine film you may have been associated with.

Jeri Monday, October 13, 2008 at 11:00:00 PM EDT  

Too cool, Eric! I was expecting to see Nathan's name, not yours... I'd imagine that gig was a lot of fun.

And yes, Bubba Ho-Tep didn't seem like a teen idiot movie - and based on your description, I can only imagine the soul-sucking scene. In fact, my guess is it's quite the hummer, I mean, humdinger. ;)

Eric Monday, October 13, 2008 at 11:55:00 PM EDT  

As for the soul-sucking: wrong side, Jeri. :-)

My brush with cinema fame wasn't as fun as all that, but I did get to see a head explode. Well, technically it was a plastic sack full of fake blood mounted on an air cannon that was concealed inside a fake human torso that was stuck in a bathtub, but it was still cool. And I got to take a phone message from Andy Griffith....

It's awesome to see that Bubba Ho-tep is a more common experience than I'd imagined--it really is an awesomely fun movie.

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