A very odd (but fun) little film from the writer/director of "Phantasm" and the star of the "Evil Dead" series, "Bubba Ho-Tep" imagines that Elvis is still alive and, in fact, he currently resides in a nursing home somewhere in Texas. Elvis (Bruce Campbell, looking somewhat like both Elvis and Neil Young, but whatever) didn't want to be "Elvis" anymore, so he switched places and ended up here, much to his dismay (he wonders whether Priscilla would take him back if she found out he was still out there.)
Strange goings on are happening at the home, though. Residents are being confronted by beetles and being carted off, never to be seen again. Meeting up with a black JFK (Ossie Davis), the two eventually figure out that the home is being targeted by a soul sucker named Bubba Ho-Tep.
One of the film's best points is the way that approaches the material. It almost gives the picture the seriousness of a western (Brian Tyler's score helps that tone); the ridiculous material isn't taken so seriously as to be off-putting, yet the straightforward way it approaches the story and character makes the picture tragic, almost a little moving at times. Elvis's melancholy thoughts of his past youth and fame are especially well-played by Campbell. Yet, there's some very funny parts (Elvis's battle versus a flying insect seemed to be a nod to Campbell's "Evil Dead" character) scattered throughout. The horror never really works though, despite the presence of some funny, funky effects and a rest home set that looks remarkably odd and sparse during the day and even creepier at night. Maybe it's because we never learn much about the Bubba Ho-Tep character.
The performances are superb; Ossie Davis appears to be enjoying himself in the character and Campbell is perfect for the part. Both bring a hint of sadness and regret to the performances, while also perfectly portraying older men who feel lively again given the chance to, well, fight a mummy that has somehow wandered his way into their territory. The film is weird and doesn't always work, but it's played right, moves along pretty well and the performances are quite good. Fans of cult movies and Campbell's earlier work will probably be the most appreciative audience for this entertaining, offbeat fare.
VIDEO: "Bubba Ho-Tep" is presented by MGM in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's image quality is somewhat a reflection of the film's minor budget. Sharpness and detail are very good, although a little uneven at times. When the film looks great, detail can be surprisingly strong. Shadow detail, on the other hand, can be a little lackluster at times.
Flaws were otherwise few-and-far-between, with only a slight amount of shimmering and print debris (just a couple of specks). Compression artifacts are not in evidence and the majority of the film appears clean and clear. The film's color palette is definitely subdued, but the occasional bright color appeared bold and nicely saturated.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was pretty good, considering the material. Some fun, effective and well-recorded sound effects are present in many scenes, while dialogue remained clear and easily understood. Surrounds didn't have too much to do throughout the film, but there's a few entertaining instances of effects use. Brian Tyler's score also sounds terrific and has nice presence in the sound mix.
EXTRAS: The DVD contains two audio commentaries: one by actor Bruce Campbell and director Don Coscarelli, the other from the King, who is speaking from an undisclosed location. The commentary by the director and Campbell is basically enjoyable, as the two provide a nice conversation about the film, going over such topics as casting, Campbell's performance as Elvis and production/budgetary issues. Those used to Campbell's more lively, wisecracking commentaries in the past might find this one a little low-key in spots, but I still thought it was an enjoyable listen. The commentary by Campbell as "The King" is pretty funny, but it gets a little repetitive as "The King" tries to "figure out" what kind of picture it is.
The "Making Of" runs for a total of about 46 minutes (if you press the "play all" option.) and consists of several aspects. We learn more about the origins of the story, we learn more about how the film was financed and made (no surprise, the studios were largely uninterested), as well as how Campbell and Ossie Davis came aboard. The documentary also takes a look at the creation of the film's score, costume design, the creature effects and more. Interviews are included with Campbell, Coscarelli, composer Bryan Tyler and others.
Aside from the "making of" and commentaries, there are also 2 deleted scenes (w/commentary), additional footage reel, the film's theatrical trailer, TV spot, a music video and trailers for other MGM titles. Finally, the DVD's initial release is in limited edition packaging, with a special insert that contains a note from actor Bruce Campbell.
Final Thoughts: Weird, yet well-played, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is an interesting mix of genres and tones that's not for everyone, but should pick up a good cult following once it hits DVD. MGM's DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality, along with a fine helping of supplements.