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MOVIE REVIEW: Bubba Ho-Tep directed by Don Coscarelli (2004)

REVIEW SUMMARY: How can you not watch Elvis and JFK fight a mummy?


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Elvis and JFK fight a soul-eating Egyptian mummy in a nursing home.

PROS: Campbell as Elvis; witty dialog; social commentary on the elderly gives the story some depth.
CONS: Stretches some limits of believability, but only if you look at this as a horror film.
BOTTOM LINE: A quiet, subtly insightful drama. With a mummy.

Back when I was a teenager, I subconsciously swore off horror movies. This was around the umpteenth version of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and other horror movies. Worse, some movies (My Boyfriend is a Psychotic Mutilator with a Hook for a Hand Who Lives in a Secluded Forest Preying on Horny Teenagers, or some such) seemed to be more about the gore than the scare. At any rate, I generally lost interest in horror movies or, more accurately, a horror movie had to offer something extra to pique my interest. (Like Shaun of the Dead.)

So I missed Bubba Ho-Tep···· when it was released in 2002. No mere horror movie was enough to drag me to a movie theater. But the idea of a Bruce Campbell as Elvis fighting a mummy did sound interesting and I thought I’d just check it out on DVD. Years went by and I still hadn’t seen it. Recently, a cable movie channel aired a late-night showing of it and I figured I’d at least record it and watch it later. Finally I’d be able to put this puppy to bed.

Bubba Ho-Tep is based on a short story native Texan Joe R. Lansdale. The setting for this low-key film is a nursing home in east Texas where the real Elvis now resides. Yep, Elvis. It turns out that Elvis, tired of his fame and seeking some peace, had switched places with an Elvis impersonator shortly before the impersonator dies of the famed overdose. Now the real Elvis lives in the nursing home after suffering a hip injury from an unplanned stage-dive. Nobody believes he is the real Elvis, thinking they are hearing the delusions of an aged Elvis impersonator. Nobody except another resident named Jack (black actor Ossie Davis). Jack thinks he’s JFK, who was sequestered away after his assassination “attempt” after having his skin dyed. Even “Elvis” rolls his eyes at that one. Life is quiet at the nursing home until an en-route museum exhibit falls into the lake near the nursing home. The exhibit happens to be an Egyptian mummy, now resurrected, who feeds on the souls of the people at the nursing home. That is, at least until Elvis and JFK decide to team up and kick some Egyptian mummy a$$.

Despite this far-out horror-like premise, Bubba Ho-Tep is not really a horror movie. Nor is it a comedy despite some humorous moments. If either of those is what you’re looking for, reset your expectations and watch this movie. It’s a well-acted, well-scripted drama that just happens to have Elvis, JFK and a mummy. The film subtly shows the plight of the aged – forgotten or ignored by the young and nothing to look forward to except their turn with the Grim Reaper. This is not the kind of thoughtful commentary you’d get from some cheap horror flick, is it?

The one thing I wondered going in was how Bruce Campbell was going to do as Elvis. Campbell makes an excellent Elvis, thank you. He wonderfully captures the voice, the looks (minus a few too-obvious make-up jobs) and the stage mannerisms of Elvis. Some final scenes that show Campbell using his Elvis arm-windmill move as some sort of Karate maneuver were funny. Note that it really doesn’t matter if the character is really Elvis or deluded impersonator Sebastian Haff; that’s not the point. The point is that the character is an elderly man with not much left to live for who finds reason to do so by becoming the self-appointed hero of his fellow residents. Ossie Davis also does a good turn as the wheelchair-bound JFK character. Both characters are endearing in their own way; Elvis in his curmudgeon-iness and JFK for his level-headed examination of Egyptian lore and spunk. They are characters you root for. Given their physical limitations, though, just don’t expect a superhuman mummy as the bad guy. Besides, do you know how embarrassing it would be to break a hip when you’re fighting a mummy?

See also: Kevin’s review.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on MOVIE REVIEW: Bubba Ho-Tep directed by Don Coscarelli (2004)

  1. I thought the explanation for the JFK character was a brain transplant, rather than a skin dye job, but its been a year or so since I’ve seen the movie.

  2. Hmmm…now yo got me wondering since it’s been almost a week since I saw it. [Looks it up.] Yep, sure enough…If it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true, right? 😉

  3. I love Bubba Ho-tep. When I heard Bruce Campbell was going to play Elvis, it became a must see for me. I wasn’t disappointed.

    But it is a horror movie. Just because it has more substance than your average horror movie doesn’t make it a drama. It just makes it a good horror movie.

  4. My wife and I borrowed this from a friend a few months back and absolutely loved it. I wasn’t surprised by how funny it was, as I always appreciate Bruce Campbell’s humor. What surprised me was how touching it was in spots. Yes, it is unbelievable at times, but that just adds to its fun and charm.

  5. If you haven’t seen it yet I highly recommend “Shaun of the Dead”.

    This 2004 release is a British satire of zombie movies. It’s hilarious but also quite scary

  6. There’s no better style of movie than a horror movie that is humorous and/or funny. As AMC would cry: “One of the ‘New Classics'”

  7. I hear you Carl. I find myself telling people the plot of the movie and then adding, “but, honestly, it’s quite touching.” No one believes me.

  8. I actually own this DVD, mostly at the insistence of my girlfriend (now wife). I had never heard of the movie unitl I saw it on her Amazon wishlist.

    With aspects of horror camp and comedy camp the movie is hard to describe, but I agree that Cambell is entertaining and the movie had an internal consistency that made it worth watching and enjoyable. You can decide for yourself whether this type of movie is the correct venue to present the plight of forgotten senior citizens in retirement homes, but it did generate empathy for the Elvis character. I was definitely rooting for him in the end. It’s Bruce Campbell, he doesn’t make you work too hard for your entertainment, expectations are set low and are met, and everybody has some fun. There is many a movie that cannot say the same.

    Was it actually in movie theaters when it first came out? I don’t believe it.

  9. It played in art houses and smaller independent theatres but never did recieve large distribution. Personally, I liked this movie alot and not just because it had Bruce Campbell in it. Furthermore, I suggest that folks go and check out some of Mr. Lansdale’s other books. I have read Flaming London and Zepplin’s West and both are quite entertaining (although I liked Flaming London more). Mr. Lansdale is definitely a Texan and I mean that as a compliment in this particular case 🙂

  10. I wasn’t surprised by how funny it was, as I always appreciate Bruce Campbell’s humor. What surprised me was how touching it was in spots.

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