Monday, January 08, 2007

Dir. by Don Coscarelli

Based on a story by Joe Lansdale, Bubba Ho-tep is a simple tale of how Elvis and JFK teamed up to defeat a soul-sucking undead mummy terrorizing a nursing home in East Texas. It is also one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while.

Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell with dizzying aplomb) is no longer the king of Rock’n’Roll. Rather, he’s a decrepit old man with a bad hip and a very nasty growth on the tip of Little E. The staff keep insisting he’s really Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator who’s gotten too identified with The King. Life is a series of humiliations as he waits to die, forgotten like the other old people warehoused at the Shady Rest retirement home in Mud Creek, Texas. A spark of life returns when he fights a brutal battle to the death with a Texas sized cockroach. But the cockroach is the harbinger of dark forces that imperil one's very soul. Elvis gets the skinny from no less than JFK hisownself (Ossie Davis, yes he’s Black, I was howling with laughter when he explained just how things went wrong after that day in Dallas). It seems the ex-president is an expert on souls and soul-stealing undead fiends. After finding hieroglyphic graffiti in the visitor’s crapper, they know that they are faced with a diabolic Egyptian mummy, preying on old people (which, if you’ve ever watched Home Shopping Channel, is not that unusual). Faced with an evil more inexorable than Lyndon Johnson, Elvis and JFK head for a showdown

Coscarelli has toned down some (only some) of Lansdale’s exuberant vulgarity, while not sacrificing Lansdale’s gut-busting humor. Lansdale’s sympathy for his characters shines through too, whether Elvis is Elvis or Sebastian Haff, his need to regain his dignity and pride is touching. Getting respect from the nurse who treats him like an oversized baby is just as critical as defeating soul-sucking devils.

Bubba Ho-tep is howlingly funny. In true Lansdale style it mixes genres, adding horror to humor with a touch of the Western and a little bit of the classic Elvis movie charm. As a lover of all things that flow from the pen of Joe R. Lansdale, I might seem prejudiced in favor of this film. Well, watch it for yourself without laughing. I double-dog dare you! Me, I’m headin’ fer a peanut butter and fired ‘nanner sandwich, then I’m Taking Care of Business Baby!
-Dave Hardy

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