Friday, October 02, 2015

Bubba Ho-Tep – review

Director: Don Coscarelli

Release date: 2002

Contains spoilers

“What are you doing Taliesin?” I can see the questioning eyebrows raise but it’s very simple. The crossover between vampire and mummy is obvious, they are both undead and the desiccated look of the average mummy is reminiscent of the un-romantic vampire. Sure the mummy might have a bit more magic in its pedigree at times but the big difference between the two would seem to be the fact that the mummy seems violent but not a creature that feeds on the living.

Not so in this case, the mummy in Bubba Ho-Tep is a soul sucker, an eater of vital essence… in short an energy vampire. Of course the mummy cross-over happens and, indeed, is nothing new. Go back to 1898 and the short story the Story of Baelbrow and we get the unique combination of a vampiric ghost that is able to achieve corporeality by possessing a mummy.

the King
So what about Bubba Ho-Tep? A cult movie, of that there is no doubt, I am sure that most readers of the blog would be familiar with the film. It takes place in a nursing home but before we get there we see footage of mummies being removed from their resting places by archaeologists. In the nursing home we meet Elvis (Bruce Campbell, Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat, Waxwork 2 and From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money). The story emerges that Elvis swapped places with an impersonator named Sebastian Haff. Haff died of a heart attack, the world assuming he was Elvis, and Elvis had lost the contract that would prove his identity in a barbeque accident. He then fell off stage, broke his hip and went into a coma. It is assumed Haff is senile, believing himself to be Elvis – perhaps he is, perhaps he isn’t.

Bruce Campbell as Elvis
His roommate (Harrison Young, also Waxwork 2 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) dies and, later in the film, the arrival of his daughter (Heidi Marnhout, Angel) who never visited after bringing him to the home and who throws away the man’s purple heart and photos as she picks through his meagre belongings poignantly underlines the major theme of the film as it takes a hard, if darkly comedic, look at old age and families.

the scarab
Before that happens we get the activities of an old lady (Edith Jefferson) who steals the chocolates belonging to a woman (Solange Morand) in an iron lung. Sat in bed with her ill-gotten gains she is attacked by something that eventually turns out to be a scarab beetle. After it has bitten her and she has squished it with a walking stick we see a mummy (Bob Ivy) rise up in the room, a mummy that wears a cowboy hat and boots – Elvis later dubs the undead fella Bubba Ho-Tep.

the soul sucker
The following night Elvis is attacked by a scarab but deals with it. Going down the corridor to his friend’s room, a resident who claims to be John F Kennedy (Ossie Davis), he finds his friend on the floor. Jack (as he is addressed) explains that he has been attacked the modus operandi described thus: “He had me on the floor and had his mouth over my asshole!” Jack suggests that the mummy was trying to get his soul as they can be sucked out of any major orifice (later we see the mummy over his mouth too). They, of course, team up to take the mummy down.

Kennedy and Presley
The relationship between the two men is movie gold. Despite his own claim to be someone famous he is (at first) dismissive of Jack’s claim, as he is African American – though Jack explains that by saying “They dyed me this colour! That's how clever they are!” Indeed, it is the two performances that make the film. Ossie Davis’ comedic timing is perfect through the film and he is given some outrageous lines delivered with absolute panache. Bruce Campbell, on the other hand, gives arguably the performance of his career, injecting such pathos into a character that could have been a weak parody. For a film that is a cult comedy based on the horror genre, the film really does carry a serious side, with regards growing old, that is delivered in such a smooth way that it complements the comedy rather than detracts. The soundtrack is perfectly pitched to the film also.

the mummy appears
As for the mummy we discover it was stolen but the vehicle used to transport it away was caught in a storm and somehow the mummy has got free of the sarcophagus and whatever magic held it in place. There is no why or wherefore for its attire. The mummy can become incorporeal, causes electrical disturbance and puts hieroglyphic graffiti on a bathroom stall (Jack theorises that it excretes soul residue). It is susceptible to fire and any undigested souls will be freed if killed.

Bubba Ho-Tep
This is a cult classic, no doubt about it. The credits have a reference to Elvis returning in Bubba Nosferatu: the Curse of the She-Vampires, this was meant to be a joke and then became a possibility. Currently it appears trapped in development Hell. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

1 comment:

Bill Courtney said...

Hey, yea I liked this one a lot. It was actually a sad story underneath the dark comedy and scary bits. I just reposted from my dead blog my old review of this one too. Hopefully between the tow of us a couple people will be inspired to go out and check it out.