I saw Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep when it premiered in 2002 and found it enjoyable, but ultimately kind of a let down. This is because I went in with the wrong expectations. I assumed that because it was written and directed by the guy that did Phantasm and starred B-Movie king Bruce Campbell that it would be, essentially, a horror movie with some weird little quirks. Having watched it a second time I've come to understand that this is absolutely the wrong way to approach this movie.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a horror movie, but only in the most rudimentary of ways. Beyond the "scary" aspect, it is a smart, wildly creative, funny and clever look at growing old and what one's life ultimately means. The central plot revolves around a group of thieves who steal a priceless mummy from a museum in the hopes of ransoming it off for a huge payoff. The truck they are driving however, runs off the road and winds up at the bottom of a pond where the mummy is jolted out of it's sarcophagus after thousands of years living under a curse. The curse now broken, the mummy must feed on human souls to sustain itself and it moves to the easiest target it can find - an rest home for the elderly.
Bruce Campbell plays Elvis Presley who, back in the mid-70's, pulled a "Prince and the Pauper" deal with a convincing Elvis impersonator to escape from the fame and fortune that had left him feeling empty and completely out of control of his own life. Now a feeble and cantankerous old coot who relies on others to help him piss and shit, he "lives" in the old folks home where everyone assumes he is just another crazy old man who thinks he is someone else. This isn't helped by the fact that his best friend is a septuagenarian Black man who claims to be John F Kennedy (played so wonderfully straight by Ossie Smith). JFK, already paranoid because the CIA stole part of his brain and replaced it with a bag of sand (they also dyed him black) is the only person who seems to understand that the old people who are dropping like flies are not dying natural deaths. He's seen the mummy and knows what's going on and enlists The King to help put an end to it.
You're immediately led to believe that Campbell is actually Elvis and that Smith is, obviously, not JFK. But there's really no evidence to support this other than The King's own vivid (but possibly false) recollections of his own life. So when Elvis is lamenting being a bad father, being old and useless, and never living up to the heroic image his films portrayed, it's totally possible that he's simply a sad old man who's life was so uneventful and pointless that he has now resorted to living through an imaged life. Campbell is astounding in the role. He is both hilarious and touching while being utterly convincing. It makes me sad to see that this did not result in bigger and better roles for him.
This is a fantastic movie with great funny dialogue, wonderful characters and a real sense of humanity to it that left me with a warm feeling inside. I wouldn't be surprised if this movie goes on to be one of those revered cult classics that becomes regarded as an independent classic like This is Spinal Tap or even Napoleon Dynamite. How often can you say that about a movie where a living corpse that does battle with the King of Rock and Roll and Black JFK? See this film.
- Complaint Department