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Bubba Ho-Tep

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Bubba Ho-Tep since I first heard about the movie. After all, it stars Bruce Campbell as the real Elvis Presley finishing out his days in a Texas retirement home, who fights an evil mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep, along with his buddy, John F. Kennedy Jr., played by Ossie Davis. It’s directed and written by Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm fame), and based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale. It’s got all the ingredients for a top-notch low-budget Indy classic. But does it work?

Yes and no. It’s clear that this is based on a Lansdale story as it has elements of his style written all over it: eccentric characters, oddball situations, vulgar language and that gritty realism that is almost too hard to take at times. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the film, and perhaps this comes from the way the story has been adapted to the big screen.

The pacing is slow, especially at the beginning of the movie. Much time is taken establishing the locale, and showing incidental characters (for instance, there is no reason for the two guys who operate the hearse to be in the movie at all), without much action. This is basically a horror buddy movie, but it teeters between being a buddy movie and a horror flick unsuccessfully. For instance, we are told by Elvis that he swapped places with an Elvis impersonator years earlier, and then it goes into a lengthy flash-back sequence. This is redundant–it would have been easier to do a voice-over on the flashback, rather than have the information imparted to the audience twice.

Yet, there is worthwhile material in the movie: it’s well-shot, with plenty of the long creepy corridor shots favoured by Coscarelli in his movies. The characters are terrific; both Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis do a great job bringing their characters to life, though Bruce is let down on occasion by his make-up. There are many humourous situations, but not enough laugh-out moments, and the horror element is pretty low. Bubba Ho-Tep himself is moderately frightening in places, but overall he fails to scare.

The DVD is packed with features and commentaries: there’s one commentary by Coscarelli and Campbell, and another by “The King”. I haven’t listened to them yet, but suspect they will be hilarious since Campbell is a witty commentator.

I would recommend watching the movie even if it’s just for the quirky subject matter and the excellent performances. Even though it has its problems, Bubba Ho-Tep is entertaining and novel enough for most viewers to excuse its glitches.

About Maura McHugh