Hail to the King Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy
Director:  Don Coscarelli
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  August 7, 2007

“Come and get it, you undead sack of s—t!!”

Film ***

How many bizarre films have I seen over the years that failed because they buckled under the weight of their own eccentricities?  Far too many, I’m afraid.  Which is why I can’t help but give a positive nod to the weirdest film I’ve seen in quite some time, Bubba Ho-Tep.  To call this picture strange is an understatement  akin to calling The Lord of the Rings a movie about a piece of jewelry.  Yet it wears its oddness completely comfortably, like a pair of warm pajamas.

Bubba Ho-Tep brings together two aging but legendary icons to defend their crappy little Texas nursing home against an ancient mummy who’s come to feed on the souls of the residents there.  Those icons are Elvis Presley (Campbell), whom we thought was dead, but it turns out in a flashback that he had switched places with a talented impersonator in an attempt to get back control of his life, and President John F. Kennedy (Davis), whom we also thought was dead, but actually survived the assassination attempt only to have his political enemies dye his skin black to keep him out of the way. 

I’m grinning like an idiot just remembering Elvis and Jack, and I grinned like an idiot just about from start to finish watching Bubba Ho-Tep.  It was written for the screen and directed by Don Coscarelli, who brought Phantasm to the screen (and then again, again, and again), but this time, he’s crafted a horror film that almost defies description. 

It’s kind of a mess of identities, to be perfectly honest…the horror element is kind of a McGuffin and rather under-developed, the comedy is frequently below-the-belt crude, and there are even moments of dramatic insight mixed in, as our two aged heroes not only unite to save their nursing home, but make frequent observations about how painful it is to grow old, lonely and forgotten by those you loved.  As goofy as it seems to sit in on a conversation between a physically lame Elvis Presley and a now black John F. Kennedy, there’s a surprising amount of real poignancy in these scenes…just another of the movie’s frequent surprises.

But it works best as a comic experience, such as when Elvis has to battle giant flying scarabs (“Never…but NEVER…f—k with the King, baby!”), or the fact that when the mummy (Ivy) speaks, his words appear on screen in hieroglyphics with subtitles (read the subtitles, and then look at the glyphs to see how hysterical they really are!), or even the fact that the mummy wears a cowboy hat and boots, leading the King to christen him with the name that became the movie’s title.

The performances by Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis help make the unworkable work, because they don’t treat their roles as parodies.  Each injects their impossibly silly parts with earnestness, which in turn helps to keep the audience liking them; we don’t feel like they’re on the screen to mess with us, but are really who they are and are really doing what they’re doing.  The only weak aspect might be the editing.  Coscarelli infests the film with frequent rapid-editing sequences that get old after a while, while the overall rhythm of the film seems a bit out of kilter.  Some bits we seem to get off of too quickly; others are held for far too long.

Put it all together, and it’s like watching the world’s sloppiest juggler, but yet the balls never hit the ground, so you have to give credit where it’s due:  the technique may be lacking, but Bubba Ho-Tep achieves the results it aimed for.

Video ***

This anamorphic transfer serves troublesome source material fairly well…by that, I mean that Coscarelli deliberately used higher contrast film stock for a slightly artificial look, so some extra graininess and murkiness in darker scenes is naturally existent.  Colors are also slightly muted throughout, but again, this was the director’s choice and no fault of the digital presentation.  The end result is a disc that won’t be the best looking one you own, but once you accept the limitations imposed upon it, you’ll settle in nicely for your viewing experience.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack packs plenty of punch in the dynamic range department while offering plenty of atmospheric sounds to accentuate the creepier aspects.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and both the surrounds and subwoofer are effectively harnessed for a solid overall effect.  But don’t expect to hear any Elvis songs in a movie about Elvis, though…apparently, the budget couldn’t accommodate any!

Features ****

This collector’s edition disc from MGM packs plenty, starting with two enjoyable commentary tracks.  The first pairs Don Coscarelli with Bruce Campbell for an informative and fun listen…I always enjoy the commentaries on low budget indie films more than those of big Hollywood productions, because the stories are usually better.  The second commentary is from “The King” himself…less informative, but funny, and boasting a couple of new songs (of sorts)!

There are four featurettes including a good making-of piece, plus ones for makeup, costumes and the music.  You get a pair of deleted scenes with optional Coscarelli/Campbell commentary, a clip of author Joe R. Lansdale reading from his original short story, a music video for the theme, a photo gallery, trailer and TV spot.


Bubba Ho-Tep is such a comically bizarre pop culture exercise that I can’t help but recommend at least one viewing.  This is the kind of picture that entertains with pure eccentricity, but entertains nonetheless.  This is one DVD you’ll definitely be telling your friends about.  Now the King has left the building, baby…thankyouverymuch.

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