There really hasn't been a BIGGER -- not to mention WEIRDER -- little movie in quite a spell. Most quality genre pictures enjoy modest festival and theatrical runs before blossoming on home video. Flicks such as May, Ginger Snaps and Cube. The same would be true for this bizarro backwoods tale if not for one Bruce Campbell who, thanks to a certain slapstick horror trilogy, has become the latter-day King of the Bs (Sorry, Mr. Corman). Particularly due to his industry fanbase, various production-value enhancing contributions were extended, on the cheap, where they otherwise wouldn't. His exceedingly fortuitous If Chins Could Kill book tour also allowed Campbell to tout the flick before already enraptured fans, this snowballed into ecstatic word-of-web, which in turn, was enthusiastically seconded as early critical reviews began to glow. Exactly the sort of "buzz" high-dollar Hollywood marketeers slave to manufacture every week. While here it was legit AND netted the same desired result: hineys in seats. Nationwide!
Could this and mainstream'd misfits such as Cabin Fever and House of 1000 Corpses signal a clawing regeneration of fringe cinema at the multiplex? If so, will the schlockmeisters of the '60s and '70s beget buzzmeisters in the aughts? Meaning, can these flicks gain box-office ground without the likes of fan-friendly frontmen Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Mr. Campbell (or, rather, Elvis Aaron Presley)? We shall see.
Our story takes us to Mud Creek, Texas where there's somethin' strange in the neighborhood. Shuffling snake-skin ropers down the halls of the Shady Rest nursing home is an Egyptian MUMMY, a "Bubba" Ho-Tep (Bob Ivy), who favors Westernwear, presumably to blend in amongst the redneck residents whose souls he sucks, for his own reasons, from the darkest reaches of their keisters. Now, old folks croaking in the wee hours ain't much cause for suspicion at all, so ol' Bubba just might've gotten away with his kinky resurrection routine too if not for the meddling of Elvis, JFK and, to a lesser degree, The Lone Ranger (Larry Pennell)! It's hard to do much damage saddled with a pair of kiddie cap guns.
Wait a goldang minute ... THE KING LIVES!?! Yep, but don't go spreading that around. Mr. Campbell's geriatric, laughably less-than-velvet Elvis is dern near bedridden and prone to hound-dog introspection such as "Get old, you can't even cuss someone and have it bother 'em. Everything you do is either worthless or sadly amusing." That is until a giant, flying cockroach -- and mummy minion -- coaxes the former hunka-hunka burnin' love into a little King fu. Oh, President Kennedy didn't check out in Dealy Plaza after all and, nowadays, he's BLACK!!! "They dyed me this color!," explains the ever-regal Ossie Davis whose JFK first assumes the Ace-Bandaged killer is another of Lyndon Johnson's henchmen come to finish the job. But self-preservation soon gives way to heroism as Jack, in his wheelchair, and Big E, with his walker, triumphantly creak up to defend the Shady Rest from Backdoor Bubba. And, in the end, the man hisself sums it up country simple: "Never, but NEVER, f@#& with The King!!!"
CineSchlockers will be particularly pleased to see director Don Coscarelli behind such a bona fide phenom. Since his 1979 triumph Phantasm (an illusive yet DVD Talk Collectors Series-worthy disc), Don's dutifully devoted himself to the further exploits of The Tall Man and his silver spheres-o-sufferin' via three sequels -- nine, six and four years apart. There for all of 'em was CineSchlocker fave Reggie Bannister who's easily spotted as the Shady Rest's largely disinterested administrator. Might not recognize her from behind, but Heidi Marnhout was also in Phantasm IV: Oblivion. The list goes on, heck, the HEARSE which carts away Bubba's soul-suck'd victims was featured in Parts 3 and 4. Even Bruce Campbell has been rumored to take part in the long-stalled Phantasm's End, although Bubba prequels are far more likely -- with vampires and, gulp, BIGFOOT among possible opponents. By the bye: Jason vs. Freddy vs. Ash, anyone?
Two breasts. Seven corpses. Panty flinging. Geriatric larceny. Gratuitous slow-mo strutting. Multiple flashback sequences. Gratuitous urination. Fast mo. Pie munching. Multiple firesuit stunts. Bathroom hieroglyphics. Watch synchronizing. Wangdoodle manipulation. Egyptian nose mining.
