Bubba Ho-Tep

There is nobody for whom I wish more success than Joe R. Lansdale. His short stories and novels are the gold that short stories and novels should be, but rarely are. They’re funny, surprising, and insightful. No matter how crazy or mundane the concept, it will have an edifying psychological and moral insight.

Bubba Ho-tep is good in that it’s the Lansdale story, almost word for word. But that’s all it is: a filmed short story, not a film. The strength and the weight come from the story, not the makers of the film.

This is one of the strangest and most delightful tabloid ideas. Elvis, who has a broken hip and a penial polyp in a Texas nursing home, teams up with J.F.K., who was dyed black and has a brain of sand, to fight a mummy who sucks the souls out of old people’s butts and wears a cowboy hat.

Remember, this is a story by Joe R. Lansdale, so the pulp aspects are twinned with a deeper theme: in this case, virility. Old, dying and lonesome, Elvis has lost the will to live. Days are a blur; he sits in bed, living for lunch (which he hates) and having his pecker greased by the nurse. Cut off from the people who made his life worthwhile, Elvis has nothing at all.

Beneath the fat pads and the makeup, Bruce Campbell’s Elvis is touching and real; he never resorts to the campiness of Ash (his most famous character), or Brisco County. The pathos makes Elvis come alive, and we cheer the revival. That said revival takes the form of kicking a mummy’s ass is icing.

Unfortunately, Don Coscarelli, the director, doesn’t rise to the level of his star or the material. He creates a visual companion to the story – the same words, the same actions, but none of the punch. It wasn’t rethought for the medium. Coming from the guy who made Phantasm1, this is a surprise. The ‘tense’ scenes are bad imitations of ones we’ve seen countless times. (And since I’ve never seen a mummy abscond with souls rectally, I blame the director.) Scenes that need flair are flat, and humor is used where tension is required. Worst of all, the mummy does not look scary. I commend the lack of CGI (whose squeaky clean look has, I think, driven horror films into the ground), but tatty practical-FX should not be given a pass.

Good acting, a great idea and a very funny script (plus title) do not make Bubba Ho-tep a great film. The elements aren’t brought together with the sort of dynamite direction the movie needs. It could be the most well-written, best-acted TV movie ever. By all means see it, and enjoy it. But you might not love it.

1Famous for disturbing images, if not for its quality.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com