Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) – Hail to the King, Baby…

Have you heard the one about Elvis & JFK fighting a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy in a retirement home? That’s what you get with Bubba Ho-Tep, an oddball curio with lashings of B-Movie appeal, thanks largely to the presence of cult icon Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Maniac Cop)

Adapted from Joe R Lansdale’s novella and directed by Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli, the film takes place in a sleepy, threadbare retirement home in Texas.  Elvis Presley, having switched places with an impersonator in the Seventies to escape the pressures of fame, is now a crabby, regretful old man with a suspicious growth on his pecker.  He lost his contract in a barbecue accident and now nobody believes he is the King.

Elvis is friends with an old black man called Jack (Ossie Davis), who claims he is JFK, dyed black and abandoned in the retirement home by Lyndon Johnson.

When the residents of Shady Rest start dying, no-one pays much attention.  After a skirmish with a huge scarab beetle (“The size of a banana and peanut butter sandwich, man.”) Elvis and JFK investigate.

They discover the retirement home is the hunting ground of an Egyptian mummy, stolen from a museum tour and lost in a nearby creek.  Slow and decrepit, the Mummy, dubbed “Bubba Ho-Tep” by Elvis, survives by sucking souls from humans.  The souls of the elderly residents aren’t very satisfying, but they are easy prey, and can be extracted from any orifice.

Anyone going into Bubba Ho-Tep expecting a manic monster mash like The Evil Dead trilogy may come away disappointed.  The pace of the movie is sedate, and like Campbell’s Elvis, starts off horizontal and picks up to barely walking speed, which is kind of the point. Brought low by age, Elvis needs a zimmer frame to get about, and JFK a wheelchair.  The Mummy is hardly much quicker, culminating in a series of slow motion chase sequences, as Bubba shuffles around after the geriatric duo and vice versa.

Much of the film’s humor is puerile and profane – dignity spent, Elvis and Jack’s main concerns other than getting their soul sucked out of their anus revolve around going to the toilet, getting a hard on and how crappy the food is.  Frustrated and raging in a crotchety, futile way against the dying of the light, Elvis discovers a new lease of life battling the mummy.

Campbell’s performance as Elvis is terrific, and it’s hard to imagine an A-List superstar who would fit the bill so perfectly. Campbell plays the Legend of Elvis, rather than going for an accurate portrayal of Elvis the Real Human Being, but finds surprising depth in what could easily have turned into a caricature.  And there is something infinitely endearing about how he approaches his quest – although he understands Bubba is an ancient Egyptian mummy, he talks to him as if addressing some redneck hassling him in a bar.

Veteran character actor Ossie Davis brings dignity and balance to the more ambiguous role of JFK.  In the modest universe of Bubba Ho-Tep, Elvis’ story is portrayed as real, but Jack’s story – shot in Dallas, part of his brain replaced with a bag of sand, then dyed black and dumped in an old people’s home – is more difficult to believe, although Elvis does discover a suspicious scar on the back of Jack’s head.

Although Davis was almost forty years older than Campbell, the two men share an effortless and believable rapport.  When Elvis and JFK finally roll out to confront the Mummy for the last time, it’s hard not to root for them.

The special effects are obviously, perhaps deliberately, rooted in B-Movie territory, particularly the giant scarab, which looks like something from the joke shop.  Bubba Ho-Tep himself is rather underused, although stuntman Bob Ivy deserves mention for his stiff, awkward movements as the Egyptian bad boy with a penchant for cowboy hats and boots, and scrawling obscene graffiti on toilet walls – “Cleopatra does nasty.” Jack translates from the mummy’s hieroglyphs on a cubicle wall.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a quaint curio of a film, with serious things to say about old age, which is neither funny enough to class as a comedy, nor scary enough as a horror.  It should satisfy Elvis fans who wish for a more dignified, heroic end for their idol, or conspiracy theorists who probably could not hope for a better finale for the fallen King.

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 28/08/2012, in B, Comedy, Entertainment, Film, Horror, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Such a crazy film. Bruce shows he could have done much more than B-movies, but clearly loves the work he’s done. Check out my review http://amandalovesmovies.com/2012/05/05/bubba-ho-tep/

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