Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexual Content and brief Violent Images
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
(based on the novella BUBBA HO-TEP by Joe R. Lansdale)
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout & Bob Ivy
BUBBA HO-TEP is a movie can be sold to many people in a three word pitch: Elvis versus Mummy. There’s actually more to this horror-comedy than those three words, but this well-deserved cult classic is one more original movies of the new millennium. Directed by Don Coscarelli (the man behind the PHANTASM series and JOHN DIES AT THE END), BUBBA HO-TEP stars Bruce Campbell as an aged Elvis who teams up an elderly black JFK to take down a soul-sucking mummy. I really don’t think I need to say much more than that, but this would be an awfully short review if I didn’t expand on my thoughts. So I’ll do the best that I can…
The plot begins with Elvis Presley (yes, that Elvis) in a retirement home. You might be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute. Didn’t Elvis die?” Well, no, he didn’t. In fact, Elvis was tired of fame and fortune. In a bid for a simpler life, the King switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff. Sebastian died on a toilet and the real Elvis’s contract was burned up in freak trailer fire (thus erasing the only evidence that could prove this Elvis was the real deal). Languishing his last days away in an East Texas retirement home, Elvis discovers that a soul-sucking mummy has somehow made its way onto the premises and is feeding on the elderly residents. Teaming up with a man who believes himself to be JFK (despite being black and very much alive), Elvis must take down this Bubba Ho-Tep (as he so aptly calls it) before the retirement home becomes an all-you-can-eat soul buffet for the mummy.
For a movie that brims with campy potential, B-movie veteran Bruce Campbell turns his role of the aged Elvis into his most dramatic undertaking. Though Campbell’s Elvis is a sarcastic asshole who constantly degrades himself and vividly jokes about his penis, he does all of this with a straight-face. Not everyone could fight a giant rubber cockroach with a bedpan and keep treating the material as seriously as possible, but Campbell pulls it off. That’s part of the reason this movie is so successful in its comedy. Though he takes a backseat to Campbell’s king of rock and roll, Ossie Davis stands out as JFK (mainly referred to as Jack). Davis plays the role as a sweet old man who’s either totally delusional or the victim of one of the most convoluted conspiracies in American history. Aside from old Elvis and black JFK acting off of each other, the only other side character of note comes in the form of Ella Joyce as a nurse. It helps that Campbell, Davis, and Joyce are all handed a script full of clever dialogue, but they really make these performances their own.
BUBBA’s sense of humor never fully resorts to cheap jokes. Yes, there is a crude running gag about Elvis’s penis, but that’s about as gross and easy as it gets. The rest of the movie gains laughs from treating its absurd premise with the utmost straight-faced approach. These include having a mummy dressed in cowboy clothes for no apparent reason as well as Elvis investigating hieroglyphics on a restroom stall and using karate skills to take down a killer scarab. Sure, all of this sounds cheesy and crazy as hell, but the movie never exploits it in a way that’s too over-the-top or winking directly at the audience. In an era where many horror-comedies seem to constantly be nudging the viewer with a “look what I’m doing” attitude, Don Coscarelli treats his material with a loving hand and competent filmmaking style.
BUBBA HO-TEP is a crazy-as-hell horror-comedy that never becomes too campy for its own good. The premise is Elvis vs. Mummy, but the execution milks every possible laugh it can by treating the plot with a straight-face. Bruce Campbell is clearly having a blast as Elvis and delivers his second-best performance next to Ash in the EVIL DEAD series. This is a mummy movie that features Elvis and a black JFK. What more could you possibly want in a horror-comedy?