Thursday, June 10, 2004

Movies You Should Really Own on DVD (and Don't): Bubba Ho-Tep

directed by Don Coscarelli
available on DVD from MGM Home Video

Long ago, Elvis died rather ignominously. On the can.
The King died taking a shit.
Let's face it. That ain't no fuckin' way for The King to die.
Joe R Lonsdale, a pulp writer of some renown, knew that the true Elvis would never have died on his Throne. Elvis would have gone out in battle. In a blaze of glory. TCB. Takin' Care of Business.

Hence, the idea behind Bubba Ho-Tep. Based on the short story by Lonsdale, Don Coscarelli -- the supergenius behind the Phantasm movies -- has crafted a movie that has no business being as good as it is.
The final ride used to be a staple of cinema, particularly the Western. Since this plays out in Texas, you could sort of consider this a horror comedy Western with a twinge of sadness and a touch of melancholy.
The story is thus: Elvis and JFK fight a 3000 year-old Egyptian mummy who sucks the souls out of retirees' asses. Sound weird? Strangely, it doesn't seem nearly that weird when you're watching it. That's mainly due to the sublime performances of Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, playing Elvis Aaron Presley and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, respectively.
Elvis traded places with Sebastian Haff, the best Elvis impersonator on the planet, so he could clean up and return to a simpler life. It was Haff who died on the toilet and not the King. Problem is, the papers that proved who he was burned up in a fire, and Elvis went into a long coma after breaking his hip in a stage mishap.
The government replaced part of Kennedy's brain with a bag of sand and dyed him black so no one would believe him. He still occasionally gets psychic transmissions from the portion of his brain they keep alive in the Smithsonian, but is generally left alone with his books.
These two old men, separated from their world and great works, abandoned by society, are still heroes at heart. They might have lost their way. They might have grown old and developed cancerous growths on their private parts. They might have been forgotten.
They aren't going out easy.
Truth to tell, I knew I was gonna love this movie when I saw it in the theater. I ended up adoring it, but for none of the reasons I was prepared to. There's a remarkable amount of pathos to the movie. The idea of old people being disposable and easily forgotten is one that isn't given much air time in the youth-obsessed culture of Hollywood.
The idea of fallen heroes isn't a new one. Nor is the idea or redemption. However, the movie handles the conventions with a style and panache that few other than Don Coscarelli have. Being low-budget, he squeezes every penny he has to spend onto the individual frames of film. He's never worked well in the studio system, and his self-financed release of Bubba Ho-Tep both elated and frustrated movie buffs. It was great to see a good fucking movie in the theater. But, waiting for it to get around took fucking forever. Half the planet saw it before it got to CBus. The other half had to wait until it came out on DVD. And most of them still haven't seen it, dammit.
Do your part.
Get the word out.

And now for something completely different:
Commentary Review by NeuroTrash's Chrisloth Tabor!
So I just finished watching the Elvis-lite commentary on Bubba Ho-tep with Bruce "You are my God" Campbell and Don Coscarelli of Phantasm and Beastmaster fame. I find it hard to watch anything with YAMG in which I don't compare him to his earliest incarnation in Evil Dead. This comparison does him a great injustice.

On one hand, it is a testament to his remarkable skill as a performer that he was able to give Ash nearly iconic status within the genre. On the other hand, his own skill has doomed every other performance (except for the 10 second outing as "second man eaten by gorilla" in Congo) to inevitable comparison with Ash.

Say this mantra along with me before reading onward, "I love Ash, I miss Ash, but I am willing to acknowledge that Bruce Campbell is an actor who may appear in other roles without my needing to bring up Ash or Evil Dead. I don't need to ask about Evil Dead every time I see Bruce in a film. I promise to stay outside of the 1,000 yard radius specified by the restraining order."

That last sentence was just for me.

Don and Bruce comment on their work in Bubba Ho-tep, but this mostly consists of Bruce commenting and Don saying "Yes, you're right," at regular intervals. The fact of the matter is that Bruce Campbell, aka, the Chin, is a working man. He knows his field, and he certainly has no problem sharing credit. He has some remarkably perceptive statements to make about tone and lighting, and is generally engaging and witty.

It's hard not to gush about the man. Hey, if Don Coscarelli does it, than I can too!

Anyhoo, they talk about independent films in general. I'd like to think the movie studios listened to this commentary, and heard what was said.

Bubba Ho-tep couldn't have been made in studio, cause it ain't no boy meets girl. I may not be in love with the film, but I have to give it major snaps for originality, tone, quality, story telling, and Elvis. Wait no, I am in love with this film.


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