Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Bubbe Ho Tep



USA 2002 : Don COSCARELLI : 92 mins

It’s ironic that one of the most unexpectedly poignant and effective films about old age should be made by the man who three decades ago became the youngest ever director to have a movie distributed by a major Hollywood studio. But Coscarelli isn’t best known these days either for Jim, the World’s Greatest (1975) or equally gentle followup Kenny and Company (1976): he hit such a box-office jackpot with the surreally nightmarish Phantasm (1979) that he spent most of the next 20 years churning out a trio of gory sequels.

Bubba Ho-Tep also has one bandaged foot in the horror genre – it’s about an ancient mummy who hunts down the residents at an old people’s home in a sleepy corner of the USA. But the fact that these residents also include an Elvis impersonator (Bruce Campbell) who just might be the real thing – and an elderly African-American who insists that he is John F Kennedy (Ossie Davis) – indicate just how far we are from the Phantasm universe of murderous aliens and brain-drilling metal spheres.

The basic premise unashamedly pitches Bubba Ho-Tep firmly at the cult-movie, midnight-screening section of the cinematic market – and the picture does work very well as a entertainingly tongue-in-cheek, amusingly deadpan spoof. Frequent Sam Raimi collaborator Campbell terrific value as perhaps the most remarkable Elvis ever committed to celluloid, though Brian Tyler deserves equal credit for his outstanding guitar-based score.

It’s to Coscarelli’s credit that the cute, gimmicky aspects of his material – he’s adapted a short story by Joe R Lansdale – never get out of hand. The real ‘horror’ here is not supernatural at all – it’s the simple terror of the body packing up, of the decline into physical and mental decrepitude. It’s soon clear that the “real” identities of our heroes is pretty irrelevant – the plot is really an excuse to provide one last rollicking adventure for a duo whose energies have sunk to a low ebb. And the real joy lies in seeing them regain the will to live – no matter how how wildly ludicrous the circumstances.

27th September, 2004
[seen 12th October 2003 : Hyde Park, Leeds : public show : Leeds Film Festival]

click here for original review from October 2003

by Neil Young