Region 1 (US) Edition - Reviewed by Matt West
Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy
“I know. We
weren’t there for our kids when they needed us, were we?”
“Man, if I could
just talk to her again, tell her I love her. Try to make things right
“No need for
regrets, Elvis. We were the best fathers we could be under the
That exchange pretty much typifies Don
Coscarelli’s Bubbo Ho-tep. The cover of the disc proclaims it a
horror, some websites have called it a comedy – this is no more a horror
comedy than Die Another Day is a Bond film. There are fleeting
moments of horror, and glittering moments of comedy – but at its heart
this film is a tribute to two of America’s icons – Elvis Presley and John
It’s going to be difficult to wax lyrical
about this film without several spoilers, to that end I apologise if
anyone feels they’re missing out on any surprises. I shall try to cover up
as many spoilers as I can.
Elvis Presley now spends much of his time
in an old people’s home, Shady Rest in East Texas. He is an old man, full
of regrets, with a bad hip and a pus-filled lump on his genitals. He’s
still Elvis, we can all see that, but to the staff of the home and his
fellow residents he is Sebastian Haff. It’s this depiction and portrayal
of Elvis that’s the key to the film’s success. For many people, whether
they like Elvis or not, he is an icon – almost an untouchable person. To
see him dilapidated in a hospital bed fretting over whether he’ll ever get
an erection again is instantly heartbreaking, and it’s difficult to not
feel something for this shadow of the former king.
Something’s amiss in Shady Rest. Residents
are being attacked in the night and carted out dead the next morning. Pay
attention to these sequences where residents are removed as it’s the only
time the film scores a negative on the perfect-o-meter. At a guess I’d say
it was a case of the director casting his mates… but the two orderlies
from the morgue are far too over-the-top in a film which manages to make
over-the-top the norm.
As you can read in any write up, Elvis and
JFK eventually do battle with a mummy.
Forget all that. The film’s not about the
mummy – it’s about the heroes… JFK and Elvis. Or to put it more bluntly
and cynically – it’s about our treatment of the elderly, the famous and
celebrities (I always separate the two). There is no denying that this old
people’s home is an exaggeration of the real thing - paint-peeled walls,
tattered wallpaper, dreadful food, no music, no recreation, no
interaction, no visitors – but it gets its point across very well. They
may be old now – but that old boy in the corner bed might have once been
the President of the United States… or even The King of Rock and Roll.
Very early on we’re fed a subliminal moment
which will programme us for the film’s closing moments. A young girl comes
to clear away her dead father’s effects and Elvis doesn’t exactly berate
her, but he does reclaim the old man’s proof of existence – his purple
heart, his photos, items which had been thrown into the bin. This moment
is played with incredible emotion by Bruce Campbell – for once proving
he’s not the B-Movie actor he claims to be… but a gifted performer capable
of bringing a subtle anger to a scene which any other actor would make
But I digress. It would be easy to stage a
song-and-dance appreciation of Bruce Campbell’s performance as Elvis – but
I feel in previews and reviews I’ve read previously that Ossie Davis is
being cruelly ignored.
I’m sure for most people out there the
discovery that JFK is not only still alive but also black makes perfect
sense. To me it’s the icing on the cake for a film that simply doesn’t
care about trivial details. Yes you could argue the toss that perhaps he’s
not really JFK… equally you could do the same about Elvis – he’s not
really Elvis he’s an impersonator. That’s not the point. This is two old
guys trying to regain a bit of dignity and an ounce of their former glory.
The tragedy here is that two men who changed the world so drastically are
sitting in a care home with no visitors, none of their family and nothing
to look forward to.
Which brings me full circle to the quote at
the top of the page - Elvis’ lament to his daughter and JFK’s equal regret
toward his own children. This isn’t a horror and it isn’t a comedy – it’s
a tragic tale with some incredible performances and several fantastic
What we have here is a single disc edition.
The bitrate while average sits at between 4.4 and 7.8 – occasionally
peaking at 10 during black video (work that one out!). The menus are
animated with occasional sound bites from Elvis… namely the Special
Features menu. The disc is, as one would expect, presented in
The major fault with the disc that I can
find is the sound. While it’s not offensive, the dialogue seems to
distort, mostly toward the end of the film. At first I thought it was my
centre speaker and actually stopped the film to rewire it – but the fault
remained. So I tried it on a mono TV and the dialogue still distorts.
Check the scene mentioned above (chapter 27). The music and sound effects
are fine though, and the 5.1 score floods the speakers nicely with its
blend of bluegrass and gentle rock. And the dialogue thing isn’t a major
distraction – but I spent some time stripping a new wire for the speaker
and needn’t have bothered.
The picture however is sharp as a pin, the
slightly de-saturated rest home sequences look even better when
highlighted by the brightly coloured flashback sequences. The disc
certainly does them justice.
The extras package is surprisingly
lightweight. There’s a commentary track with Coscarelli and Campbell which
is a pleasant affair. It’s hard to credit Coscarelli’s lack of credentials
(Phantasm?!) but he’s clearly on track now and I think we’ll be
seeing a lot more of his name. Campbell displays genuine enthusiasm for
the project – even dismissing the make-up application sessions in a very
“So what?” kind of way.
A second commentary track features Campbell
as Elvis. It’s more of a talking info-text track than anything else and I
must admit the novelty wore off after five minutes. All audio tracks are
selectable via the audio button and not locked via the menu. Hurrah for
The film is based on a short story by Joe
R. Lansdale and there is a reading of this novella by the author on the
disc. It’s accompanied by Photoshopped images from the film.
The Making of Bubba Ho-tep is split
into four parts, and even then feels like it could’ve been more. However,
the impression is given that the money with this film was spent on the
film itself and not on a prospective DVD release as is usually the case
these days. It’s interesting enough… but still feels like EPK.
The music video is an odd case. As the film
ended I wondered if there was a soundtrack album – but then I thought
about it and realised there was really only the one long piece of music
repeated several times. However it’s a superb soundtrack – the main theme
is presented here in a music video cringingly reminiscent of the John
Carpenter music video on the
Big Trouble in Little China
A trailer, TV spot, about a dozen trailers
for dreadful MGM releases and a photo gallery are also present.
But the deleted scenes make for interesting
viewing. Rather than Elvis’ voice-over we now have Lansdale’s reading as a
narrator. It’s a crucial lesson in film-making that the smallest change
can make all the difference.
I just can’t believe this is the guy that
This film spat a tear in my eye at the end
and for that I’m grateful. It’s a refreshingly different film in a good
way, unlike the pseudo-bohemia of
Being John Malkovich. I’d
recommend it to anyone and I’ve actually lent it to my mother who is a big
Elvis fan. It should be interesting to hear the results.