Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) *** 1/2
Directed , written, co-produced by Don Coscarelli . From a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Cinematography, Adam Janeiro. Editing, Scott J. Gill, Donald Milne. Production design, Daniel Vecchione. Art Direction , Justin Zaharczuk. Music, Brian Tyler. Cast: Bruce Campbell (Elvis), Ossie Davis (Jack Kennedy), Reggie Bannister (rest home administrator), Bob Ivy (Bubba Ho-tep), Ella Joyce (Nurse), et al. A Silver Sphere production released by Silver Sphere & Vitagraph. 92 minutes. Rated R (amusingly frank language)
Three and a half stars? Certainly. Note however that this appies would primarily to those many fans -mostly younger, I suppose-for whom BUBBA has already become a cult film and a camp classic. It came out in 2002 but was shown only in festivals --a slew of them -where it was a hit. Then, in late September 2003 the (limited) theatrical release took place. It has already found an enthusiastic audience. But since it is distributed without the help of the all-powerful Hollywood Establishment, a truly wide public may not materialize. Still, you never know. Word of mouth can at times spread movies to the masses.
Writer-director Don Coscarelli , a maverick with a following, is best-known for his four "Phantasm" movies (between 1979 and 1998) with a fifth "Phantasm" currently in production. His "Bubba Ho-Tep," a B-movie (relatively low budget) mixes present red-necking history and magical Pharaonic past.
What it says and shows is that Elvis Presley did not die in 1977 but, tired of celebrity and such, switched personalities with one of his impersonators. So the real Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is indeed aliveŠand most un-well in a shabby East Texas nursing home, where the staff insist that he is an impersonator.
Also living in that home is John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) who speaks of the conspiracies against him, by Nixon, Johnson, Castro and others.
Yes, Ossie looks like an African-American, but, as he says, this only proves how far a protective C.I.A. went -- by "dying him black all over."
Bubba, the title character, is an Egyptian mummy who can "live" only by feeding on the souls of the home's decrepit dwellers. Elvis and JFC plan to destroy "it" before it gets to them.
But that's just one aspect of the picture. Outrageously deft touches are applied to the supporting cast. Much welcome time is spent on the two oldsters thoughts, reminiscences, declarations - and especially Elvis's behavior and reactions. The performances are wildly funny, farcical, scatological, vulgar, as well as pathetic. The mix is, to say the least, unusual; to say the most, peculiarly touching
You would expect -especially if you've seen movies by Coscarelli - violence and goriness, but this happens only when the two old fellows, one always in a motorized wheelchair, the other always using a walker, set out to destroy the destroyer Mummy. And even then, humor has the upper hand.
Bruce Campbell and second banana Ossie Davis are splendid in super-peculiar, straight-faced performances as the scenes move back and forth, including flashbacks to Elvis's life after he became an impersonator of his own self (are you following this?) They include the accident that broke his hip -he fell off the stage -- and sent him to the rest home. The "now" sequences add to his misfortunes a suspicious growth on an unmentionable part of his anatomy, scarab-like insects that grow enormously in size, most entertaining sexual bantering by Elvis --whose potential partner could be a nurse, intelligently and appealingly played by Ella Jones.
Whether you like horror films or avoid them, note that humor and comedy "de-horrify" this work in a curious, magical, original and effective way. Elvis may be seriously ailing but surrealism as well as the "Theater of the Absurd" are alive and well in the picture.
The puzzling title is a joke based on "Imhotep." This is the name of one of (very) Ancient Egypt's "hall-of-fame" people. He lived 2635 to 2595 B.C, during the Third Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. A sage, physician, priest and more, his main claim to fame nowadays is as a great architect by whom one building (the Step Pyramid at what is now Saggara) is the sole identifiable one. The gag combines fancifully and comically the contemporary American appellation "Bubba" (redneck, etc.) and part of the antique Egyptian name. I would not try to find a special or profound meaning in it!