• Bubba Ho Tep



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 8th, 2016.
    Director: Don Coscarelli
    Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis
    Year: 2002
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    The Movie:

    Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s short story Bubba Ho Tep is a great movie. Not a really good movie, not great by oddball genre standards, but a great movie in the true sense of the word. From the acting to the script to the direction to the cinematography, this is everything a movie about an aging Elvis and a wheelchair bound black John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) fighting a mummy in a nursing home should be. It’s funny, it’s atmospheric and even a bit spooky - and believe it or not, it’s actually really rather touching.

    So yeah, the story is set in a nursing home in Texas where an old white guy who thinks he’s Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is pondering what’s left of his life and lamenting a growth on his penis. His life takes on new meaning, however, when he realizes that a centuries old Egyptian mummy is prowling around sucking the life force out of helpless senior citizens and vandalizing the bathroom walls with dirty hieroglyphics. What’s an old king of rock and roll to do? Team up with the only guy who believes him, an old man in a wheelchair who claims to be JFK (you see, he wasn’t really killed when the gun went off, but he was dyed black). Together they’re all that stands between a powerful supernatural monster and certain somewhat early death for the citizens of the nursing home.

    By undergoing some extensive make up work and playing things just straight enough, Campbell is the perfect man to play Elvis in this film. He’s the right size, has the right facial features and has just the right sort of smart ass cocksure attitude that you’d expect a cantankerous old Elvis Presley to carry with him right to the end. Playing perfectly off of Ossie Davis’ Kennedy, the duo really take Lansdale’s script and make it their own, delivering their lines with far more realism and effective believability than most film buffs ever likely figured was possible. The acting in this movie is top notch.

    Those who’ve read Lansdale’s work know that he’s got a great sense of pacing when it comes to dialogue and a really strong knack for creating interesting characters and putting them in ridiculous but somehow entirely appropriate scenarios. Bubba Ho Top is a great example of just how he goes about doing that, by showing us the very human side of the two aged leads and letting us get to know enough about them to actually care about what happens to them. This instills in the film a sense of sadness, as the pair is quite cognizant of the fact that they are not long for this world and begins to understand and accept their fate. What they’re really after, however, is redemption and the chance to once again be relative and meaningful, even if it’s on a much smaller scale than they may have experienced in the past.

    If the film has one flaw it’s that sometimes the effects don’t always work as well as they could have. The curse of many a low budget film, some of these scenes already look just a bit dated and the film (at the time of this writing at least) isn’t yet ten years old. To a very large extent, Coscarelli works around that by choosing what to show and what not to show and by dazzling us with some amazing make up effects, particularly those that turn Campbell into Elvis. Since this isn’t an effects heavy film, per se, it’s easy to overlook that flaw and concentrate on just how well written and perfectly paced the movie is, and to soak up some of the finest acting that Campbell (not a man known for delivering great performances by mainstream standards) and Davis have given in their respective careers. Bubba Ho Tep really is a great movie.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Bubba Ho Tep’s 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p AVC encoded high definition transfer (which takes up just under 31GBS on this 50GB disc) from Shout! Factory is a good one. The film’s budget was a modest and so it lacks the gloss you might get out of a big time Hollywood production, but there’s way more detail present in the image than was ever noticeable on standard definition. The film often makes use of a very cool color scheme, lots of browns and dark blues and grays but those tones are well rendered here as are the movie’s black levels. There aren’t any serious compression artifacts, though you might spot one or two in the darker scenes, nor is there much print damage of note. Grain is left intact, and there are no problems with any heavy DVNR or pesky edge enhancement to complain about.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on this disc sounds pretty faithful to the way the film sounded theatrically. It isn’t all that bombastic and there isn’t constant surround use but the rears to spring to life when called upon and generally do a fine job of spreading out the score and effects quite nicely without ever burying Lansdale’s wonderfully written dialogue. An English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track is also on hand that sounds a little more subdued but might have better level balancing. Both tracks sound fine, however. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The new extras on the disc start off with an audio commentary from champion mojo storyteller Joe R. Lansdale, the man who wrote the story that this movie was based on. Moderated by Michael Felsher, this track starts off by talking about the film’s originality and how it stands out from the pack. From there, he talks about how he got into writing, the influences that worked their way into the genesis of this particular story, why he thought Elvis and JFK should team up, and how Coscarelli sets the tone for the movie right from the opening scene. They talk about the reality of rest homes and how the depressing environment that they tend to inhabit works its way into this film, how he first met Coscarelli when he tried to option one of his other books and how Bubba Ho Tep eventually came to be when that fell through. He then talks about how the combination of Coscarelli’s directing, Bruce’s acting and his writing really jives, how the directing style employed in the picture is far more complex than it initially seems, how he tried to talk Coscarelli out of directing this film when they first talked about it, Lansdale’s background growing up in East Texas (he emphasizes EAST Texas for a reason), Coscarelli’s penchant for making something out of nothing and the importance of the nursing home used in the film (which was actually an old veteran’s home) among other things. It’s a very busy, active and informative track. Lansdale is never at a loss for words and Felsher keeps him on target throughout the talk.

