Monday, April 2, 2007

Takin’ care of business

Close to twenty years ago, I was toiling as a CSR (Customer Service Representative) for a Blockbuster Video franchise here in Savannah and in retrospect, it was one of the best jobs I ever had.  (It all went south when I was forced into becoming an assistant manager.)  Being a movie buff, I generously took advantage of the store’s free rental policy for its staff (you usually had to wait for the new releases, but for a classic film geek like me all the older stuff was there for the taking) and caught up on my sadly neglected film education.

One of the movies I rented simply because I was tickled by its premise was Heartbreak Hotel (1988), a rock ‘n’ roll fable whose plot centers on the kidnapping of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (David Keith) in 1972 by an Ohio j.d. (Charlie Schlatter) and his pals in an effort to cheer up his mom (Tuesday Weld), who’s been laid low in a car accident.  Hotel was cute and forgettable (though Weld is always worth a look-see—plus it features two of my favorite country music singers, T. Graham Brown and Hal Ketchum) and yet I always believed that someone missed out on turning it into a TV series (kind of a Route 66 affair) that would feature the King driving from small town to small town, tackling odd jobs and helping small communities by healing the sick, making the lame walk, etc.  (The idea of Elvis being alive and well was later co-opted by an episode (“Spotting Elvis”) of a short-lived series, Johnny Bago, starring Peter Dobson as a hood on the run from both the Mafia and his vengeful ex-wife.  The King was spending his declining years in a trailer park in that one.)

I sort of expected the same Heartbreak Hotel whimsy during the wee a.m. hours of this morning when I put Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) in the DVD player but I was surprised after watching it to see most of the cast playing it straight—well, as straight as a movie starring Bruce Campbell can be.  Bruce plays a geriatric Elvis biding his time in an East Texas nursing home when he and his pal John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis—and that’s not a typo) learn that an Egyptian mummy is prowling the halls of their facility and sucking out the lifeforce from the souls of its residents.  The King and JFK team up to defeat this undead menace in a horror film generously laced with deadpan comedy, directed and written by Don Coscarelli, who’s a legend among horror fans for the Phantasm series.  (The screenplay for Bubba was adapted from a short story/novella written by Texan Joe R. Lansdale.)  Bubba is a hell of a lot of fun for viewers who park their brains in neutral: Campbell channels Elvis extremely well and in addition to Davis’ performance there are also impressive turns from Ella Joyce (who played Charles S. Dutton’s ever-patient spouse on the underrated Roc sitcom) and Larry “Dash Riprock” Pennell as a resident who thinks he’s the Lone Ranger.  I can’t wait to see Ho-Tepís prequel, Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the Vampires, which features the King running afoul of a Louisiana vampire coven while shooting a film; Campbell is set to reprise his role, and Paul Giamatti will be tackling the part of Colonel Tom Parker.  (Wild!)

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