Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Sadly, we all know the King is dead. But what if the King were still alive? What if Elvis Presley switched places midway through his career with the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator and continued on living off the grid? What if he set out to make a new life? What if that life sadly ended in a nursing home? Oh…and what if Elvis’s dick was rotting off and he and a black John F. Kennedy took on an ancient evil that devours souls and then ultimately defecates them out. The answers to these age old questions can only be found in Don Coscarelli’s low-budget 2003 cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep.

The nurses and orderlies just shrug it off as alzheimers or craziness but our bedpan saddling hero is truly Elvis Presley (played with charismatic greatness by Bruce Campbell). In the mid 1970s Elvis switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell, again) and set off to begin a new life, only to find himself in the same old trailer park shenanigans and lifestyle of hard partying. When Sebastian Haff spent years succumbing to all things fried and peanut butter, and eventually kicked the bucket as the famous Elvis Presley, the real King took to the stage as an impersonator. Several decades and one hip thrust too many later Elvis has left the building…and entered The Shady Rest Retirement home.

The number of guests in the retirement home starts depleting and Elvis meets an elderly black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (played by the late, great Ossie Davis), apparently dyed black after the assassination and abandoned by Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy shows Elvis ancient hieroglyphics carved into a bathroom stall and together they discover an Egyptian curse unleashed upon the retirement home when a mummy was stolen from a museum in West Texas and the thieves crashed their getaway bus into a nearby river.

What ensues is a madhouse of horror and hilarity as two old, slow-moving icons go head to head with an equally old and slow-moving corpse. Played with an energetic, jazzy tone and true sense of self parody, Bubba Ho-Tep becomes a laugh riot. Campbell is the master of not “bad acting” but “acting bad”. Under gobs of aged makeup and a classic Elvis pompadour, Campbell gyrates and scenery chews his way into the hearts of fans. Campbell is given the greatest of one liners and a hilarious voice-over narration which includes such epic quips as “its been two presidential elections since I’ve had a boner like that” and “man, you are one big, bitch cockroach”.

The epic battle in the film’s climax involves all the wheelchair gags, slow moving chase scenes and using-a-walker-as-a-weapon fight scenes the plot would suggest. And the teaming of Campbell with the great Ossie Davis is a wonderful choice. One could even argue that Ossie Davis is serving in a master/apprentice capacity with Campbell in the world of great character actors. They are certainly two people who, just their inclusion in a film alone, automatically earns a movie bonus points and credibility. Also, this film to a degree had killed the movie The Bucket List for me. Despite them being completely different movies, every time I saw Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman together in that old folks home I immediately wished that somehow killing vampires would be on that list.

-John

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Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)

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Back before I was able to drive, we lived very far from most video store chains or other places with lights. The closest one to us was a few miles away in the convenience store of a gas station. So if I wanted to watch a movie I was usually resigned to choosing from our movie collection or whatever was on TV. Back in the early to mid 90s, TV channels would have “shows” (an odd concept, I know) which consisted of nothing more than showing a movie and having a host relay little quips and facts about the movie before and after commercials. One that I watched frequently was Monstervision on TNT with Joe Bob Briggs. A feature that undoubtedly grew my enthusiasm toward B-movies, but in October of 1996 AMC started running Monsterfest. An entire month of horror movies every night and every week had a theme. They had Rob Zombie as the host for the entire thing. Keep in mind this was when AMC showed UNCUT movies with limited commercials. During zombie week they showed classics like Night of the Living Dead & Carnival of Souls (not necessarily a zombie film, but it kinda has that vibe). On the last night of the week they were showing Evil Dead 2, or so I thought.

It was billed as Evil Dead 2 and Rob Zombie even talked about Evil Dead 2 introducing it as such. I found out much later that the station actually played The Evil Dead. So you can imagine my confusion later when I go to rent Evil Dead…. It’s kind of funny since the first 5 minutes or so of Evil Dead 2 is a fast forward rehash of the entire first film. Ash (Bruce Campbell) takes his girlfriend to the old cabin in the woods, they play the tape with the translated passages from the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) and crazy shit start happening. People become possessed, voices call out in the night “JOIN US”, the woods are alive and feel like raping people, you know…..crazy shit. This movie hits the ground running and doesn’t look back, the pace is wicked fast and that’s a big reason why its so much fun to watch. The pacing is the polar opposite of the first film which builds slowly and blows the bloody doors off for the last half. As for the plot, the long dead researcher who worked on the translation has a daughter who shows up looking for him along with her boyfriend and a redneck couple they paid to take them to the cabin. When they get there they run into Ash and end up trying to stay alive and destroy the demons possessing everything around them. One by one the trapped party are possessed and dispatched by their cohorts in various grisly methods.

