[box cover]

Bubba Ho-Tep

Elvis Presley never died. He got tired of the spotlight back in the early '70s and switched places with one of his impersonators, see, and spent the next couple of decades living in a trailer and performing as an Elvis look-alike. It was that other Elvis, the fake one, who kicked the bucket. Now an old man with cancerous genitals, bedridden and cranky in an east Texas retirement home, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) grumpily tries to convince his skeptical nurses that he's the real deal. Of course, he could just be delusional — like his new friend and fellow resident, an elderly black man named John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis). "That was part of the plan, to paint me this color," explains the supposed former president, who also claims to have a bag of sawdust in his head replacing the chunk of brain he lost in that Dallas incident. Past their prime and marking time 'til death, the two find a renewed interest in life when they discover that an ancient Egyptian mummy is picking off the residents of their nursing home one by one as it feeds on the old folks' souls — and realize that it's up to them to stop the undead, by any means necessary. Adapting a short story by famed horror author Joe. R. Lansdale, director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) turns the oddball plot of Bubba Ho-Tep (2003) into a very funny, spooky, and surprisingly touching film about two aging icons getting one last chance to be heroes. Campbell plays the King with such melancholic gravitas — it's his best performance ever, quite possibly one of the best performances in any film in recent years — and Davis brings so much warmth and complexity to his role, that what could have played as pure camp has a depth and resonance beyond the already-sharp material. Produced for very little money and then shopped around to local art houses and enthusiastic film festival audiences because the picture had trouble finding a distributor, Bubba Ho-Tep is a throwback to the sort of low-budget, high-quality indie films that used to be made before big-money outfits like Miramax hijacked the term. Smartly written, gorgeously shot, with every single penny of its low-low-low budget on the screen and a simply beautiful score by Brian Tyler (Six-String Samurai), this wonderfully unique film — hilarious, kitschy, and moving — defies easy categorization and hopefully will find the wider audience it deserves on DVD. The release from MGM ought to please anyone who already loves the movie, as well as those seeing it for the first time — presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the transfer is absolutely pristine. Especially considering that it was made for a fraction of the cost of most Hollywood films, Bubba Ho-Tep is a great-looking movie with marvelous use of shadow and color, all of which comes across brilliantly here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is equally good, with dialogue coming through clean and distinct, and Tyler's haunting, gorgeous music is presented nicely. There are two excellent commentary tracks provided — one a loving, detail-heavy track with Coscarelli and Campbell, who cover all aspects of getting the project off the ground, the nuts-and-bolts of production, and the search for distribution, and a second, wildly funny track with Campbell as "The King," munching popcorn as he watches the film, never dropping character — "I made 33 pictures, but none of them were horror pictures. Although Harem Scarum had some scary parts" — and going off on the occasional tangent, like when he explains in excruciating detail how to make a perfect grilled peanut butter-and-banana sandwich. Also on board are 48 minutes worth of very good "making-of" featurettes — which can be watched all together or separately — on the film's production, the makeup and costume design, the special effects, and the music. There are plenty of insightful interviews in these, and a lot of detail about the problems getting financing and distribution for the picture, as well as attracting actors (says Campbell, "In their minds it was an Elvis/mummy/cancer-on-your-penis movie and that wasn't good.") There's also a "music video" of clips from the film set to Tyler's main theme, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a stills gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a TV spot. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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