Friday, October 28, 2016

Perfectly strange

I don't know any way that I could make it clearer that my family is obsessed with movies. My dad has something like 3 dedicated movie blogs and does podcasts as part of a movie podcast network, my sister minored in film, and when I go back to my parents' house it's difficult to find a surface that isn't in some way covered in posters and memorabilia, from my dad's collection of signed lithograph James Bond prints to my sister's pop figures and special edition DVD display shrine to the rotating posters over our fireplace (currently The Mechanic, Jodorosky's Dune, and 50 Shades of Grey because I'm pretty sure my mom is the ultimate troll), to the TWO walls of DVDs and the thousand-plus laserdiscs. We are a movie family. I'm the least movie person in my family and I'm still one of the most movie-oriented people in my friend group.

For a couple of years now my sister has had a Christmas Movie Advent Calendar - a foam-core tree with paper ornaments that hide the printed out cards she's made to tell her what movie she's watching that day. Usually around Thanksgiving she'll sit down and make sure all the cards have their appropriate posters neatly glued on and then she'll organize that year's configuration. There are some staples and standards (Die Hard, the ultimate Christmas movie, is always on the first) but she likes to vary the lineup. This year, for the first time, she's made an October Horror Movie Calendar.

Because I hang out with my parents and my sister at least once a week that means I sometimes get sucked into her movie projects. I don't always stay for the film they're watching that day (The Polar Express sucks, I'm out) but sometimes she'll schedule a film she knows I like for a day she knows I'll be there (see also why I've written about Edward Scissorhands twice so far).

Which is a lot of backstory to tell you that Bubba Ho Tep is fucking awesome.

I actually saw this weirdo little film in its incredibly limited theatrical release with my dad way back in 2003. There was a tour of showings, one happened to be at UC Irvine, and there was going to be a Q&A with Bruce Campbell and Don Cascarelli after the show (if you didn't find that exciting you probably won't like the movie). Seeing that showing with my dad was really cool. I got a few photos of Bruce Campbell, the cast and crew were funny and engaging in their responses to the audience, and I got a tee shirt out of the deal. Plus the movie was good!

Watching it with my sister as she saw it for the first time I was reminded that it's a perfect storm of campy excellence. The plot is that Elvis and JFK are still alive and in a nursing home together where they have to fight off a mummy who sucks souls out of the assholes of the aged residents of the home. That sounds like the stupidest thing ever, and in some ways it is, but Bruce Campbell is a fucking GREAT old grumpy Elvis, Ossie Davis is an odd but entertaining JFK, and Don Coscarelli literally has "scare" in his name and it was like he was genetically engineered to make perfect, cheap, strange horror movies.

I know that there's just too much disbelief to suspend for this to be a serious movie, or even a movie that many people will like. At one point Bruce Campbell (who it should be noted has "Camp" in his name, it's like these two are a dream team) as Elvis fights a giant rubber scarab with a bedpan, a meat fork, and a space heater. There's a climactic battle that involves a motorized wheelchair and a flamethrower. There are SO, SO MANY dick jokes. But there are also a ton of really good low-budget effects that serve as a reminder that you can make a scene really creepy without desaturating your film or tossing in jump scares. Just some flickering light and intense music will add more of a creep factor than adding film grain and CGI monsters for millions in post. It's a great way to handle a budget of about a million bucks when you're making a super indie flick.

It's occasionally a genuinely touching movie too - it takes place in a home full of dying people and addresses how people handle death.

Kemosabe is a character who has reverted to childhood and wears a Lone Ranger mask and holds cap guns at all times. He goes down fighting and the combination of the way it's shown and Cambell's voiceover at that moment makes me cry every time.

Side note: Ella James is also in this movie as a kind but condescending nurse and she's fucking rad. And I'd like to note that Ella James and Ossie Davis are two black actors in a horror movie and at no point are either of them gratuitously murdered to make it more scary for the white main. There's some tension around both of them, yeah, but it's really great to avoid the "kill the minority" stereotype.

Anyway I had a blast watching this with my sister and it was nice to be reminded of what a fun little film Bubba Ho Tep is.

     - Alli

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