There’s a lot of ugliness in Monster, and despite the publicity about extra pounds and prosthetics, it’s not all courtesy of Charlize Theron. Theron is indeed unrecognizable in her lead role as Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute-turned-serial-killer who was convicted of the late-’80s murders of six johns and executed in a Florida prison in 2002. But this unsettling biopic, the debut of writer-director Patty Jenkins, manages to transcend the usually distracting beauty-goes-beast trick and keep the focus on a life gone south.

Jenkins swaddles Wuornos’ crimes in a love story that’s as cringe-inducing as it is tender. Monster begins on the night Aileen, soaked from the rain and looking half past dead, ambles into a Daytona Beach gay bar under the ruse that her truck broke down. She catches the eye of a desperately lonely young woman named Selby (Christina Ricci). Selby is an Ohio transplant, sent to Florida by her father in the hope that her hyper-religious aunt and uncle will “cure” her of lesbianism. Many pitchers and shots later, Selby invites the obviously homeless Aileen to platonically spend the night with her, and their wrecked trains are irrevocably hitched.

From Aileen’s opening voice-over about how she “always wanted to be in the movies” and was a “real romantic” to her passionate insistence that she can take care of Selby, Jenkins attempts to humanize the murderer without making excuses: Aileen’s abusive upbringing doesn’t get revealed until film’s end, and for every violent episode that seems justified (Aileen’s first victim brutally raped her), there are others that are clearly the reaction of someone who’s at least paranoid, perhaps psychotic. Aileen, though often well-intentioned in her desire to straighten up and settle down, is shown to occasionally lose touch with reality, promising to buy Selby beach houses with $40 she earned with a couple of blowjobs, musing that her next job might be as a veterinarian. Though Aileen’s guilt is a foregone conclusion, audience sympathy vacillates with every scene. The murders, in Aileen’s mind, are purely a matter of circumstance: After she unsuccessfully tries to begin a new career, she reasons that killing men for their money and cars is the only way she and Selby can survive. A fender bender with a victim’s car and Selby’s disillusionment with the relationship lead to Aileen’s eventual capture.

Ricci and Theron both succeed in making their characters mesmerizingly repugnant. Ricci’s bug-eyed neediness—a carryover from her role in Woody Allen’s Anything Else—as the pitiable, mulleted Selby suggests none of her trademark brattiness. And Theron’s physicality is a marvel: She throws her extra 30 pounds into a perfect redneck swagger, carrying herself with a head-cocking stiffness that discloses both arrogance and insecurity. Her freckled, jowly, nearly eyebrowless face does take a few minutes to get used to, and at times her tweakiness—Theron’s head is always moving—seems a touch overboard. But Theron generally tempers the bodily bravado, leaving only deep loathsomeness.

Even Monster’s minor characters are unlikable, from Selby’s harping, narrow-minded aunt (a highly effective Annie Corley) to Aileen’s women-hating johns. The only laugh in the movie is unintentional—Aileen and Selby’s first kiss, in a roller-skating rink, is choreographed to the increasing tempo of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Unjustified belief, both Selby’s in Aileen and Aileen’s in herself, is in fact the only hint of light in this dour affair, but it’s just enough to cast upon Monster a captivating shadow of doubt.

The monster in horror-comedy Bubba Ho-tep is a quite different brand of ugly—one that’s fun to believe in. The movie, by Phantasm writer-director Don Coscarelli, is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream: It posits that Elvis is indeed alive, that JFK survived Dallas and has been “dyed” black to hide his identity, and that a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy has been paying visits to the crusty, crazy old folks in this delirious duo’s convalescent home.

Appropriately, Bubba Ho-tep stars Bruce Campbell, king of the Evil Dead franchise, as the king of rock ‘n’ roll. And like the Evil Dead movies, Bubba revels in its schlock. The story is told from the perspective of Elvis, a self-confessed “old guy in a rest home in East Texas with a growth on his pecker.” He’s also known as Sebastian Haff, the Elvis impersonator with whom the real Elvis switched identities when he got tired of all the fame. Though the Elvi had a contract to enable the King to switch back whenever he chose, the document was lost in a “barbecuing accident,” and the impersonator died before Elvis could reclaim his real life.

As Elvis ponders his pecker and whether ‘Cilla and Lisa Marie would visit if they knew he was alive, the home’s residents are being knocked off, seemingly by “one big-bitch cockroach.” It’s actually a big-bitch scarab beetle, an incarnation of that soul-sucking Egyptian mummy. This revelation is pieced together by Jack Kennedy (Ossie Davis), Elvis’ partner in paranoia.

Traveling from sad to scary to goofy, Bubba’s tone is all over the map. In the end, the humor wins out, and the batty old men are the most entertaining crime-fighters since Riggs and Murtaugh. The dialogue, courtesy of Coscarelli and Joe R. Lansdale (on whose short story Bubba is based), is often hilarious, peppered with character-appropriate references; Elvis describes the bugs being “the size of a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich” and calls Jack into action with “Ask not what your rest home can do for you…”

Campbell makes an excellent Elvis, mimicking his deep drawl so well that even the trademark “Thank you, thank you very much” sounds like a natural response instead of a tired joke. And Davis, who tries not at all to conjure JFK, is equal parts earnest and nutty, as demonstrated when he reacts to Elvis’ scoff at his offer of a Ding Dong: “I don’t mean mine—I mean a chocolate Ding Dong! Of course, mine would be chocolate, now that I have been dyed.”

The pair’s friendship is as touching as it is funny, though, adding a surprising depth to the campy story, a subtext about society’s treatment of the senior generation and life’s missed opportunities. These two characters, glorified in history, have been beaten with a reality stick here, reduced to bedpans and walkers and battling their evil nemesis with zero grace or skill. Bubba Ho-tep may not be a cinematic feast, but lovers of cheese—if not Ding Dongs—ought to be satisfied. CP