Directed By: Don Coscarelli
Written By: Joe R. Lansdale (Short Story), Don Coscarelli (Screenplay)
Score: Technical: 91, Story: 91, Acting: 93, Overall Score: 92
‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is a horror fan’s wet dream. Reading like a horror’s who’s who, this is the kind of horror film I’ve been waiting for — a film made with passion. It was a relief to see a film without mindless, screaming teenagers.
Directed by horror veteran, Don Coscarelli, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ proves he’s still a craftsman when it comes to horror films. In this low-budget romp, he gets mileage out of everything. Even the overused storyline of man versus monster develops a layer of meaning when the main characters’ fight something in themselves until the final reel.
Heading south, Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) are living a peaceful life at Shady Rest old age home in Mud Creek, Texas. And that’s the way they like it. Fed up with their famous lives, Elvis and Kennedy plan on living out the rest of their lives away from the public. Unfortunately, their peaceful, country existence is cut short when residents start disappearing or dying on a daily — rather nightly basis.
The plot thickens. Elvis has his first hand-to-air combat with a giant cockroach. After dispatching the pesky bug, something goes amiss down the hallway of Shady Rest. Someone or something has attacked JFK. When Elvis arrives to help, we learn these old timers are dealing with something bigger than cockroaches. While Elvis believes exterminators will solve the dilemma, JFK is convinced a conspiracy is at hand and decides to investigate on his own. Meanwhile, the residents at Shady Creek are still dropping like — cockroaches.
JFK discovers what they are up against. Nothing worse than a soul sucking redneck mummy — courtesy of KNB effects — using Shady Rest as a banquet hall. Elvis nicknames their unwanted guest, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep.’ They split up to get some rest before they ‘take care of business.’ And unlike, your standard Scream, direct-to-dvd rip-off, we see the maturity of the filmmaker. Instead of using more gore and raising the body count, Coscarelli focuses the story back on the characters. He also slips in a few flashback sequences that break up the claustrophobic feel of the film.
You know what’s coming. It’s a celebrity death match. Elvis, and The Pres, versus Bubba. Coscarelli pays homage to Bruce Campbell and his character from the film ‘Evil Dead.’ Elvis and Bubba duke it out in a free-for-all.
The movie has the ingredients of a successful film: likable and memorable characters, a balanced story, straight-in-your-face dialogue, humor bordering on camp, a memorable — yet menacing — monster, and a dose of the supernatural only Coscarelli could pull off. ‘Bubba Ho-tep’ was made by a group of horror veterans who cared about the movie.
From a filmmakers perspective, the picture is solid. The pacing is even. The dialogue fresh and engaging. Bruce Campbell pulls off a believable, self-depricating Elvis Presley. Not an easy feat. Everyone has impersonated Elvis and few convincingly. Hell, even Elvis had a hard time playing Elvis. Bruce Campbell makes the most of every scene. The chemistry between Campbell and Davis works.
As for the writing, Don Coscarelli remains true to Joe Lansdale’s material, and maintains Lansdale’s trademark attitude prevalent in his work. Surprisingly, Lansdale and Coscarelli honored the Elvis and Kennedy histories with self-referencing one-liners and in-jokes. Visually the jokes work because of precise details. For instance, the red phone Elvis had in his room that was supposedly wired directly to the President’s phone the White House. Well, it’s here. Even Kennedy’s (Davis) room resembles the President’s room at the White House. The whole film is filled with such humor. ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ lets you look into the lives of the characters for 90 minutes. A feat rarely done in horror movies today.
On the technical side, the lighting was too dark in a few scenes. Specifically, the first encounter Elvis and Kennedy have with the mummy. Coscarelli keeps the mummy in the dark allowing glimpses of Bubba through brief shots. Yet, this series of shots in the hallway were poorly lit, but it didn’t detract from the over mood.
Another technical point is the editing, which appeared rushed and choppy. Two scenes immediately come to mind. When the first victim is carried out and slid into the morgue mobile, the edit — leading into the next scene as the door is slammed closed — is choppy. The other is the ‘Elvis vs. cockroach’ scene. The rough editing detracts from the action, lacking smooth transitions between inserts of the practical effect shots and the main action.
Despite the minor points, this is one horror film that hols up to repeat viewing because it’s not predictable. It’s little gems like ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ that restore my faith in independent filmmakers, as well as the horror genre. Bubba Ho-Tep isn’t the usual scream fest you can take your date to. Not unless you’re a baby boomer. This is a horror film that goes beyond the 13-24 demographic and knows it. See this movie before it’s too late…. You might regret it later.
Buy it today on Amazon.com: