Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Don Coscarelli

Bruce Campbell - Elvis Presley/Sebastian Haff
Ossie Davis - Jack Kennedy
Ella Joyce - The Nurse
Reggie Bannister - Rest Home Boss
Heidi Marnhout - Callie Thomas
Bob Ivy - Bubba Ho-Tep

Year - 2002

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

Have you ever seen or read those trashy tabloid magazines where people claim to have seen Elvis Presley at a fast-food restaurant? Or at the supermarket? Or at the Motel 6 with Liza Minelli and a goat? Okay so maybe people haven't seen Elvis at the supermarket, but what if these accounts recorded were true? What if Elvis Presley was still alive, living at a retirement home? And he was befriended by a newly darker and alive John F. Kennedy as they need to come together to fight off an ancient Egyptian mummy? Wouldn't that be something? Sure, it could never REALLY happen. But watching BUBBA HO-TEP for 90 minutes, it almost could.

PLOTIn a Texas retirement home, Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) is alive and well. You see, it was actually an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff who embarrassingly died on the toilet back in 1977 that Elvis had switched places with to get away from the fame for a while. So Elvis is stuck living as Sebastian [a contract between the two had burned in a barbecue accident to prove the switch], getting sores where a man should never get sores while watching the world go by without him. After several residents at the home start dying, Elvis befriends a Jack (Ossie Davis), a black resident who claims to be John F. Kennedy. As they come to an understanding about their identities, the two decide to investigate the recent deaths. It seems the retirement home is under attack by an ancient Egyptian mummy Elvis names "Bubba Ho-Tep" (Bob Ivy), who's sucking the souls of the elderly. Not wanting to be next on the mummy's list, Elvis and JFK decide to destroy Bubba Ho-Tep once and for all.

Based on a short story written by Joe R. Lansdale, BUBBA HO-TEP sounds like it could be a campy classic. Elvis and JFK fighting a mummy? It could have been similar to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. But instead of going the easy and safe route, we get a film that's the total opposite. Sure, the film is a bit humorous and doesn't really take itself all that seriously. But it's centered on as much reality as possible, illustrating the story of a man who's life has passed him by.

The idea that Elvis Presley may still be alive, living in a retirement home, is a premise that could have really been played for laughs. But it's not. Instead, we get almost a character study of an aging music legend while a supernatural event is going on simultaneously. I'm not sure if I was the only one who got this take on the film, but I felt it was a commentary on the elderly and how they're forgotten by the young. Like Callie (Heidi Marnhout) who only came to the home to pack up her father's things after he passed away, never seeing him once while he was still alive. And you had everyone but the old people not believing that Elvis was really Elvis. When he spoke of the story about the switch, it was like an old wives' tale that would get a kick out of the listener but wouldn't necessarily make him or her believe him. Speaking of Elvis, his impotence and lack of wanting to do any activity in the beginning showed his emotional state - his feeling of uselessness and his feelings of missing Priscilla and Lisa Marie and watching his legend slip away from his fingers. But once he finally gets an erection, his feelings of youth start roaring back. Also, I feel as if Bubba Ho-Tep is an external extension of Elvis' internal state. An ancient, decrepit mummy is what Elvis does NOT want to be. It's kind of like an episode of TV's BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER where the monster was a reflection of what Buffy and/or The Scooby Gang was going through. The only way for Elvis [and JFK to an extent] to become the men they used to be is by battling their demons, a.k.a. Bubba Ho-Tep. And while the film does start slow to make this point clear, the point is made clear and really picks up once we have a side A and a side B. Just a really good story and script that gets its message across eventually.

Don Coscarelli, who directed the 80s classic THE BEASTMASTER and a little known horror franchise called PHANTASM, does a really great job behind the camera. Not surprising since Coscarelli is at his element here, with a bunch of weird, supernatural happenings taking place. He uses a lot of fast motion to showcase the way Elvis sees the world [it moving too quickly for him to catch up], slow-motion when necessary, and very creative THE EVIL DEAD-looking POV and steady cam shots that really give the film a kick. Plus every time Bubba Ho-Tep would show up, we got a dark atmosphere and creepy shots of the mummy itself. My only problem was that the pacing was a bit off in a few spots - the editing could have been a bit tighter I felt. And I wish the horror quotient was a bit higher. It was almost there. Just didn't really feel like a horror film to me, but it's still a great film. Plus the cinematography by Adam Janeiro was absolutely beautiful as well. Just a really well-shot film from beginning to end. Not surprising from Don Coscarelli.

The acting was also really great in the film. Bruce Campbell owned the role as Elvis Presley. He could have made a caricature of the King of Rock 'N' Roll, but he didn't, giving us an honest to God subtle performance. I honestly believed he was an older version of Elvis as the film went on. Campbell's funny, touching, and quite eccentric in his role. I've been a fan of this guy for years [loved him in the EVIL DEAD films, loved him on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, love him in those Old Spice commercials, and love him on my favorite summer show BURN NOTICE]. Quite honestly, this is his best film role ever. How the Academy didn't even acknowledge or consider Campbell for a nomination in 2002/2003 is beyond me. The guy is gold.

The late Ossie Davis was also great as John F. Kennedy. He was also pretty funny as the supposed JFK, although I doubt we were really led to believe that he was indeed the assassinated president. I did find it humorous how Davis recited his account from turning white to black due to the government wanting to hide him. He could have been the cartoonish sidekick, but he was real and down-to-earth in his wheelchair. Campbell and Davis had great chemistry with each other and it really helped the film. Nice to see actors bringing a bit of comedy to their roles without having to resort to cheap gags and gross-out humor. Such subtlety is refreshing.

The other actors did their thing too. Reggie Bannister [a Coscarelli regular from the PHANTASM films] has a limited role in the film as the boss of the retirement home. He does his thing and does it well. Ella Joyce from ROC was sassy and funny as the head nurse. Heidi Marnhout as Callie didn't do much but bend over and show us her underwear, which is always admirable. Loved the acting, girl. And Bob Ivy was cool as the mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep. He wasn't scary or anything but he wasn't a pushover either. Liked the performance a lot.

BUBBA HO-TEP is a great film that has some great performances, especially by Bruce Campbell. After so many remakes, sequels, and shameless copycats of better films - it's nice to see an original film for once. If you're an Elvis fan who loves supernatural stuff in your Jailhouse Rock, BUBBA HO-TEP makes a fine choice for your viewing pleasure. Elvis Presley would have been very proud from his head to his Blue Suede Shoes.

The Wolf has left the building!

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