Most people probably know the name of director/writer Don Coscarelli because of the plethora of “Phantasm” films he made throughout the 80’s and 90’s. They’ve reached a somewhat cult status as pretty terrible films that people can still get a kick out of, even if it’s just to have a laugh or two. However, there are many others still who know him for something more recent, a little film called “Bubba Ho-Tep” that has reached a cult status of its own since it first appeared at film festivals in 2002. It contains quite an unusual premise about Elvis and JFK fighting a soul-stealing mummy, but surely something so strange would have to make for fascinating viewing. With Coscarelli, it becomes something of a toss-up with the odds stacked against him. Having seen most of his films, and having not found one that’s recommendable, would this bizarre storyline finally be the one to get him there?
The film takes place at a retirement home in Texas, where an elderly man by the name of Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell) believes himself to be the real Elvis Presley. When the residents of this home start to get attacked by a mummy who feeds off their souls, Elvis and his friend, a man who thinks he is JFK (Ossie Davis), feel it is up to them to put an end to his reign of terror. However, given that they are well-advanced in years, no matter how well-prepared they are, it’s not going to be an easy task to go up against such a powerful creature who is simply trying to survive.
Indeed Don Coscarelli’s “Bubba Ho-Tep” sounds like it could make for a rather entertaining film, particularly with the mysterious set-up of the main characters. We get to hear both Elvis and JFK’s stories throughout the film (Elvis switched places with an impersonator, while JFK was dyed black), leaving us to wonder if they’re both crazy, or in some outrageous way could be telling the truth. Then, on top of that, to have these two randomly joining together to take on a threat like an ancient soul-eating mummy just sounds like icing on the cake, so how is it that a movie that sounds this intriguing ends up being a mostly dull and plodding experience?
The main answer to that lies in the film’s execution. The set-up is just fine, and does a great job of getting you ready for what should be an exciting film. It’s after the set-up where the problems start to arise. For starters, the storyline slows down considerably as our main characters do little else other than talk about the mummy and get ready to fight it. There are a few scenes of the attacks thrown in that start to entice the viewer, but all they end up doing is making them anticipate the entertainingly-silly film that never appears. Even when it comes to the film’s climax, we get a battle that’s about as exciting as you think watching two old men fight a mummy would be.
The film is not all bad, for you do get a compelling performance from legendary B-movie actor Bruce Campbell (most known for the “The Evil Dead” trilogy). His turn as Elvis goes beyond a bad impersonation, instead coming across as someone who truly believes that he is The King, and for that, it becomes easy at times to forget that you are actually watching Campbell under all the hair and makeup. The great Ossie Davis does a fine job as well, but it’s Campbell’s impressive turn that leaves at least a little something memorable about the film.
In the end, the film can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. A film with such a premise should have been entertaining, exciting, amusing, and memorable, making it all the more strange that it turned out the way it did. Then again, with Coscarelli’s previous work as examples, I suppose we shouldn’t be all that surprised. It was certainly a fascinating idea for a film, but unfortunately it takes much more than just an idea to turn it into something worthwhile.
“Bubba Ho-Tep” comes to Collector’s Edition Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. In typical Scream Factory fashion, the picture is beautifully sharp and clear, even during the film’s multiple nighttime scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also top-notch, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in outstanding quality. Overall, the fans will no doubt be pleased to see that this cult favorite has received very impressive treatment.
Audio Commentary with Author Joe R. Lansdale: A track in which the author talks about his background and how the project got started.
Audio Commentary with Director Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell: An intriguing track in which the director/writer and star give lots of background info about the film.
Audio Commentary by “The King”: A pointless gag track that is easily skippable.
The King Lives (22 Minutes), All is Well (24 Minutes), and Mummies and Makeup (9 Minutes): A great series of interviews with Bruce Campbell, Don Coscarelli, and makeup supervisor Robert Kurtzman in which they reminisce about how the film came about and how it got made.
Deleted Scenes (3 Minutes): Two deleted sequences that were easily lost from the film.
Footage from the Temple Room Floor (2 Minutes): A brief collection of footage from the flashback sequence.
The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep (24 Minutes): A vintage “making of” featurette that contains lots of interviews with the cast and crew.
To Make a Mummy (5 Minutes): A featurette that gives you a behind the scenes look at the making of the titular mummy.
Fit for a King (7 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at Elvis’ extensive wardrobe for the film.
Rock Like an Egyptian (13 Minutes): A featurette that examines the film’s music through an interview with composer Brian Tyler.
Joe R. Lansdale Reads from Bubba Ho-Tep (8 Minutes): Just as the title implies, this is merely the author reading from his short story.
Archival Bruce Campbell Interviews (35 Minutes): An excellent series of interviews with the actor in which he thoroughly discusses the film.
Despite having a fascinating set-up and an excellent turn from Bruce Campbell, “”Bubba Ho-Tep” becomes a missed opportunity due to director/writer Don Coscarelli’s inability to take advantage of the bizarre premise, instead delivering a plodding and forgettable experience. As usual, Scream Factory has packed this Collector’s Edition to the brim with great special features, and has made the film look and sound fantastic, but unfortunately this is simply a case of a film that wasn’t particularly worth the trouble.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.