Despite starring in few recent films, Bruce Campbell is an actor who will always be viewed by horror fans with great affection, mainly due to The Evil Dead trilogy. Sam Raimi has given him cameos in the Spider-Man films and his role as Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep re-introduced us to him as a starring actor in his own right. So what do we get from his first film as writer, director, producer and star? Well he gives us a tale with a ludicrous plot, over-acting, bad accents, mad scientists, robots and deranged gypsy women. In short, everything you would expect from a B-Movie, which, in case you hadn’t already guessed from the title is exactly what this film is meant to be.
Campbell plays William Cole, an American pharmaceutical boss who travels to Bulgaria with the intention of financing their underground system for the tax breaks it will give his company. He and his wife Jackie, Antoinette Byron, arrive in the country and William is immediately shown as a bigoted American, considering himself far superior to the local Bulgarians. The couple hire taxi driver Yegor ( Vladimir Kolav ), an ex-KGB operative to take them to their hotel and he quickly proves his streetwise savvy when the trio are confronted by some local gangsters on a detour through gypsy town. Here they also encounter Tatoya ( Tamara Goreski ), a local gypsy woman obsessed with marriage and coincidentally Yegor’s ex-fiancee, who sees William and is immediately smitten by him. We also learn Jackie and William’s marriage is faltering, and Jackie and Yegor get together whilst William is away at his business meeting. Meanwhile, we are introduced to scientist Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Stacy Keach) and his trusty sidekick Pavel (Ted Raimi), who are in the process of developing a drug will allow different DNA strands to merge, revolutionising transplant surgery. They hear that William is in town and set about pitching the drug to him, only to fail miserably.
After William spurns her advances, the furious Tatoya murders him and Yegor, and the doctor sees his chance, stealing the two bodies and melding both brains into one body. Jackie realises that it is the gypsy who has murdered her husband and lover and turns up at her house seeking vengeance, only to be killed by Tatoya herself. The doctor, unable to save her body takes the next best action available to him and transplants her brain into a robot. So far, so convoluted, however, things get much simpler from here on in as William/Yegor and the Jackiebot, completely unaware of one another’s existence set about finding Tatoya and claiming their vengeance.
Essentially a B-movie retelling of Frankenstein, Campbell has been trying to get this movie made for decades and it finally gets to see light of day as a made-for-tv movie financed by The Scifi Channel. Due to the constraints put on it by the format, the film is largely devoid of gore and Campbell, having had plenty of experience working on low-budget films, has realised that to help sustain a film such as this the use of comedy is essential. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially one scene which is reminiscent of Evil Dead 2 where Campbell fights himself, as Yegor and William battle for control of his body. Ted Raimi (Sam’s baby brother) is hilarious as Pavel and displays a great knack for comic timing and Keach hams it up big style as the mad scientist. The main reason that the film works so well is that it is aware of its own limitations; Campbell realises that the plot is ridiculous and succeeds in making the film work because it never takes itself seriously. For example, the accents are deliberately bad, the make-up on Campbell shoddy and the movements of the robot emphasised to make it look totally unreal. All of this combines to make for a great little movie. One of the few grumbles I have is that the film is let down by its pacing. An overly long chase scene with William/Yegor relentlessly pursuing Tatoya near the end of the movie just can’t sustain the audience’s attention. Ultimately, it shows that Bubba Ho-Tep was no fluke; Campbell still has the eye for a quirky, utterly preposterous story that somehow turns out to be far more than the sum of its parts.