You’d think given all the promises ‘Bubba Ho-tep’ makes based on it’s premise alone, that this would be an out and out high ranking big winner for me in terms of it being a film i’d enjoy.
Indeed Bruce Campbell Starring in a Don Coscarelli movie as either a senile Elvis impersonator who thinks he’s the king OR the genuine King of Rock and Roll who one day in the 70s swapped places with a near identical looking Elvis impersonator to escape fame and fortune. Who teams up with a black man claiming to be John F. Kennedy, to fight an ancient egyptian king who’s returned from the dead to feast on the last dregs of life energy to be found around a nursing home. SOUNDS like it could be one of the greatest movies ever committed to celluloid.
But unfortunately, by the time the credits rolled on this thing, all I was really left wondering was ‘That was it?’
I think the biggest problem I have with the movie is that it really fails to find it’s voice and tone in terms of what it wants to be. The trailers would have you believe that this is basically just some kind of goofy horror comedy with Old Elvis and JFK fighting mummies. But the actual film is unevenly paced and frequently shifts between ‘Army of Darkness’ style slapstick comedy and weirdness contrasting with elongated monologues that vary from super long scenes about Elvis’s ‘Growth on his pecker’ (im not kidding most of the first act is basically just Elvis, in bed, watching people zip in and out of room, talking about his penis and really generic points about his family members) Alongside VERY serious and poigniant sequences dealing with elderly abuse, being forgotten, life, death, mortality and legacy.
This wouldnt strictly be a problem if the film transitioned between these various shades carefully and thoughtfully. But it doesnt. We can have an elongated monologue about Elvis wondering about how he’ll be remembered and thinking about his friends in the nursing home who’ve passed on and whether they’ll be remembered. which will then hard cut to an elongated slapstick scene of Elvis fighting giant bugs. Its SO tonally weird.
The tonal inconsistencies absolutely effect the pacing, with the first act largely feeling like a SERIOUSLY painful crawl through monologues and bad comedy, with very little established, the 2nd act spends its first half meandering before it finally gets into a groove in the 2nd half and the 3rd act which *just* about managed to live up to the premise it establishes in the opening moments of the first act.
Im not kidding when I say (in my opinion) you could cut the opening act down by about 25 minutes and you really wouldnt lose a shread of the main plot of this thing. The character structuring is fine enough, its a basic hero arc, nothing really special and I *can* just about understand/believe that the reason these characters have SUCH sluggish and minimal growth is to emphisize the totally hopeless rut they’re trapped in IN a nursing home environment. But that doesnt really help make it a decent viewing experience for the audience unfortunately.
The humour, for me at least? bombed HARD. I had one laugh out loud moment which came in the 3rd act. otherwise this is just bad comedy, awkward Bruce Campbell™ physical comedy and very little else. the more poigniant moments are more interesting, but they undercut those scenes frequently and it just comes across as really half hearted and non comittal. Which is a real shame.
Directions pretty okay. It’s probably the Bruce connection, but I did spend a seriously large chunk of this movie thinking ‘Y’know, this would have been so much better directed by Sam Raimi’ Because, the more serious drama driven sequences largely feel disorienting and flat under Coscarelli’s guidence here, and the more action intense fight sequences come across as a Raimi tribute act, and as such I felt like this really lacked a sense of identity. Having seen a decent chunk of Coscarellis work, I appreciate that post ‘Phantasm 3’ things have taken a bit a dip quality wise. But here, while its definitely stylish. it’s not a style I was particularly happy with.
The cine also struggled to really ‘do it’ for me, the films main colour tone is a kind of sickly orange and the print I saw (Scream Factories Bluray release) looked washed out and lacked any kind of significant detail, compositions and sequencing is fairly basic. theres some really nice moments where they experiment with wipes and quick cuts (usually in flashback sequences) but that kind of experimentation is seriously few and far between. Given this man gave us the ‘Phatasm’ franchise, one of the most experimental and creative mainstream horror franchises to come out of the 70s and 80s. The fact that this is just…SO generic for a horror film in terms of composition, scene structuring, the edit, lighting and colour choices, is ASTOUNDING to me. Im not saying there wasnt any effort, because clealry the film looks fine by contemporary horror movie standards. but thats ALL it is, and given the calibre of the cast and crew involved in this, I absolutely expected better.
Bruce Campbell is really good fun as an elderly Elvis here, he basically brings his ‘Bruce Campbell™’ schtick to proceedings and does a fine enough job, Id really love to see him try the character again in a more consistent production ebcause I think, given the chance to NOT spend 2/3rds of the movie talking about his penis or complaining about the quality of the nursing home food, he could really have a solid character on his hands.
Ossie Davis plays John with a sincerity, warmth and believability that I personally quite got on with. In fact, thats the one thing I cant really complain about with this film, the characters are pretty interesting, well performed and spoken and actually HAVE character…it’s just a shame THIS is the movie they appeared in.
And as for the soundtrack, its easily the best thing about this film. and even saying that, it isnt one i’d actively choose to listen to.
Ultimately; this films caught between a rock and a hard place. Had this been a multi part TV series, they could have maybe worked on the ‘Serious/Comedy’ balance and smoothed things out to achieve a nicer balance and transition. had it been a short film, it could have been an entertaining, tightly packed clobber fest. As it stands as a 90 minute movie, its too short to really let the thing breath and give the characters the space they need to really define themselves, but its too long for the jokes bandwidth in this format, and as such my patience and wellwishes for this thing ran well and truely out before we even hit the midway point.
I could totally see how someone COULD like this, but…it really just wasnt for me. A fantastic pitch (and i’d watch this as a short or a series in a heartbeat) just poorly structured, paced and managed. Not one i’ll be returning to for a while.