What’s that you say? You’re sick of movie sequels, remakes of old TV shows and all the other unoriginal films that Hollywood regularly turns out like sausage? Well, I just saw a movie which is perhaps more original than most people can handle.
The movie is called Bubba Ho-Tep, and it has been slowly making its way to theaters around the country. I know, it sounds like an exercise video or a Star Wars character, but the title, according to the film’s opening segment, translates roughly as “trailer park pharaoh”.
The plot, based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, revolves around Elvis Presley and President John F. Kennedy, who are actually still alive and staying in an old folks home in rural East Texas. They’ve discovered that an Egyptian mummy, which ended up in a nearby river after its tour show bus crashed, has come to life and is sucking the souls from residents of the seedy rest home. Tell me that you’ve already seen that story line in a movie. Go ahead, try and say it’s been done before.
In the film, Elvis lived beyond his public death after switching places with an Elvis impersonator in the 1970′s in order to escape his meaningless life as a drug addicted celebrity. Jack Kennedy claims that Lyndon Johnson planned the assassination attempt in Dallas, and then replaced the chunk of missing brain in his head with a sand bag and had the President dyed to look like an African American so that nobody would recognize him or believe he was still alive. The jokes derived from such a bizarre situation are harsh sometimes, but very funny.
Bruce Campbell plays Elvis, and Ossie Davis costars as President Kennedy. While many of the lines are hilarious, the two actors play their parts totally straight. That makes all the difference in the world. It isn’t important whether the two men are actually who they claim to be. All that matters is that they believe they are an ex President and an aging King of rock and roll. The film couldn’t work any other way.
The movie was definitely shot on a low budget. The horror aspect of the story, involving a mummy who wears cowboy boots and a feathered hat, is about as scary as an old Night Stalker episode. I liked Night Stalker, though, so it isn’t that bad. Just don’t expect expensive special effects, as I’m guessing the whole film was made for less than the catering bill of your average Hollywood feature.
If you’ve seen either of The Matrix sequels, you know that no amount of money or special effects will make up for a lousy script. The script for Bubba Ho-Tep is really its selling point. We’ve all gone to see bad movies just for the special effects or action sequences. Believe me, you’ll feel more satisfied seeing a film with low quality special effects and action sequences, but a truly original story.
While the horror is cheesy, and the humor is often raunchy or dark, the film has a real warmth to it. If you are like me, and find profound philosophical issues in The Simpsons and Seinfeld episodes, then you will see beyond the belly laughs and into the deeper soul of this movie. It makes you think about what growing old must be like. You will question your own values and ponder on what is truly important in life.
Bubba Ho-Tep is not a Hollywood blockbuster designed by a committee to appeal to the maximum number of filmgoers, and that’s what made me love it so much. If you can hardly wait for the Bewitched movie or Rush Hour 3, this may not be the film for you. There’s nothing comforting, familiar or predigested about it. I like my flicks a little chewy, anyway.
All I have to say to writer and director Don Cascarelli, quoting Mr. Presley, is “Thank you. Thank you very much.”