May 27, 2004

Bubba Ho-Tep

Never, never f&%# with the King, baby!

Can a horror movie starring a convalescent Elvis and JFK work? Is it a horror movie at all?

The answer is yes and no.

We rolled into Best Buy on Tuesday for the usual perusal of new inventory. Tuesday happened to be the day that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King came out. For this event, Best Buy returned to the practice of making a nice little table display for the new releases. We have always been big fans of the table because it saves us the trouble of hunting for the new releases, but the table failed us this week.

As I approached the table, a smiling Best Buy employee quickly sized up my companions and myself, and asked “Are you here for Return of the King?”

I immediately said “No, Bubba Ho-Tep. Got that?”

He looked crestfallen and confused. By the look on his face, I think he might have even thought I was insulting him. Luckily, another employee there knew what I was talking about, and he stepped in before anyone’s feelings got hurt. Personally, I think they should be a little more diverse with their table. But that’s just me.

So, it’s a bit of an obscure film, I’ll admit. But this film works. No, it isn’t a horror movie. And it really isn’t a comedy either. But it is funny.

You can’t know what to expect from a film that has Elvis (Bruce Campbell) still alive because of a scam, living in a rest home in Texas. Crazier still, a black man claiming to be JFK (Ossie Davis, claiming to be dyed that color by his enemies) teams up with Elvis to fight an ancient soul-sucking evil.

What this film is really about is the character of Elvis, which is what will make it a satisfying watch for Bruce Campbell fans. The majority of this film deals with how the character of Elvis looks back on his life, how he deals with his twilight years, and the numerous indignities he must suffer living in the Shady Acres Convalescent Home.

And the situation is quite depressing. As he repeatedly points out, even his private parts have become a source of woe. All the excitement has left him. There’s little reason to even leave his bed.

It’s almost as though a soul-sucking demon would be an improvement around the place. At least it would be a reason to live.

You might find it hard to believe that this man is Elvis. After all, his story is pretty far-fetched. But he encounters JFK with an even more outlandish story—one that is impossible to believe. But what is easier to believe, that a mummy is bending old people over to suck the souls out of their hindquarters, or that after throwing away fame, fortune, and family, you’re about to die in a rest home? OK, the latter is easier to believe. But which is more fun?

This movie is full of decent lines and fun performances, Ella Joyce is a great foil as Elvis’ nurse, who appears to mean well, but is largely inseparable from the bleak institution for which she works.

This film takes itself seriously enough that the camp and goofiness are allowed to sit and sink in. Except for one moment of undertaker slapstick that is a bit out of place, the humor entirely grows out of Elvis’ situation.

If you’re looking for a cheesy horror film cult favorite, this is not it. This film has cheesy horror, but the film itself isn’t cheesy at all. It is introspective, curmudgeonly and humorous.

Posted by James at May 27, 2004 4:34 PM
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