    Also new to this disc is a twenty-two minute featurette called The King Lives that is a new interview with Bruce Campbell. Bruce talks about how the script interested him due to its uniqueness, how Coscarelli tracked him down, how the history of the Phantasm movies sort of paralleled the path the Evil Dead films took, how much he enjoyed working with an eighty-three year old Ossie Davis (who was doing the movie because his grandchildren told him to do it!), shooting this film on a modest budget and how Coscarelli got the most out of it, the research he did to bring Elvis to life and the appeal of playing him as an old man, the film’s wardrobe, and the intricacies of fighting a mummy using a walker. Bruce is always a great interview subject and this piece proves why – he’s funny, he’s smart and he’s a great storyteller.

    Don Coscarelli shows up in a twenty-four minute piece called All Is Well. He talks about discovering Lansdale’s original story, the challenges inherent in bringing the book to the silver screen, casting the film with Campbell and Davis and how he put up some of his own money to get the movie made. He then talks about bringing the movie home on a low budget, and his appreciation for Campbell’s take on Elvis. He also talks about the effects work used in the picture, bringing the mummy to life, scoring the picture, and eventually getting the film distributed.

    Special Effects Makeup Supervisor Robert Kurtzman also shows up for an exclusive interview in a nine minute piece called Mummies And Makeup. He speaks quite candidly about how he first got to work with Coscarelli on Phantasm II, how he got roped into working on Bubba Ho Tep, the challenges in getting the mummy effects created and looking right for the movie, the old age makeup applied to Campbell to make him look like ‘Old Elvis,’ challenges that the lower budget provided and working with Campbell to get the character right.

    The rest of the extras here have been seen before, but they’re pretty awesome and worth revisiting. The first archival commentary pairs up Coscarelli and Campbell for an informative talk about getting this picture made, Landsdale’s involvement in it, casting and location choices and editorial decisions. It’s done with a sense of humor but is played seriously enough that it’s quite interesting. Played more for laughs is the second commentary track, courtesy of ‘The King’ which finds Campbell in character delivering his thoughts on the movie as the aging Elvis he plays in it.

    There is a pretty healthy selection of archival featurettes here as well, starting with The Making Of Bubba Ho Tep, a twenty-three minute piece that is made up of interviews with all of the principal cast and crew members, each one of whom seems understandably impressed and enamored with the film they’ve made together. Fit For A King is a seven minute featurette where a few of the people involved in turning Bruce into Elvis talk about what that entailed. Rock Like An Egyptian spends thirteen minutes talking about the use of music in the film, what composer Brian Tyler brought to the film and what Coscarelli saw in his work after hearing the score for Six String Samurai. Coscarelli basically interviews Tyler here about his creative process, it’s interesting stuff. Bruce On Bubba is thirty-two minutes well spent with Campbell talking about playing Elvis in the movie. It covers some of the same ground as a few of the other featurettes but it’s Bruce and it’s fun. To Make A Mummy is a five minute piece that delves further into the effects work and the challenges involved in creating them on a low budget.

    Rounding out the extras are a half a dozen deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Campbell and Coscarelli), a two minute ‘message from Bruce Campbell’ (in which he talks about distributing the movie), two and a half minutes of excerpts of Lansdale reading from his original short story, a trailer for the film, a second eight minute segment of Lansdale reading the book, a two minute piece called Footage From The Temple Room Floor (basically footage shot showing an Egyptian mummification ritual), a still gallery, a music video, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on this disc are in standard definition.

    The Final Word:

    With no disrespect meant towards Phantasm or The Evil Dead films, Bubba Ho Top is the best made film that either Coscarelli or Campbell has had a major hand in making. The acting is top notch, the direction just as good, and the film a very faithful adaptation of a funny, touching, and at times even creepy tale about two old weirdos going up against a mummy. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release looks and sounds pretty good, throws in some great new extras and carries over a load of archival supplements to boot.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!