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Bubba Ho-Tep

By Adam Lippe


haber230aSometimes you go into a movie really wanting to like it and hoping and praying that it lives up to the hype. It’s really hard not to like Bruce Campbell and you root for the movie to build into a grand horror-comedy masterpiece. The humongous 3-D lettering of the title card implies something that will make steps in that direction. But the movie is actually more of a lazy comedy with the occasional shock cut, and a dark humored treatise on aging. Campbell is amazing as either an Elvis impersonator in a rest home, or actually Elvis pretending to be an impersonator so he wouldn’t have to deal with the pressures of fame. The old age makeup isn’t even really that well done, but he is as good as he was in Evil Dead 2, which contains the greatest performance by an actor ever committed to film, during one 45 minute stretch. It’s kind of sad that Campbell won’t actually get any attention award wise, because he’s really touching in a part that is both a caricature and a real human being. It could have easily turned into a 90 minute fat old Elvis joke, especially if it played towards Campbell’s strengths at being goofy. And if Campbell hadn’t been amazing, the movie would fall apart. That’s because there isn’t much material around him. The majority of the film is Campbell sitting in bed either creatively doling out the exposition (the only movie I’ve seen with more exposition is The Frighteners) or complaining about the infection on the tip of his penis. That sounds awfully limited and indeed, there is a propensity for director Don Coscarelli (who co-wrote this movie and also made the Phantasm series, which is why this is closer in style to those films than to ED II) to rely on low humor for cheap laughs, but since a lot of it is very funny, especially the way it is played, it doesn’t really matter. There is a strong point made about the fact that the way old people are looked upon, is that anything they say is either cluelessly cute or just plain clueless, so even if they make sense or are trying to get something important across, it’s easily dismissed. That helps out the humor, because it adds a bitterness to it, that would be missing if it were simply an excuse to concentrate on the scatological. Ossie Davis plays JFK, or at least he claims to be, constantly suggesting that they had to fill his head with sand because of the portions of his brain he lost during the Dallas shooting. He’s more of a clownish figure than Campbell, but you find that it doesn’t really matter whether or not you believe either of them are who they claim to be, because you can see how it both might be true and a complete figment of their imagination as a way to escape the doldrums and day to day sadness of living in a low rent nursing home.

bubbahotep90% of the movie takes place in the nursing home, and you can see how effectively Coscarelli used his money. The effects are never on screen long enough to clearly see, and when the low rent work may be evident, he plays it more for humor, but still manages a few jumps. The mummy (who has come to steal the souls of the residents), as it appears, is frightening precisely because you can’t see it, but as is the nature of such a creature it moves so slowly there is a little less tension. Of course since this is a geriatric horror movie, rather than a teen slasher movie, it doesn’t seem idiotic that the heros can’t run away fast enough, especially when they require a walker and/or a wheelchair. Which brings to mind the final fight, which is not particularly well staged, especially because the big moment doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless Campbell suddenly acquired The Force, and had the ability to make things move on their own. The rules of the horror elements are not well sketched out, and there is a lot of skimming over the details. But the ending is oddly poetic and moving despite some cheap laughs amidst the horror involving enormous hieroglyphics. The thing to remember is that despite being barely over an hour and a half, it is very slowly paced and feels a lot longer. This is at odds with what people expect from a horror movie, but this film has its own herky jerky rhythms, which you either accept or you get fidgety.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.