2003 TOP 10 — Number 9
BUBBA HO-TEP (Don Coscarelli, USA)
Here’s the pitch: Elvis and JFK are both alive, in an East Texas nursing home. The other residents are having their souls sucked out by an Egyptian Mummy disguised as a redneck. So they go out and fight this “Bubba Ho-tep.” If that description and the title do anything for you at all, and you have at least one silly bone in your body, you won’t have a funnier time at the movies than this one.
Despite the presence of Bruce Campbell, it’s not EVIL DEAD territory, exactly, where the violence is so extreme as to become funny. In fact BUBBA HO-TEP is basically (and early on, entirely) a comedy with a small amount of gore — it hardly works at all as a straight thriller. The opening sequence sets the tone as we get dictionary definitions of “ho-tep” and “bubba,” as if this was some serious self-important treatise (like Spike Lee defining “satire” at the start of BAMBOOZLED), and when I saw this film at 2002 Midnight Madness at the Toronto Film Festival, the audience was already laughing at the deadpan seriousness of it all.
Campbell is as terrific an Elvis as expected, but Ossie Davis as a black JFK more than holds his own than (“that’s how clever they are — they dyed me this color”). Both actors have great fun trying to out-underplay their other’s deadpan overplaying, if that makes any sense. But never is there is even a wink at the camera — both characters really believe they’re Elvis and Kennedy. I knew I was watching some kind of work of demented genius when, talking vaguely to avoid spoliers, we got a joke involving an iron lung. Also not to be missed: the only man-vs-bug battle that I can recall being shot from the insect’s POV.
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