There are some things in life about which you simply have no choice. Dates with supermodels. All-expenses paid trips around the world. And while I wouldn’t put advance movie screenings in God-Awful places like Houston on the list, there were a few extra incentives that made my trip a must-do.
The movie in question, Bubba Ho-Tep, is based on a story by Joe Lansdale,
a noted horror and crime writer. The plot centers on an old, enfeebled Elvis
Presley in a nursing home, dealing with a growth on penis, and his old codger
friends are being menaced by a life-sucking mummy that removes said souls by
sucking them from their rectum. Oh, and Bruce (Army of Darkness) Campbell
is playing Elvis. It’s directed by Don Coscarelli, the visionary behind
Phantasm and The Beastmaster. This movie, for some strange and
unfathomable reason, has no distributor yet, so going to Houston might be my
only chance to see it, especially if it didn’t get picked up. You can understand
how I simply had to go.
The good news was, I was getting to go the movie, period. The bad news was, I had to go to Houston. Thankfully, I had fellow Texas Revolutionaries Rick Klaw and Peggy Hailey (and Nancy, from their local Horror book group) to pass the time with. And oh god, what a conversation that was.
We weren’t even out of Austin before we were discussing the vibrator up
Ralphie’s ass in last week’s episode of The Sopranos. Unfortunately,
that orifice set the tone of the talk for the three-hour drive to Houston. We
tried, we really did, to be witty, insightful, and intellectually-stimulating.
But putting me and Klaw in a confined space for any length of time just leads
to trouble. It was like a refrain, every thirty minutes; something about a gorilla
. . . something going in or coming out of someone’s butt . . . here’s
a cool book. And Peggy, bless her heart, was doing nothing more than playing
goalie for me and Klaw. Whenever we strayed too far into unfamiliar territory,
she was right there with a quip or the word "monkey" to bring us back
to earth. I felt sorry for Nancy, who couldn’t possibly have known what
she was signing on for when she agreed to pile into Peggy’s minivan. To
her credit, though, she gave as good as she got, and was able to add her own
weirdness to the mix.
I loathe Houston with a hatred that is usually reserved for college football rivalries. It’s a big, smelly, put-on-airs kind of city. People in Houston don’t even like Houston. It’s difficult to navigate, crowded to the point of inducing claustrophobia, and overpriced. For a lot of Texans, the top three places they’d least like to visit, in order, goes like this:
Be that as it may, every time I go to Houston I seem to have a good time. There
are pockets of coolness in Houston, mostly in the form of places to go, restaurants
to visit, and scenes to check out. I think this is a concession on Houston’s
part; since they know that we HAVE to be in their city, they might as well put
a few interesting things for people to check out. While it doesn’t solve
Houston’s laundry list of problems, it’s fairly neighborly of them.
Once we managed to swim upstream in Houston traffic, we went straight to the theater, which was one of those old school refurnished jobbers with the art nouveau-looking paintings on the side walls and draperies and stuff. We got our reserved tickets (Klaw and Lansdale are buddies; how cool is that?) and stuck our heads inside to listen to Bruce Campbell harangue his fans. That guy is so cool. I don’t want to gush, but really, you all need to read his book, If Chins Could Kill. He’s funny, sharp as a tack, and has absolutely no illusions about himself or his career. When he started to sign autographs, we bolted out of there in search of food.
See, Klaw used to live in Houston, which, I think, accounts for a lot. When
this road trip was coming together a month ago, he promised us a great Vietnamese
restaurant and an excursion to the House of Pies, a twenty-four hour pie place.
Rick assured us at the theater that we were real close to the aforementioned
Vietnamese restaurant. "Well, pretty close," he amended.
Apparently that’s how all Houstonites think. In Austin, if you tell someone
from North Austin that they have to go to South Austin, you might as well have
said "Guam" from the put-out expression you get in return. We don’t
compute distances quite the same way. Silly me, though, when Klaw said pretty
close, I was thinking, hell, it’s five minutes from here. That’s the
Austin translation. The Houston translation was, "start chewing on your
hand, because we’ve got another hour before you’ll see forks and napkins."
And so we started driving . . . and driving . . . and driving . . . We passed by
something called the Hotel Derek, a high-tech galleria that looked like the
set for Demolition Man, and we cruised by approximately seven thousand other
restaurants before we got to the one that Klaw said was good, including one
diner where the sign outside assured passersby that "Kids Eat Feer Every
Wednesday." This broke up the minivan. Chalk it up to hunger.
Once we finally made it to the restaurant, everything settled down quite a
bit. And it was good food, to be sure, but I knew that we would not get out
of town before we stopped at The House of Pies. Before that, there was Bubba
What can I tell you about this movie that won’t sound like I’m horribly
biased, which I am? Okay, how about this: Campbell’s Elvis was one of the
most respectful portrayals of the king that I’ve ever seen, and yet it
was a completely Campbell character, too. I loved every frame of the film, so
help me god. It’s the Citizen Kane of Elvis vs. the Mummy films.
Truly. If you’re a Lansdale fan, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re
a Coscarelli fan, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a Bruce Campbell
fan, you won’t be disappointed. Hell, if you’re an Ossie Davis fan,
you won’t be disappointed. His JFK was better than Martin Sheen’s,
I swear to god.
By the time we had made it out of the theater, back to the House of Pies, scarfed
up quantities of its namesake and coffee, and got through with the Rick Klaw
Tour of My Formative Years, it was after midnight and we had a long drive to
go. The rest of the night was kind of blurry. I have only a vague impression
of making Peggy and Rick laugh so hard that we almost crashed the van. For the
life of me, I can’t remember what was said. All I can remember was the
sheer Elvisness of the evening. One SHOULD eat pie after watching any Elvis
movie. One SHOULD discuss Jeff VanderMeer in the same breath as crazed Beanie
Baby consumers. One SHOULD buy as much RC Cola on Texas road trips (or Dr. Pepper)
as one can stomach. And late at night, in the dark, one SHOULD recall of the
road trips taken with friends, past and present, and be thankful for the people
in your life who get you, warts and all, and still want you as a friend.
In our modern world, we make our own epics. People need stories, and they need to be in them. We bond through shared experiences, and the telling of tales from these bonding experiences become incidents in our personal mythology. My tapestry of experience is so crowded, I sometimes lose track of all of my adventures. To my friends, all of you, wherever you may be: thank you. Thank you very much.