Even a fine filly like Ms. Marnhout doesn't know rock 'n' roll royalty when she sees it: "The revealin' of her panties wasn't intentional or unintentional. She just didn't give a damn. She saw me as so physically and sexually non-threatenin' she didn't mind if I got a bird's eye view of her love nest!"
Elvis attempts to clarify the state of the home's pest-control problem: "Look, man. Do I look like a icky-ologist to you? Big damn bugs, alright? The size of my fist! The size of a peanut butter and banana sandwich, man!"
Time to TCB: "Mr. Kennedy, ask not what your rest home can do for you. Ask what you can do for your rest home ... Let's take care of bid'ness."
Beaucoup extras seem an increasingly routine masking agent for particularly rank releases, while too few cult titles are equally lavished. Bless Blue Underground, Anchor Bay, Elite Entertainment, Retromedia and others for doing their darn'dest to right this maddening slight. Thankfully, MGM, being among the more fan-friendly of the Establishment, has served a feast of features fit for ... a king!
Two commentaries: Director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell ponder how the movie would've turned out if Don's pitches before Hollywood honchos hadn't all hastily ended with his being shown the nearest exit. Surely focus groups would've demanded a younger Elvis, nixed that depressing nursing home, seen to it that cute blonde got more lines -- and a putrid PENIS!?! Not a chance. The duo bring gobs of just that sort of telling humor to the track, as well as praise for all manner of behind-the-scenes folk and almost constant adulation for Ossie Davis. Meanwhile, as the credits roll, Bruce winkingly suggests viewers flip on over to the next commentary. By whom?
The King, baby! Yes, from "an undisclosed location," the rockin' royal hunkers down with a bag of popcorn only to be thoroughly baffled by what he beholds. "Is this a picture about erections!?!," he wonders in horror. Then there's the language that he proudly points out HE never resorted to in "my 33 pictures." Naturally, he warbles a couple new numbers he's been working on whilst lying low. The funniest moments, however, are when his cellphone chirps with a list of honey-dos or his daughter's relationship woes. But by the final reel our guest of honor's hooked: "Come on, Elvis! Get up!!!"
Four featurettes: Nearly an hour's worth. First is an excellent "making of" that tells how the picture came to be with "one percent of the budget" of most movies. Unlike a lot of these reels, this one's thorough without being overly self-congratulatory. Instead, it has an honest ENDING in which audiences do that for 'em at various theatrical screenings. Marvel as Mr. Campbell literally goes head-over-heels for his fans. Next is a look at mummy makeup featuring rather creepy ventriloquism by Mr. Coscarelli. Then there's an ode to costuming. Didya know there's only ONE official pattern-holder of the iconic Elvis jumpsuits!?! Finally, a deliriously deserved "Rock Like an Egyptian" sit-down with composer Brian Tyler whose music not only elevates and emotionally enriches the storytelling, it becomes a character unto its own. Shame there isn't a music-only track! That VH1-ready video for the guitar theme will have to do, although CDs are available. CineSchlockers will remember Brian also lent pharaoh-friendly flavor to his soaring soundtrack for The 4th Floor.
The rest: Two forgettable deleted scenes amount to less than three minutes. Basically, additional hallway-wandering by Elvis and a reveal of the true extent of the first victim's thievery. Both with optional commentary. Alongside those are a couple more minutes of raw footage of the mummification flashback. Done with those? Dig into SEVENTY or so production stills. Some of which are featured in the printed "scrapbook" introduced with a three-page, typically cheeky letter from Bruce. Truly BEST of "the rest" is fellow Piney Woods son Joe R. Lansadle's craggy reading from his original Bubba Ho-Tep novella. It's so artfully vile MGM felt required to screen a verbose disclaimer before the seven-minute, illustrated oration. Let's hope Joe's already scrawling Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires on the nearest s@#%house wall. (2003, 92 mins, 1.85:1 anam, DD 5.1, Commentaries, Featurettes, Deleted scenes, Reading, Images, Trailers, TV spot, Printed booklet.)
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.