While I like a wide variety of film genres, there is something special about B movies. Part of it is, Tophat will eagerly point out, that many B movies are cult classics and therefore I can be pretentious about my film knowledge by spouting off favorites like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos: The Hands of Fate. But the movies are often so horrendously bad that they end up being wonderfully funny and ultimately entertaining.
These low-budget independent films are the bread and butter of Mike Nelson and his robot friends, but many of them stand up well on their own. And no one does B movies better than the unofficial king Bruce Campbell. He even portrayed the King himself in Bubba Ho-Tep.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a quirky horror comedy, like so much of Campbell’s best work, set in Shady Rest, a nursing home in east Texas. Campbell plays Elvis Presley, the real and true Elvis. We learn that the King had grown weary of his fame and glory and longed for his golden years when it was just him, a guitar, a stage, and a bunch of screaming young women. So way back when in the 70’s Elvis meets one of his impersonators in Texas. A good one. Probably the best one. And simply switches places with him. So Elvis once again becomes a small time performer in the deep south and unfortunately his replacement quickly blew out his heart and died on a toilet.
Now the rock-and-roll man is a broken down, dirty old geezer for whom time is beginning to slip by in quickening spurts. The King struggles to maintain a grip on reality with the help of his good friend John F. Kennedy, a black man who swears he is JFK with a tan, hiding from the CIA. To complicate matters and add a plot to this interesting little scenario, a museum has misplaced its mummy and the thing has begun terrorizing the nursing home.
Bubba Ho-Tep places surprisingly little emphasis on the monster of this horror film, and instead focuses on the premise. Campbell does an excellent job portraying a man staring death in the face on a daily basis through long expositions (not literally thank God) on the remaining functionality of his all important nether region and the general lack of compassion in a low rent nursing home. The suspense is brought, not in the tradition of the very best the horror films have to offer by not showing the monster, but through the B movie staple of cheesy special effects and through the King’s weak grip on time. The delirious old codger often wakes in the night, seeing strange flashes of action in a way that cannot fully explain why residents keep dropping dead in their sleep about a day before their time.
The movie may be classified as a horror film, but it’s much more of a diatribe on the human condition in the vein of 28 Days Later. As the baby boomers quickly approach the precipice of modern medicine director Don Coscarelli tries to reassure them with two of their own, Elvis and JFK. In the early moments of the film Elvis is too weak to rub salve on his own sore bits, much less take on a grouchy old pharaoh. Coscarelli offers the key to longevity; as many a farmer whose strength is sapped can tell you, purpose. So Elvis and Jack regain their vigor and take on the mummy for the good of east Texas. The two icons of a generation stand boldly and look death squarely in the face, marching out to battle in the uniforms of their youth. And while the cheese is cranked up to 11 Coscarelli reminds the boomers that purpose may prolong life, it is by no means a cure. Just ask Ponce. But he asks the audience to consider the fact that there’s more to life than death. As Campbell says, “I’ve still got my soul.”