You know the legends… Now learn the truth.
Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) is alive, but far past his glory days, to put it mildly. He has become a bedridden old geezer, who rots away in a small nursery home somewhere in Texas, filled with bitterness, grief, lost identity, and can’t say one sentence without spewing sarcasm. To make it worse he has a cancerous growth on his willie. And how much worse can it get from here? No one thinks he’s the real Elvis. Because, hear this: Once upon a time Elvis had to retire from showbiz and pass the mic to the Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell again) when his hip went bye-bye. When Sebastian Haff died of an overdose, Elvis never got the chance to reclaim his identity. So here we are. Life is unfair.
The one and only who believes he’s The Elvis is none other than a senile, weird old man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis). And he’s.. well, uhm… black. Ok. And guess what; an ancient Egyptian Soul-sucking Mummy starts to terrorize the oldies at night who ends up dead at a high rate at the nursing home. JFK is strongly convinced that a mummy called Bubba Ho-Tep is behind all of this. Of course it is. And since Elvis hasn’t got much better to do than shuffle around with a walking chair, he teams up with JFK and puts on his iconic stage-outfit one last time to kick some mummy ass.
Bubba Ho-Tep is written, produced and directed by Don Coscarelli, based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale which mixes drama, thriller, horror comedy, fantasy and an overdose absurdism. The premise itself is so bizarre, and far-stretched to oblivion that it’s hard to actually see any directors at all able to translate this to a coherent feature that walks a fine line between the absurdness and seriousness in a sober way. But Don Coscarelli certainly did it, and also wrote the script and produced Bubba Ho-Tep as a passion project which quickly became a modern cult-classic. The result, with a budget of one million dollars, is pretty solid, to say the least, with Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis as the most unlikely duo ever put on film, in its bizarre plot that doesn’t look like anything else. But for those who expects blood n’ gore, you will be disappointed as Bubba Ho-Tep relies far more on atmosphere (an eerie one I would say) surreal character study, and dialogue-driven scenes with some really rough language your mom probably wouldn’t appreciate.
A horror comedy where Bruce Campbell portrays an old Elvis is enough of itself to get anyone’s attention. But we shouldn’t underestimate Ossie Davis (1917-2015), who was an unknown name for my part. A serious actor who’s inducted to the American Theatre Hall of Fame is one of the last actors you’d expect to see in a film like this. Even his manager at the time meant he was too good for a film like this, and recommended him to skip the role, but the power of a good script convinced him otherwise. We could easily get an over-the-top goofy JFK, but Ossie plays him in a very serious and calm down-to-earth demeanor, how hard, unlikely and utterly bizarre that sounds like. The chemistry between Bruce and Ozzie really shines and they seemed to have a blast on set. Bruce Campbell does one of his greatest performance ever. He completely disappears into the role of Elvis and clearly shows that he’s a lot more than a certain Ash with a chainsaw. I also have to mention the soundtrack by Brian Tyler which is just plain and simply beautiful.
Director: Don Coscarelli
Country & year: USA, 2002
Actors: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Edith Jefferson, Larry Pennell, Reggie Bannister, Daniel Roebuck, Daniel Schweiger, Harrison Young, Linda Flammer, Cean Okada