The Once and Past King

I’m getting somewhat tired of only reviewing movies from the past decade, but I promise, I’m working on older film reviews, they’ve just been turning into essays from the amount of content. I put in and I will deliver as soon as satisfied.

That said, I stayed up all last night and decided to check out a movie that I had been meaning to see for a long while. It attracted with starring roles for cult movie phenomenon Bruce Campbell, a man who had one point in my adolescence been my favorite actor, and Ossie Davis, a veteran African-American actor who had also made an impression in his appearances in Spike Lee’s pictures to me. In addition, the director of one of my absolute horror buff pleasures, Phantasm, and helmer of the adaptation of one of my favorite books, John Dies at the End by David Wong, Don Coscarelli was the director to put the picture together.

But even if these factors weren’t in the movie, the premise would’ve been enough of a strange hook to begin with. Elvis Presley (Campbell) has been alive this entire time and living in a nursing home. Disillusioned by his fame and depressed over the divorce and estrangement of his wife and daughter, Elvis decided in the late 1970s to switch places with an impersonator to start a fresh life. Unfortunately, his impersonator, Sebastian Haff (also played by Campbell) had fallen into Elvis’ same vices and became the untimely statistic in 1977. Elvis, now believed to be Haff, had been injured later on and put into a coma, eventually ending up in the retirement home where nobody believes he is who he says he is, he gets no respect or dignity from his peers or staff, and his only friend is a senile black man who believes himself to be JFK in hiding from Lyndon B. Johnson (Davis).

Strange enough as a picture? Well, now a mummy is stealing the souls of everyone in the retirement home.
This is one of those movies perfect to relax at midnight when you’re avoiding sleep. This is…

Easily B-movie fare that would fit Campbell and Coscarelli’s respective resumes, but there’s a deeper factor in Bubba Ho-Tep that warrants more than one viewing, more than one could say for a B-movie. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s actually good enough to be surprising. The titular mummy’s presence is made known from the beginning (with humorous definition title cards setting the mood), but he doesn’t make an appearance until late in the game. Instead, we end up opening in on the aged Presley, watching his roommate die without a real drive, nor a real ability to do anything. Life merely flashes by him, as he sits in his cot.

With so much time on his hands now, the first major segment of the picture is dedicated to him reminiscing about what went wrong. This is the man who was ‘The King’. But he lost that peak in his life way before his supposed death. He’s got nothing left to him, nobody remembers him, the price of not wanting to burn out in the rock and roll life. It’s not much different from the treatment of his fellow nursing home residents, but their senility leads them to become oblivious (possibly on purpose). Elvis is the only one who has to deal with his existential dilemma, the fact and the embarrassment.

Bruce Campbell’s real acting chops come into focus at this picture’s first act, having him deal with the patronizing staff members who will only pretend to care, but in reality are just waiting for him and the other people in the home to die. He provides a believable and outright sympathetic Elvis Presley in his final agonizing years, no longer a legend but just a faded glory. However, the writing talent in the picture is sparked by a plot device that’s just as important and metaphoric in the film’s context as it is trashy in any other context: Elvis’ penis, which shares the same put-down qualities as Elvis himself at this state.

For this reason, Bubba Ho-Tep is one of those movie rarities that are hard to categorize into a single genre. A drama? Well, it doesn’t take center-fold. A comedy? It’s more subtle in that, even despite the ramblings of the elder characters. In essence, it depends on how you as an audience view the characters’ situations that defines the picture’s genre. A horror? Not until the second half really…

At this point, the victims become more apparent as they succumb to the ancient monster, only given the nomiker of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ by Elvis. Only ‘Jack’ seems to really have an idea of what the residents are facing. And the two protagonists band together to regain some of their old glory and die with their lost dignity, rescuing the souls of the deceased and defending the souls of the living.

Campbell and Davis’ chemistry make this picture a sure bait for anyone not buying the quirky plot, while the direction and special effects are low budget, which are definitely impressive for what they are, Coscarelli being the low-budget master he is. However, they both unfortunately date the movie a bit. The real call of the picture (other than Campbell’s spot-on performance – unusually without the camp and more stocked up on the sincerity) is Joe Lansdale script, a provision of a buddy monster picture that is surprisingly sincere and poignant despite it’s unconventional plot. The dialogue is hilarious without being of a showy sort, most of it bolstered Davis’ delivery.

I really wish I could be more detailed with my favorite scenes, but I refuse to in the sense of recommending this picture with a 9/10. For its few flaws, it still shines as a gem of a picture.

On a final note: I stuck around watching the credits in the dark and when it came to the copyright policy, I saw (probably in a tongue-in-cheek nod to Phantasm) the clause threatened criminal prosecution and the wrath of Bubba Ho-Tep. My eyes widened…

… I was watching a pirated copy. I apologize, Coscarelli, if you read this. I have myself purchased previously a DVD copy of Phantasm and a VHS copy of Phantasm II legitimately and intend to buy this movie now (having deleted my pirated file). Please don’t set neither Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tall Man on me.

What would the King do? Bribe you with a Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich.
Also, adding Reggie Bannister to a picture has my vote.

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