An elderly Elvis fights an ancient soul-sucking Egyptian mummy in an East Texas nursing home.
Come on, that's really all you need to know to make you want to see this movie, isn't it?
Given that Bruce Campbell is the actor playing Elvis, one might expect some Evil Dead-style antics, some goofiness directed at the screen every few minutes. But while there is comedy here, the story runs deeper than that; the horror movie portion surprisingly comprises only a portion of the film.
Elvis, we find, switched places with an especially good impersonator, Prince and the Pauper style, when he began to discover the toxic nature of his fame. The impersonator overdosed, and Elvis' proof of his true Presley-hood was destroyed "in a barbecue accident" - and so he finds himself just one more member of an old folks' home, overcome with regrets, nursing a broken hip and slowly succumbing to cancer.
When the title character, an animated corpse trying unsucessfully to disguise itself with a purloined cowboy hat and boots, starts visiting the rest home to feast on the souls of the aged, is when the true magic of the story happens. Given a mystery to unravel, and one last chance to play the hero, we watch the spark of life rekindled in the King... until the climax, when a walker-bound, paunchy Elvis dons the white sequined jumpsuit and cape for his final battle.
The picture is aided immeasurably by Elvis' partner in his fight against the mummy, an elderly black man who believes he is JFK - persons unknown filled his Dallas-sized head wound with sand, before "They dyed me this color!" Jack Kennedy is played by Ossie Davis, himself a living legend, who lends his character - and the movie - a much-needed dignity and gravitas that keeps the proceedings firmly rooted in the here and now. Not believable, by any stretch, but not as tacky as they certainly could have been.
This is, in fact, one of those movies where you can tell everyone was serious about their product and still had a good time. Writer/Director Don Coscarelli, in particular, is working at the top of his low-budget game. It's impossible to imagine this movie with a better cast and crew - or more money.
The audio and video are of the usual high MGM quality. The menus are a particular joy: a carnival poster gives way to newspaper clippings giving us the backstory of the mummy. If there is one flat note in the whole presentation, it's this Collector's Edition's "Collectible Packaging": a cardboard sleeve which is simply an embossed version of the jacket on the clamshell case within. I'm hoping that didn't enter into the relatively high price point for this disc.
The first thing you'll notice is a twelve-page pack-in booklet featuring a lengthy intro from Bruce Campbell and a ton of color photos with captions by Campbell and Coscarelli.
You have the usual collection of featurettes under the heading of Making Bubba Ho-Tep: the redundantly titled Making of Bubba Ho-tep, To Make a Mummy (make-up FX), Fit for a King (costuming), Rock Like an Egyptian (the musical score), and a music video of composer Brian Tyler playing all the instruments himself. The "Play All" option was very welcome here. Also in this section is a fairly meaty photo gallery.
Deleted Scenes has only two entries in it, both available with commentary from Campbell and Coscarelli, and "Footage from the Temple Room Floor", which provides a better look at some flashback mummy material that gets beamed rapid-fire into Elvis' head.
Joe R. Lansdale reads from Bubba Ho-Tep is self-explanatory; Lansdale reads the first chapter of his novella, backed with images from the movie. This actually provides a very good idea of how faithful the movie is to the source material.
The real gems in the extras category are in the commentary tracks. I looked forward to the first, by Coscarelli and Campbell, simply because these men are born raconteurs, and are never at a loss for words. I was not disappointed. The commentary is informative and entertaining, making me wish the movie were longer, just to hear these two talk more about their craft.
The second track, in which Campbell watches and comments on the movie in character as Elvis, is truthfully a little less entertaining. A great idea, certainly, and Campbell proves himself up to the challenge, as we hear Elvis mumble about "this Coscareezi guy", rustling his bag of popcorn and sipping his "white tea... it's even cleaner than green tea." A little of this goes a long way.
But when it's all said and done, it's good to finally have this movie on home video, after its long, strange trip to the screen, and it's even better to see that MGM did right by it.
Dr. Freex, 6/16/2004