Bubba Ho-Tep (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If you're tired of conventional horror movies, try Bubba Ho-Tep, a cinematic oddity from director Don Coscarelli. Based on indisputable facts, the film finally reveals what really happened to Elvis and why so many people are reluctant to admit that he's dead. In fact, the man buried in the King's grave is a fake. At one point, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) got tired of being the King, so he decided to perpetrate the biggest hoax in rock 'n roll history by switching places with his best impersonator. When "Elvis" died, the real singer was trapped in a life of trailer parks and cheap concerts, until he broke his hip, fell into a coma, then ended up in an East Texas rest home. It's there that the 70-year old Elvis must face his greatest challenge. Alongside a black JFK (Ossie Davis), he must confront the ancient evil of the soul-sucking mummy Bubba Ho-Tep (Bob Ivy).

Okay, so maybe the movie takes a little artistic license with the facts. The screenplay, written by Coscarelli, is based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. One of the most cool and tantalizingly bizarre flicks of 2003, this movie isn't afraid to try anything. Elvis has appeared in many movies, but this is the first time he has been cast as an aging action hero who fights an undead monster while hampered by his need to use a walker. Amidst all of the outrageousness and downright silliness, viewers might be surprised to know that, although there's quite a bit of caricature associated with this version of Elvis, an effort has been made to develop him into a sympathetic and multi-dimensional individual. On more than one occasion, he expresses sincere regret about abandoning his daughter, and he wonders whether Priscilla would take him back if she found out he was still alive.

Bruce Campbell gives what is arguably the best Elvis impersonation ever to reach the screen. Forget Kurt Russell; Campbell is the King. In addition to bringing the exaggerated mannerisms, voice, and look to the role, he throws in a pinch of Ash (the hero from the Evil Dead movies). After all, it's time to get out there and kick some undead butt. Ossie Davis, normally as "straight" an actor as they come, seems to be having as much fun playing JFK as Donald Pleasance had with Sam Loomis in the Halloween series. Sometimes actors have to sit back and figuratively let their hair down.

As a satire and an off-the-wall comedy, Bubba Ho-Tep hits the bullseye. As a horror movie, it's less successful. Maybe we're too busy laughing to be scared, but the title character isn't that frightening and we instinctively recognize that he's no match for Campbell's Elvis. Nevertheless, as I enjoyed this low-budget tale of a dead Egyptian let loose on today's world, I couldn't help wonder how much better the recent big-budget Mummy movies could have been with Coscarelli at the helm. Without a doubt (and with virtually no budget), Bubba Ho-Tep blows them away. To the writer/director, I have only one thing to say: thank you very much.

Bubba Ho-Tep (United States, 2002)

Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Bob Ivy
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli, based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale
Cinematography: Adam Janiero
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Silver Sphere Corporation
Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2003-09-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1