Cult Classic: Bubba Ho-Tep

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary: The premise may seem wild, but the message is sound.

Review: The whole of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is more than the sum of its parts.  Its story is an orthodox but daring mix of Elvis legend and Mummy-lore with just a dash of Kennedy conspiracy theory.  Sounds a little ridiculous, no?  But beneath all that is a powerful tale of redemption; of a man, long having fallen from grace, who finds something to fight for before he fades.

According to ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’, the real Elvis Presley switched places with an impersonator long ago so that he could “get away from it all”.  It was the impersonator that died, not him.  Elvis lived on, quite content, until an accident sent him to a rest home in east Texas.  Now old, sick, and crippled, he spends his days lying in bed, contemplating the mistakes in life, and occasionally talking to fellow resident Jack, who claims to be John F. Kennedy, also never having died.

Things become (even more) strange when other residents start dying off mysteriously at the hands of a cursed Egyptian mummy who feeds on the souls of the elderly.  It would take too long to explain how the mummy got there, but to make a long story short, it’s up to JFK and Elvis to stop him and save their home.

The story deserves major props for originality.  It takes the stuff of the best campy B-movies and mixes it together into one nice package; and that’s probably also why it’s a little surprising to discover that the film actually has a lot of heart to it.  That’s because it really isn’t focusing on Elvis Presley or JFK or mummies.  What it’s really about is a man (who happens to be Elvis) who has fallen from grace.  And his is the most tragic of falls-from a youth worshiped as a god and adored by millions, to a sick, elderly shell of a man; accused of delusion for trying to tell others who he once was.

What the mummy really represents, then, is a chance for redemption.  For all the mistakes in his life, for everything that has gone wrong, Elvis has one last chance to make a difference, to save the other residents, to set things right.  And because of this, though dying, he will not fade; he will not go quietly into the night.  He will take a stand for something and go out in glory.  Redemption is the most powerful message for the human condition, that no matter what one has done or where he is in life, if he is willing to give himself, he can still find salvation.  That is what ‘Bubba Ho-tep’ is really about it.  Beneath it’s comedic, horror, and camp elements, this film is truly emotional.

Made for just one million dollars, this movie is a testament to the potential of low-budget filmmaking.  The performances of Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK are just plain awesome, as is Brian Tyler’s score.  The guitar driven themes are touching and add much drama and weight to the film.  Though at times unnecessary vulgarity and seeming plot holes hamper it, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ nevertheless succeeds thanks to a fresh, engrossing, and deep story with a wonderfully cathartic conclusion.  This is one for the books, boys.

Cult Classic: Evil Dead

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★☆☆

Summary: Cheap scares and gore, but it did set a necessary and important bedrock for later, better films to come.

Review:  One of the things I feel slightly obligated to do when I review older films is at least try to look at them through a historical lens. I try to think about what they might have seemed like “back then…” in addition to how they’re seen now. In terms of 1981’s ‘Evil Dead’, I think I have to do this because it is a “cabin in the woods” movie. Granted, today that scenario is such a time-warn cliché that modern movies using it are almost always unintentionally comical for it. But back then, when the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise was still new and people weren’t yet making this kind of film all the time, I suppose it seemed fresher. And for what it’s worth, they do try to shake it up in this film by adding more supernatural elements and a strange “Book of the Dead” to the story. Anyways, my point is that, for everything that’s sub-par about this picture, I won’t accuse its premise for being unoriginal.

But when it comes right down to it, this film is still a cheesy low-budget horror film. There are women screaming, ghouls popping up out of nowhere, chase scenes, people dying in bloody ways, etc. Even then I don’t think this was particularly effective, and it certainly isn’t now. In fact the only thing horror-wise that this film has going for it is a villain (some evil spirit I guess) whom we never see. We only view first person shots of it running through the forest. That, I’ll admit, was surprising potent, if little else about this film was. I should also mention that this film starred a very young Bruce Campbell, an actor destined for later B-movie greatness.

This film’s director was Sam Raimi, the man who would go on to direct all three of the highly successful ‘Spiderman’ pictures. This was his first feature-length film, and I suppose he learned valuable lessons on it that helped to make his later movies better. I will say, however, that I’m glad that ‘Evil Dead’ was a modest success at the box office and has since become a cult hit. I’m glad because Raimi, along with Campbell, made two sequels to it; films which were much more entertaining and fun to see.

Cult Classic: Killer Klowns from Outer Space

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★☆☆

Summary:  Quite frankly, ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’, sounds like an idea that would look good on paper, a nice little parody of classic 50’s B horror movies.  But to be honest, it’s just kind of weird.

Patrick thinks this movie is weird.  So do I.

Patrick thinks this movie is weird. So do I.

Review:  The plot, or some semblance their of, consists of aliens resembling clowns (or “Klowns” as the title calls them) flying to earth in a giant circus tent with the sole purpose of terrorizing the inhabitants of a small town. Anyways, all kinds of crazy antics goes down, as the Klowns have the ability to comically manipulate the laws of physics to their whim, but, like many horror movies, these deadly foes are powerless against the might of quick thinking teenagers. How does one kill a Klown? Why, just pop his nose of course, and he dies.

Weird—yes. Funny and/or Scary—Not really.

In fact, that’s the real problem with this movie is its not really very comical or scary. Given that it’s a movie about Killer Klowns, it sort of has to be one or the other if not both; but no, its not. All the dialogue is usually either really boring or some awful pun.The only thing really laughable about this movie is how bad it is, but even then you sort of have to appreciate the art of 50’s B movies in order to understand where this movie draws its influence. However, I don’t think a whole lot of people, especially now, will appreciate that. The Klowns also don’t look scary– they look clowns– and I never bought into the Stephen King idea of using them as a horror device in modern literature.

One note though about the music; it’s unusually good for a movie of this style. A nice 80’s guitar mimics a classic circus diddy, and it sounds quite pleasing.

In the years since the internet, this movie has developed quite a cult following, but personally, I won’t have this flick make a dummy out of me.