Bubba Ho-Tep Don Coscarelli 2002

"Watch Me Do this with NO Elvis Puns"
I am a Bruce Campbell fan to the Nth degree. Yes, I have gone to late-nite screenings of the "Evil Dead" films to see him speak afterwards. Yes, I have his book, signed, and shook his smooth, strong hand after what seemed like hours of pleasant banter. Yes, I have his signed 8x10 on my living room wall (between Linnea Quigley and Anthony Stewart Head). One of my dear friends told me early in our acquaintance that I reminded him of Bruce Campbell, and I think I wept openly.

I am also a huge "Phantasm" fan, and therefore a huge Don Coscarelli fan. To this day "Phantasm" is hard to beat when you're looking for a film packed with style, atmosphere, creepy imagery, and boggling plot twists. The hallucinatory setting and jumbled plot are gripping, and the visuals are crisp and powerful. And what's not to like about a horror movie with and ice-cream fight?

And what do you know, the meeting of these two horror powerhouses has spawned what has got to be one of the strangest, most original, and best horror films of the year. But I warn you -- this is not your typical 2003 horror movie. In this review I may be using the words "dignity" and "somber". I may say "hysterical" and "politically-minded". And yes, people, I may be heard to utter the Hallmark Hall-of-Fame Gold Standard: "Life-Affirming".

In theory, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is the story of a rest home in east Texas that happens to house both Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy, Sr. (Ossie Davis). You see, due to various twists of fate, these two figures escaped what the public believes to be their deaths, and are puttering out the last of their days in this sleepy institution, fighting off infections and hip aches rather than papparazzi and groupies. But their dry, boring lives are jostled out of joint with the arrival of an uninvited guest -- an Egyptian mummy who has targeted the doddering fogies as easy vittles for it's soul-sucking appetite. Determined to keep this Bubba Ho-Tep from stealing the souls of their friends, Elvis and Jack team up to fight him off. Aside from all this, we learn that the King has a cyst on his penis and can't get an erection, and that the mummy is wearing a full cowboy outfit and sucks people's souls out through their assholes.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "Isn't Ossie Davis black?"; and "Isn't that mummy at high risk for Hepatitis?" But these aren't even the strangest things afoot. The strangest thing about this film is that it's about getting old. And not in a Leah Thompson "Tales From the Crypt" old-is-ugly kind of way -- it's about the indignity of aging. Of losing your former glory, even your basic human capacities -- like to walk or chew or screw. It's about, as Elvis puts it, getting to the point where "everything you do is either worthless or sadly amusing". And you know what? It's very touching to see.

I don't remember the last time I saw a horror film tap into something so real and somber as this -- for the first time this year, there's not a single HOT TEEN in a horror movie. Seriously -- Coscarelli has replaced the WB set dressings of booze, bikinis, and raves with walkers, wrinkles, and tins of chocolate. Sure -- to see elderly men and women fight to maintain control of their bodies and their humanity in a world that doesn't respect them is nothing new -- to Judi Dench films. To play this struggle out in the face of a killer mummy (the only character even older than the heroes, natch) is illuminating, unexpected, and I dare say brilliant.

This is not to say that the film is without fault. The use of voiceover, while at times very funny, gets old pretty quickly. And as is generally the case (curse?) with films based on short stories, the plot unfortunately wears a bit thin in the middle -- I could see this as being a crackerjack film that was padded just 5 minutes too much in order to qualify as a feature. But I will forgive, and gladly -- I haven't laughed at a film so much in a long time, and some of the scare scenes are genuinely creepy (despite the use of a very silly-looking scarab puppet -- and in a nod to "Phantasm", Don gets the damned thing flying!). Ossie Davis is pitch-perfect as John F. Kennedy, as is Bruce in the lead (if you can even find him under all the makeup and padding). Throw in some beautifully shot scenes (the mummy is kept very dark and is pretty darn creepy -- and it is granted an unforgettable shot in the hallway), exploding trailers, blueberry pie, enemas, and lots of wheelchair action, and you've got yourself the makin's of one of the best flicks of the season.

Rating (out of 5):