Reviewed June 6th, 2004 by David Nusair
In Bubba Ho-Tep, Bruce Campbell plays Elvis. Yep, you read that right. Legendary cult figure and all-around cool guy Campbell steps into the King’s legendary (blue suede?) shoes, in a nifty bit of casting that proves to be the film’s high point. There just doesn’t seem to be enough material here to fill a 92-minute movie (it comes as no surprise, then, that the film is based on a short story by Joe Lansdale).
Still, the film remains entertaining throughout, primarily because of Campbell’s go-for-the-gusto performance. Set almost entirely in a Texas retirement home, Bubba Ho-Tep revolves around two residents – both of whom insist they are famous dead people, Elvis and John F. Kennedy (played by Ossie Davis) – that are forced to battle a centuries-old mummy with a taste for geriatric flesh.
Bubba Ho-Tep’s been directed by Don Coscarelli, the filmmaker behind the Phantasm series, who brings this story to the screen utilizing various tricks – no small feat, given the film’s microscopic budget. For the most part, Coscarelli keeps the pace brisk, though the movie is occasionally a little bit talkier than one would like (another result of the transformation from short story to full-length flick, no doubt).
But even through the film’s lulls, it’s impossible not to grin at Campbell’s marvelously enthusiastic and surprisingly accurate portrayal of the King. Campbell’s always been a charismatic performer, and that’s particularly evident here; this is a character that could’ve been a cliché, but Campbell injects enough reality into the aging Elvis that we genuinely believe in him. Davis is just as good as the black man who thinks he is JFK, while Phantasm star Reggie Bannister turns in a fun cameo.
Bubba Ho-Tep is clearly the sort of film that works best when watched with a lot of friends, preferably those with a hunger for the off-beat. This is probably as close as Campbell will ever come to a starring role – that is, until Sam Raimi finally decides to make an Evil Dead 4.
Audio: Bubba Ho-Tep is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack, and it’s surprisingly effective. The soundtrack especially delivers in suspenseful sequences set at the rest home, with the mummy on the prowl. Nicely done.
Video: Ditto this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. This is as clear and crisp a transfer you could hope for, and given that a good portion of the movie takes place in the dark, that’s a big plus.
Extras: Here’s where the disc goes from being a rental only to a must own. MGM Home Entertainment has provided a wealth of supplemental features that will appeal to any fan of the film. First up are two commentary tracks, the first featuring Campbell in character! Yep, the entire track consists of Campbell-as-Elvis riffing on the movie – munching on popcorn and referring to the director as Don “Coscareezi.” It’s a lot of fun, if not terribly informative. Fortunately, the second track features Coscarelli and Campbell (as himself, natch) discussing virtually every facet of the film’s production. Anything and everything you could’ve wondered about the movie is addressed here, making this a stellar track.
Up next are four featurettes that can either be watched separately or all at once (all totaled, it runs 47-minutes). The documentary details the production from start to finish, with a glimpse at how the special effects were achieved and even contains an interview with the film’s composer. It’s fascinating stuff, and often seems more compelling than the movie itself.
The disc also includes two deleted scenes and some b-roll footage (all available with Coscarelli and Campbell commentary), author Joe Lansdale reading from his short story, a bizarre music video, a trailer and a TV spot.
Conclusion: Bubba Ho-Tep, while not exactly a great movie, is a must for fans of cult movies and particularly Bruce Campbell. He proves that he’s got a lot more range than some folks might’ve suspected, and does a fantastic job of becoming Elvis.
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