Bubba Ho-Tep: Limited Collector’s Edition
February 23, 2003
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) is a cult film fan’s wet dream. The movie is directed by Phantasm’s Don Coscarelli, it stars Army of Darkness’ Bruce Campbell, is scored by Six-String Samurai’s Brian Tyler and is adapted from horror writer Joe R. Lansdale’s short story of the same name. Bubba Ho-Tep is the best thing they have done in years. The DVD is lovingly crafted and jam-packed with extras that will keep fans busy for hours.
Elvis Presley (Campbell) didn’t really die back in 1977, he resides in a resting home in Mud Creek, Texas. Tired of the touring grind and disappointed with the direction his career was going, the King switched places with an impersonator who was the one that actually died of a drug overdose. Now Elvis is rotting away in the home with a lifetime of regrets. He discovers that someone or something is killing off the residents. Elvis is friends with an elderly black man (Davis) who thinks he’s JFK and is convinced that the government dyed his skin black and stuck him in the home as part of the cover-up. Jack convinces Elvis to investigate the murders and at first, the aging entertainer is skeptical, but after being attacked by and defeating a flying scarab beetle, he and Jack realize that they are dealing with an evil, soul-stealing creature from ancient Egypt.
Bruce Campbell does an excellent job as the aging, cantankerous Elvis. He’s got the voice and the moves down cold. However, his heartfelt performance never slips into caricature. His Elvis is wracked with guilt and jumps at the chance for another shot at redemption that this new adventure brings. Fans expecting Evil Dead style antics from Campbell will be pleasantly surprised (or shocked) at how restrained he is in this role (although, he does get to utter some classic lines of dialogue).
Ossie Davis brings a grounded reality and respectability to the role. The veteran actor really sells the outlandish subject matter because of his skill and that great, authoritative voice makes you believe whatever he is saying. His casting against type was an inspired choice by Coscarelli and certainly gives the film a lot of class.
Don Coscarelli’s direction also goes against the grain as he downplays the gore and opts to go for a creepy atmosphere with dimly-lit hallways of the nursing home at night and ominous, fleeting shots of the creature. Even though the look of the film suggests that Bubba Ho-Tep is a horror film, Coscarelli’s screenplay eschews this in favour of elements from both drama and comedy to create a hybrid in the tradition of Buckaroo Banzai (1984) or Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
There is an audio commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell. The two men talk at length about the filmmaking process. Campbell explains how his Elvis make-up was applied and Coscarelli talks about how close he stuck to Lansdale’s story and added the scarab beetles and the young Elvis flashbacks. This is a strong audio track with both men providing all kinds of entertaining anecdotes.
Fans of Bruce Campbell are in for a real treat as he does an audio commentary in character as Elvis. As the opening subtitled footage plays he mutters, “I hope this ain’t a foreign picture.” Over the course of the film, the King questions the authenticity of the events depicted in the movie and constantly criticizes Campbell’s performance. Incredibly, Campbell stays in character for the entire movie and is actually quite funny—although, I can see the novelty of this track wearing off after the initial viewing.
“Joe R. Lansdale Reads from Bubba Ho-Tep” features the author reading from his novella. He has a distinctive Texan drawl and it is interesting to see how close his prose is to what actually made it to the big screen.
There are two deleted scenes with optional commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell. The extra footage provides more backstory to Elvis and a bit more screen time for the first victim in the nursing home.
The most substantial extra is “The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep,” which is divided up into four parts that can be viewed separately or altogether. There are interviews with the cast and crew that examine the film’s origins, like how Lansdale came up with the idea for the story, how Coscarelli found the novella and subsequently adapted it into a movie. This is a good look at the challenges of making a low budget, independent movie. For example, the mummy creature effects were done by making a good ol’ fashion rubber suit. Also of note is Campbell’s Elvis jumpsuits which were made by the only company in the world that makes them. They actually created the King’s original suits and hold the rights to all of his original designs.
There is also a music video that features Brian Tyler’s music over footage of the movie and the composer recording the soundtrack.
Finally, there is the theatrical trailer and TV spots.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a fun, entertaining, and, at times, even thought-provoking movie. It refreshingly goes against the trend of beautiful, youthful protagonists and instead champions two old-timers past their prime but with enough energy left to take on an ancient Egyptian pharaoh from beyond the grave. MGM has assembled a top notch DVD with an excellent collection of extras and crystal clear print of the movie. Hail to the King!