Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thank Ya, Thank Ya Very Much: "Bubba Ho-Tep" (2003)

Don Coscarelli throws good taste to the wind and crafts a very funny horror flick that also serves as a character study of the king of rock and roll.

Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) is residing in a nursing home in East Texas. He switched places with an impersonator years back, and that was the man who died in Memphis. Elvis misses his fame, misses his family, but has more important things on his mind. Sure, there is the growth on his penis that may be cancer, but there is also an ancient mummy scuffling around, sucking the souls of the helpless elderly through any orifice it can get to. Thank goodness the King has the help of John F. Kennedy.

Yes, Elvis lives, but JFK? After the assassination, "they" put him in the nursing home and dyed his skin dark so he would look like Ossie Davis. No one at the nursing home cares much for the patient, be they living or dead, so Elvis and JFK team up to fight the monster.

"Bubba Ho-Tep" sounds like a film made just to offend, but it is not. I would compare it favorably to the Coen Brothers' "Fargo," as Coscarelli, working from a Joe R. Lansdale short story, gets inside the head of one of this country's true icons. The mummy gets almost secondary treatment as Elvis tries to deal with his life now, and the audience tries to deal with the fact that Jack and Elvis may not be who they say they are.

The budget is small, but Coscarelli does his best. The setting is great. The mummy effects are spectacular. Campbell's makeup is more funny than convincing, but he has the voice down pat. Things just sound funnier with Presley's voice, especially strings of profanity. Davis is also good as Jack, making you believe he really could be Kennedy, since we have accepted the "Elvis is alive" theory already. I had to wait impatiently for this film to come out on video, since I knew it would never play in a theater near me.

"Bubba Ho-Tep" is funny, a little gross, but stands head and shoulders above many other films because of one thing- originality. The idea itself is funny, and Coscarelli could have taken it in an obvious direction, but to have Elvis become an actual character you come to care about is smart. To have him team up with JFK to fight a mummy is brilliant. Ask not what your nursing home can do for you, ask what you can do for your nursing home!

One of the smartest horror comedies ever made, I loved it from beginning to end. (* * * * *) out of five stars.