The first half hour to 45 minutes of the film is basically the Bruce Campbell show. In the first film Ash was kind of a wuss, but the longer he survives, the tougher he gets. Unable to escape the woods and with the bridge out to the only road, Ash is forced to hold up in the cabin, his only shelter. But after watching all his friends and girlfriend become possessed and hacked to pieces or burned to death, you might say the poor guy is on edge a bit. As the spirits in the house plays games with him, Ash starts to go crazy. This normally wouldn’t be funny, but Campbell’s over the top facial expressions and reactions are priceless and will have you at least smiling at his characters madness at some point. One of my favorite shots in the film involves Ash talking himself down in a mirror:

Unfortunately for Ash the evil spirit possesses his right hand (right, like that’s never happened to anyone else….) The battle that ensues is nothing short of horror comedy gold:

Whenever somebody beats themselves up in a movie whether it’s Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar or Edward Norton in Fight Club, the Evil Dead 2 scene pops into my head. Campbell is equal parts Three Stooges and Leatherface here. So with no right hand and evil everywhere he looks, Ash does what every great hero would do. Improvise:

With that word a B-Movie horror icon is born. Wielding a sawed off shotgun (or boomstick as it will later be known), a plethora of snappy smart-ass one-liners and a chainsaw for a hand, Ash is one of the most ridiculously bad-ass characters I’ve ever seen put to film. Constantly copied and emulated in other films both in persona and design, Ash represents an anomaly in horror movies. In horror films, the villain is the star. Everyone associates Friday the 13th with Jason, not the campers trying to stay alive, Halloween with Michael Myers, not his sister or psychologist, A Nightmare on Elm Street with Freddy Krueger, not the people who have their dreams invaded, Spice World with the Spice Girls, not….well I don’t know the point of that movie but you get the idea. In the only genre of film that truly celebrates villains and monsters, Ash stands out as a celebrated hero. A selfish, sarcastic hero who is out to save himself and only wants everyone to get the fuck out of his way, but a celebrated hero nonetheless.

Campbell starts up with the one-liners in Evil Dead 2 and hasn’t stopped to this day. His career took off after this movie, landing major parts in feature films. He even got his own prime time TV show on Fox in the early 90s, a western called The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Unfortunately it was on Fox and got canceled after one season because it was completely overshadowed by this other little show that debuted the same night called The X-Files. Regardless, Campbell has never been out of work since Evil Dead 2 and for good reason. His onscreen persona, no matter what he’s in, is incredibly entertaining as he always seems cooler than everyone else in the room.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention director Sam Raimi in all of this. Raimi, like so many other directors, cut his teeth on horror films when breaking into the business. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron & Peter Jackson all started out showing off their talent behind the camera with horror. Raimi did not work his way up the ladder in Hollywood starting out as a production assistant. His work was on the screen. It took a bunch of broke college kids more than a year to shoot The Evil Dead, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. Raimi piled on the gore in The Evil Dead and fans ate it up. Just putting his name on a horror movie as a producer is usually enough to bring fans out to the theaters even now 30 years later. Raimi’s visual style is unique, yet hard to describe. He uses overhead shots, forced perspectives and high speed POV shots frequently always keeping you on your toes as a viewer. Honestly, I’ve never seen a bad movie that he has directed.

While I love the gore and creepiness of the first film and the ridiculous slapstick and one-liners of the third, the second Evil Dead film is a dizzying mix of horror and comedy. And despite some nice stop-motion animation with some of the creatures in this, ED2 still has that ultra-low budget feel that make the atmosphere better for a “cabin in the woods” type film. Evil Dead 2 is the strongest film of the trilogy, in my opinion, pleasing even the most hardcore horror fans plus adding in all the laughs as well. If you haven’t seen these movies yet, then what the hell are you waiting for??!!

-Wes Kelly