Day Eight Bubba Ho-Tep USA, 2002 Director Don Coscarelli Montreal Premiere
This is such a perfect Fantasia fest film, it was almost as if it was shot specifically for this festival. It was also one of the most anticipated films of the festival and one of the quickest sell-outs based purely on itís title, director, cast and premise.
The premise of the film is that in an old age home in Mud Creek, Texas, two of the residents either are Elvis and JFK or merely believe they are. As the two faded icons struggle with their lost fame and vanished youth, they also have to deal with the rising death toll at the Shady Rest, caused, they come to believe, by an Egyptian Mummy. Itís the sort of story that could only come from the fevered pen of Joe R. Landsdale combining as the title indicates the worlds of Southern trailer park ďBubbaĒ culture with the cinematic world of Ancient Egypt.
The cast is as evocative and intriguing as the title with Bruce Campbell playing a man who could be the King of Rock and Roll or merely an Elvis impersonator named Sebastien Haff who became convinced that he was Elvis after breaking his hip on stage. But that casting is nowhere near as intriguing as Ossie Davis cast as the man who would be JFK.
With a build-up like that, it would seem impossible that any film could live up to the expectation, but Don Coscarelli is able to take those elements and build them into a hilarious meditation on growing old, which like all great comedy is built on a tragic foundation. As Mitch Davis has pointed out, the film makes a great poetic counterpoint to Coscarelliís Phantasm with both films examining profoundly artificial institutions designed to shield us from the ugly truths about death, dying and growing older. Phantasm taking as itís setting funeral homes, while Bubba Ho-Tep focuses on old-age homes.
The film has two minor blemishes, which in practice come of more as beauty spots that accentuate the film than anything else. First, seeing it in with an appreciative sell-out crowd as I did, a full half of Bruce Campbellís dialogue was lost because we were laughing so hard at the first half. Secondly, and more seriously, most of Bruce Campbellís dialogue is actually an interior monologue. I have always felt that the use of voice-over narration shows either a lack of imagination on the part of the film-makers or a lack of faith in the actorís ability to deliver the line as dialogue and get the proper reaction. Itís especially a shame in this case, because Bruce Campbellís narration is great, but would be funnier and more poignant as dialogue. By the end of the film, Campbellís Elvis is talking out loud to himself anyway, so he might as well start the film that way.
This is a film that I was eager to see, and the film met and exceeded my expectations. It manages to dance on the razor thin edge of tragedy and comedy, that great comedies inhabit, while delivering a profound reflection on growing old, as well as exploring what happens when our heroes pass from real life into myth. If you have a chance, track this film down, if only so that Don Coscarelli can deliver the sequel that he has promised, Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She Vampires. Because Elvis and an Egyptian Mummy makes for a great film, but Elvis fighting Vampirella would have to be seen to be believed.
I saw this at SXSW. Director Don Coscarelli and writer Joe Lansdale were both in attendance and the distribution thing got up. Coscarelli said they have gotten distribution offers but they are still holding out for now.
I wish they'd at least make a DVD for it by now.
"Just a humble bounty hunter, ma'am." -Spike Spiegel