Bubba Ho-Tep, 2022.
Directed by Don Coscarelli.
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, and Bob Ivy.
Don Coscarelli’s cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep, based on the novella by Joe R. Lansdale, has been reissued by Shout! Factory in a new 4K Ultra HD edition featuring a new 4K scan of the film and a Blu-ray that collects all of the previously available bonus features plus three new ones. Highly recommended for fans of the film.
Bubba Ho-Tep is one of those cult classics that I’ll confess I never got around to seeing until now, thanks to this new Ultra HD + Blu-ray Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory. Set in The Shady Rest Retirement Home in East Texas, the main protagonist and narrator is a guy who is known as Sebastian Haff to the staff but claims he is really Elvis Presley. Played by Bruce Campbell, the character certainly has the look, feel, and sound of an aging Elvis, but since his back story is relayed by him, it’s not clear whether he’s an unreliable narrator.
It turns out that an ancient Egyptian mummy has begun terrorizing the retirement home, feasting on the souls contained therein. One of Elvis’s fellow retirees, a Black man named Jack (Ossie Davis) who claims to be John F. Kennedy, who survived the assassination attempt and was dyed black afterward, has a book that explains the curse that has brought the mummy forth. Soon he and Elvis hatch a plan to rid the world of the mummy, who wears cowboy attire and has been dubbed “Bubba Ho-Tep” by Elvis.
The film is based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale, which I should read one of these days. The onscreen story is as goofy and chaotic as you’d expect from the premise, and I imagine Lansdale’s tale is probably similar. However, it’s more than just a fun romp — Elvis’s sometimes-poignant narration makes it clear that if you dig a little deeper, this is also a meditation on what it means to get old and find yourself alone in the world. (But, yes, go ahead and just have fun with Bubba Ho-Tep on the surface level, if you want.)
Shout! previously issued the film on Blu-ray, but this new edition is based on a 4K scan of the original negative, with color correction supervised and approved by director Don Coscarelli. Both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs in this new edition use the new 4K scan, which is a nice touch since sometimes studios just release the old Blu-ray to go along with a brand new 4K Ultra HD platter.
To be fair, this isn’t a film that necessarily screamed for a 4K upgrade, but if you’re a fan, you’ll appreciate how nice it looks here. The original grain is well-preserved, and the movie retains its original look and feel, which was meant to be a nod to horror films of the 80s. The color palette is fairly muted and the effects are mostly of the old school variety, with the big climax taking place at night, so there isn’t a lot of imagery that will really pop off the screen in 4K, but that’s okay since the goal of upgrading this kind of movie to 4K is to preserve the original theatrical experience. And Shout! has accomplished that.
The company also ported over the original batch of extras, which are all found on the Blu-ray disc, except the commentary tracks, which are on both. There are actually three new items, which I’ve noted below. Here’s what you’ll find:
• Audio Commentary by Director Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell: The pair actually recorded this track while the movie was still in theaters, so their perspective on the making of it is still fresh. It’s a fun track that’s definitely worth a listen for fans.
• Audio Commentary by “The King”: Concept commentary tracks can be fun, but they can also get tedious after a while. Such is the case here, where Campbell plays his Elvis character to talk about the film. It’s the kind of thing that would have probably worked better as a five- or ten-minute interview.
• Audio Commentary by Joe R. Lansdale: Film producer and editor Michael Felsher interviews the author for this track, which is a nice guided discussion of not only his story but also its adaptation by the director for the big screen. I actually wish more commentary tracks were done this way, so you could be assured that the discussion would keep up a lively pace and there would’t be lapses into silence or tangents into semi-related topics.
• Filming Locations Then And Now (14 minutes): The first new extra compares and contrasts the locations used in the film, which are pretty limited, to how they look now.
• Egyptian Theatre Premiere (4 minutes): Another new extra, this one features footage shot at the film’s premiere, along with thoughts from fans. Unfortunately, whoever shot it wasn’t using a great camera.
• At The Toronto Film Festival (32 minutes): The final new extra shows the post-screening Q&A at the Toronto Film Festival. Like the previous extreme the video quality isn’t that great. I realize video cameras weren’t as good in 2002, but it was still possible back then to capture decent footage from events like this one.
• The King Lives (22 minutes): Campbell talks about the film, his character, and more in this very entertaining interview. It’s not that hard for someone with the right look and voice to play a caricature of Elvis, but Campbell does a solid job in this film of really embodying him and making you feel like this is what an elderly Elvis could have been like.
• All Is Well (24 minutes): Director Don Coscarelli has his chance to discuss the making of the film. He also addresses the sequel that is teased after the end credits. Apparently it was only meant to be a joke, like the sequel teaser at the end of Buckaroo Banzai, but then it almost became a real thing that was unfortunately scuttled due to creative differences. Oh well.
• Mummies and Makeup (9 minutes): Makeup and visual effects artist Robert Kurtzman talks about his work on the film.
• The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep (23.5 minutes): This is one of those old school making-of EPKs from the DVD era. It’s still worth watching, though, because it was created at the same time as the film’s production.
• To Make a Mummy (5 minutes): This wasn’t any ordinary mummy, and this featurette examines that idea. I always appreciate it when a writer takes a well-worn trope and puts a new spin on it.
• Fit for a King (7 minutes): How would an elderly Elvis dress? That question is answered here.
• Rock Like an Egyptian (13 minutes): This is an interesting twist on a typical featurette: Director Don Coscarelli interviews composer Brian Tyler about the movie’s music.
• Joe R. Lansdale Reads from Bubba Ho-Tep (8 minutes): Here, the author reads part of chapter one from his novella.
• Archival Bruce Campbell Interviews (35 minutes): Created to originally promote the film’s theatrical run, this features several excerpts from interviews with Campbell.
• Deleted scenes (3 minutes): This is comprised of two deleted scenes, with optional commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell. The director obviously shot this film in a very efficient manner, if this and the next item are the bulk of the excised footage.
• Footage from the Temple Room Floor (2 minutes): At one point in the film Elvis looks into the mummy’s eyes and sees its origin. This is some unused footage from that sequence.
A music video for the movie’s main theme, a photo gallery, and a trailer and a TV commercial round out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★