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Bubba Ho-tep (2002)

MGM Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/7/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/31/2007

Just take a look at the movie listings in the newspaper or any shelf at your local video store, and you should see that many movies seem very similar and that there aren't many original stories coming out of Hollywood. Thus, when a movie comes along which has a truly original story, one must sit up and take notice. And when the film turns out to be an entertaining treat from a group of genre favorites, it's an even sweeter victory. Such is the case with BUBBA HO-TEP.

BUBBA HO-TEP takes place in a sleepy rest home in Mud Creek, Texas. Here, we find an aged Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), who, due to a fall which resulted in a broken hip, spends most of his time in bed and worries about the bump on his penis. The King's bed-ridden tedium comes to an end when several residents of the home are murdered and huge scarab beetles invade Elvis' room. Elvis soon teams up with JFK (Ossie Davis), who is now a black man (his enemies "dyed" him), and they realize that a mummy (who Elvis dubs "Bubba Ho-Tep) has invaded the rest home and is taken the soul of the feeble residents. Elvis and JFK combine their efforts to stop the mummy and save the rest home.

Make no mistake about it, BUBBA HO-TEP is the best Elvis fights a mummy in a rest home movie that you're going to see this year...or any year. But, BUBBA HO-TEP is also much more than that. Yes, on the surface what we have is an insane film in which a man who claims that he is Elvis (and does resemble Elvis) and a man who claims to be JFK (and looks nothing like him) must fight a centuries-old mummy. This could have been played an outlandish comedy, but PHANTASM auteur Don Coscarelli has decided to play the whole thing straight. As a result, all of the characters in the film are taking everything seriously, and the movie's generous laughs come from the fantastic dialogue, much of which was lifted directly from the short story by Joe R. Lansdale. (Roughly half of the lines which come out of Elvis' mouth are hilarious.) Yet, the movie contains another, more serious level as well. The film examines life in a rest home and shows a quasi-realistic view of how many elderly citizens are forgotten by their families and society. While Elvis spends time worrying about his health, he also laments his past and obsesses about the decisions which he made in his life. These moments are surprisingly somber, and at times, quite depressing. But, it's these serious scenes which give real heart and credibility to BUBBA HO-TEP.

The magic of BUBBA HO-TEP comes from those working in front of and behind the camera. Most anyone who frequents this site will be familiar with Bruce Campbell, but many of us think of him more as a personality than an actor. However, as he's buried under latex facial make-up and an Elvis wig, Bruce does some fine acting here and actually becomes The King in some scenes. It's easy to forget that it's Ash behind those glasses and that's make's the insane story somewhat easier to swallow. In contrast, the distinguished Ossie Davis clearly looks nothing like JFK, but his performance is believable as well, simply to the earnest nature of his demeanor. The script for BUBBA HO-TEP is based on a short story by writer Joe R. Lansdale, and if you haven't read his stuff, run out and get some. ("The Drive-in" is like nothing else you've ever read.) Don Coscarelli, best known to audiences as the creator of the PHANTASM films maintains some of his old ways here (the hallways of the rest home could easily be those of the Morningside Mortuary, as the camera prowls both in a similar manner). But, Coscarelli brings in some new tactics as well, editing many scenes in a flash-cut/hyperkinetic style, which is reminiscent of films like TH13TEEN GHOSTS. The movie has a great look and Coscarelli never lets the pace lag. While BUBBA HO-TEP is certainly an entertaining and memorable one, it's not for everybody. Some won't be able to get past the preposterous plot, while others may be bored by a movie that focuses on two geriatric heroes. Still, no one can say that BUBBA HO-TEP isn't original, and that fact alone makes it worth checking out.

BUBBA HO-TEP shuffles onto DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Despite the low-budget nature of the film, this transfer makes BUBBA HO-TEP look fantastic. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a very fine sheen of grain (which Coscarelli states was intentional). The film strikes a balance between light and dark scenes, and both look fine on this DVD. The colors are natural and true in the daytime scenes and the action is always visible in the nighttime scenes, with the black tones appearing very deep. There were some shots were defects from the source print were visible, but these moments were fleeting. Overall, the picture looks fine. The DVD boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects, showing no defects. The surround sound is used in a very clever way here, especially during the scenes where malevolent whispering can be heard throughout the rest home. The stereo effects are fine, although the track is a bit lacking in the bass response department.

The BUBBA HO-TEP DVD contains a sarcophagus-full of extras. We start with a pair of audio commentaries. The first features writer/director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell. This is a fun and informative talk, as Bruce (a veteran of many commentaries) acts as a sort of commentator at times, and asks Coscarelli questions to keep things moving along. This duo discusses the struggle to shoot BUBBA HO-TEP on a low-budget and the many things that were done to still give the film a great look. They talk about the history of the film, the locations, and the actors. The second commentary features "The King", coming to us from and undisclosed location. He is seeing the film for the first time and gives his honest assessment of what he's seeing, often questioning the moral fiber of the movie. This track is very funny and adds yet another quirky side to this movie. "Making BUBBA HO-TEP" is divided into four sections, with a duration of 48-minutes, and all can be viewed with the "Play All" feature. "The Making of BUBBA HO-TEP" features a ton of behind-the-scenes footage and contains comments from Coscarelli, Campbell, author Joe R. Lansdale, Reggie Bannister and more. This featurette offers a solid overview of the film's production, touching on the script, location, special effects, and music. "To Make a Mummy" features comments from the KNB guys as they talk about the construction of the Bubba Ho-Tep suit. Bruce's costumes are examined in "Fit For a King", and it's amazing to see how much work went into the suits. "Rock Like an Egyptian" has Coscarelli interviewing composer Brian Tyler, who discusses his approach to the music in the film. There is also a still gallery of production photos in this section. The DVD contains 2 deleted scenes (which are both decent, but disposable), which can be viewed with or without commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell, plus an additional 2-minutes of footage from the Egyptian flashback scene. In a unique features, author Joe R. Lansdale reads a segment of his "Bubba Ho-Tep" short story. This 8-minute segment (which sounds like a book-on-tape) is accompanied by still frames from BUBBA HO-TEP which have been painted. The extras are rounded out by a music video featuring Brian Tyler and footage from the movie, the theatrical trailer (1.85:1) and a TV spot (1.85:1).

MGM Home Entertainment is now releasing a new DVD of BUBBA HO-TEP which features the exact same DVD which was released in May, 2004. The only difference is that this new DVD comes dressed in a tiny Elvis-like jumpsuit which is made of a vinyl-like material. The packaging states that this is a "Limited Edition", but the packaging is not individually numbered. The suit is very cool, and it's similar to the leather jacket packaging that came with the last Grease release. So, it will be up to the individual fan if they feel that they should replace their current DVD just to get this new packaging. Personally, I like unique packaging and wish that more U.S. video companies would do things like this.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long