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When mysterious deaths plague a Texas retirement home, it's up to its most sequined senior citizens – a cantankerous, aging Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and an elderly black man claiming to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) – to take on a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy with a penchant for cowboy boots, bathroom graffiti, and sucking the souls from the barely living! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition
Of all the superstar cult directing of the previous generation, Don Coscarelli may be the most “unrewarded” for his efforts, especially now that Larry Cohen has finally received his dues from the prominent critical establishment. Perhaps it’s less a matter of missing accolades and more a matter of limited output. For most of his career, he has been remembered for the Phantasm series, which is an impressive enough a legacy to make any filmmaker proud. But he was also the originator of the Beastmaster series (he co-wrote and directed the original 1982 movie and producer Sylvio Tabet took the reins on future installments) and threatened to unleash two more genre-bending franchises in the new millennium – John Dies at the End (2013), based on the first book in David Wong’s two-book series (I don’t know if he plans on writing more), and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), which still hasn’t produced its promised sequel (and probably won’t anytime soon).

Bubba Ho-Tep fits Coscarelli’s typical genre-smashing themes, his penchant for skewing Americana, and his affection for absurd humour. The main character’s advanced age and fuzzy memories also give him an excuse to dabble in the brand of dream-state imagery that defines many of his best movies. The key difference between Bubba Ho-Tep and that other work is the age of its protagonists. The Phantasm movies, Jim: The World's Greatest (1975), Kenny & Company (1976), and, to a certain degree, John Dies at the End, all pertained to the adventures of children and young men. Bubba Ho-Tep celebrates truly geriatric characters as they battle similarly decrepit supernatural forces. The concept is unique to the director’s filmography, horror-comedy, and, movies in general (the feel-good sci-fi Cocoon series is the closest parallel I can think of). Coscarelli – working from the basic concepts of Lansdale’s story – pokes plenty of fun at the retirement-aged heroes and their environment, but also anchors their exploits with a sense of dignity. In retrospect, this warm affection for dysfunctional heroes is another one of Coscarelli’s trademarks – it’s just a little easy to overlook. Sure, the lack of Phantasm-level mayhem may have been a bit of a disappointment for some fans upon their first viewing (the scarab fight feeds this need a bit), but Bubba Ho-Tep represents a more mature version of Coscarelli’s model in more way than one.

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

Video


Bubba Ho-Tep was released on special edition DVD from Fox/MGM in a number of countries, but, until now, was only available on Blu-ray in Germany and the UK. It seems that Fox/MGM didn’t think that there were enough stateside fans to put the effort into an HD re-release. As a result, it became one of Scream Factory’s most requested titles. Unfortunately for me, I was impatient and already bought the UK release from Anchor Bay entertainment. Fortunately for readers, this means I can verify that, even though each 1080p transfer is framed slightly different – the UK disc is 1.78:1 and the Scream Factory disc is 1.85:1 – there are few discernible differences between the two releases. And, given the film’s comparatively recent vintage, there was really no reason to update the original scan. A lot of the film’s tone is dependent on the gloomy look of the nursing home environments. Sure, it’s supposed to be scary at times, but the darkness and grime that Coscarelli and cinematographer Adam Janeiro cram into even the most staid frame also needs to express the melancholy of the main character. Because so much of the movie is so dimly lit, the sharpness of the HD transfer is key to conveying the impressive textures of the gritty production design, costumes, and Campbell’s believable old man make-up. The daylight scenes tend to be softer with wide-angle focus, while nighttime sequences are tighter with more undefined backgrounds. Grain levels appear accurate, despite a few slightly mushy moments, and there aren’t any signs of major compression (I caught a little edge enhancement during the brighter scenes). The bulk of the palette is brown and orange, which creates more issues for clarity, but it was a far bigger problem for DVD versions, where the warmer images tended to bleed and block-up. In 1080p, however, there are only slightly lumpy gradations between browns and blacks.

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

Audio


Bubba Ho-Tep is presented in its original 5.1 and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio sound (same as the German and UK BDs). It is a mostly dialogue and music-driven track, but there are some aggressive environmental and supernatural sound effects peppered throughout the movie. The subtlest examples include the aural vibrations of the nursing home’s hallways and the general hubbub of movement that occurs while Elvis looks on in a dream state. The more extreme examples revolve around the scarab and mummy attack sequences, where the stereo and surround channels are engaged in a directional manner, rather than an ambient one. The music is supplied by workhorse composer Brian Tyler, who has moved on to writing music for A-level blockbusters, like the Fast & Furious movies and a couple of Marvel movies. His pseudo-western/semi-gospel guitar & organ work here is actually quite moving and sounds great without signs of compression. Instruments are neatly separated and there is considerable movement between the speakers during music-heavy moments.

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

Extras


  • Commentary with Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell – The original director & star commentary from MGM’s Special Edition DVD.
  • Commentary with "The King" – Another MGM holdover, this track features Campbell commenting on the film in character.
  • Commentary with author Joe R. Lansdale – The only new commentary features the originator of the Bubba Ho-Tep mythology, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures Michael Felsher. The author talks about his inspirations, his career, and Coscarelli’s adaptation. For the most part, this is a ‘storytelling’ track, rather than a screen-specific track, which serves someone like Lansdale just fine.
  • The King Lives![/i] (22:01, HD) – The first Scream Factory exclusive interview features Campbell fondly recalling the wacky screenplay, working with Coscarelli for the first time, acting alongside Ossie Davis, his old age make-up, costumes, and talks about the possibility of a sequel.
  • All is Well (24:02, HD) – The next new interview featurette is with Coscarelli and includes quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage. There’s considerable overlap between this and the commentary track, but Coscarelli is also approaching the discussion from a retrospective point-of-view, so the tone is certainly different and he talks more about the book-to-film adaptation process, and the film’s soundtrack.
  • Mummies and Make-up (8:56, HD) – The last Scream Factory exclusive interview is with special effects artist Robert Kurtzman, formerly of KNB Effects (he’s the ‘K’). He discusses the challenges of creating effects for such a low-budget and patently strange movie.
  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell (3:16, SD)
  • Footage from the Temple Room Floor (2:09, SD) – Outtakes from Ho-Tep’s Egyptian flashbacks.
  • The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep (23:34, SD) – Vintage behind-the-scenes featurette
  • To Make a Mummy (5:02, SD) – Vintage make-up effects featurette
  • Fit for a King (6:46, SD) – Vintage costuming featurette
  • Rock like an Egyptian (12:42, HD) – Vintage music/score featurette
  • Joe R. Lansdale reads from the Bubba Ho-Tep novella (7:58, SD)
  • Archival Bruce Campbell interviews (34:41, SD) – Even more vintage footage of the star discussing the film.
  • Music video (2:19, SD)
  • Trailer and TV spot
  • Still gallery


 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

Overall


It’s easy to say that Bubba Ho-Tep is good because it is so different, but I think the greater truth is that it endures because of its balance of cynicism and sentimentality. Yes, it’s wacky, but it’s also quite moving – something director Don Coscarelli hadn’t really achieved since the original Phantasm. These films thrive on strange fantasy/horror elements, but also meditate on the inevitability of death in emotionally honest ways. Scream Factory’s North American Blu-ray debut looks and sounds the same as the already just fine European releases and features a collection of exclusive extras alongside MGM’s already sufficient original supplements.

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

 Bubba Ho-Tep: Collector's Edition

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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