A quirky, low-budget, genre-bending hit on the festival circuit, adapted from a short story by country-noir author Joe R. Lansdale, “Bubba Ho-tep” had a fleeting theatrical run last year. But this DVD packed with supplemental material — including two feature-length audio commentaries, four featurettes and a production scrapbook — should give it wide exposure among B-movie fans, guaranteeing a long afterlife.
In this twisted horror/comedy/drama hybrid, an aging, oversexed Elvis wastes away in a convalescent home until an East Texas mummy named Bubba Ho-tep comes to claim the souls of the patients there. Elvis joins with a wheelchair-using patient named Jack Kennedy to find a new purpose as they protect the turf they once despised but now call home.
The main audio commentary features Coscarelli, director of cult pics “Beastmaster” and “Phantasm,” and Campbell, who also starred in “Evil Dead.” Campbell pays particular attention to the makeup and sound, while Coscarelli heaps praise on his actors. Screen veteran Ossie Davis is lauded for his earnest portrayal of a man who believes he is the late JFK. Ella Joyce gets kudos for a dignified yet laugh-out-loud performance as the nurse. (Both Davis and Joyce make appearances in the “making-of” featurette.)
What’s surprising is that Campbell and Coscarelli don’t delve nearly as deeply into the cheats behind budget filmmaking as one might expect from a tight production like this. They claim to have been blessed with a first-rate crew of special makeup f/x artists, who provided their services at cost, and a stunt actor (Bob Ivey) willing to undergo a punishing production that involved walking blindly in prosthetic make-up and being lit on fire.
Music by one-man band Brian Tyler is the subject of two extras, a featurette called “Walk Like an Egyptian” and a musicvideo. Director Coscarelli conducts a Q&A with Tyler that proves to be one of the more educational and interesting additions on the disc as both men share their methods of marrying music and imagery.
There are two deleted scenes with commentary, a theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a photo gallery. Most compelling is a reading by Lansdale of chapter one of his short story, accompanied by stylized stills from the movie. The language is rich with Southern turns of phrases and biting attitude; it is perhaps the best display of how faithful screenwriter-director Coscarelli’s adaptation is to its source.
Those involved in the production readily admit in the “Making of Bubba Ho-tep” featurette that they don’t quite know how to explain what the movie is. But all seem to agree that it’s bizarre, funny and was fun to make. Despite resistance from financiers, studios and agents, the filmmakers have made a weird Elvis mummy movie that has connected with an audience that’s sure to grow from here.