Bubba Ho-Tep

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 09/26/03 12:50:21

"The Pharaoh vs. The King – and the winner gets a lifetime supply of depends"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I walked out of the screening of BUBBA HO-TEP with mixed emotions. But despite a mild twang of disappointment that the film did not quite live up to its hype, overall I was gratified by having seen a well-made film based on a story by one of my favorite authors (Joe R. Lansdale) and starring one of my B-movie heroes, Bruce Campbell, in the best performance of his career to date. If you go to see Bubba Ho-Tep expecting a genuine horror tale – don’t. But if you want a fun and consistently engaging B-movie with some A-list acting from Campbell in the role of an aged Elvis, then BUBBA HO-TEP should be on your must-see list.

Based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, a celebrated Texan mystery/horror writer and self-proclaimed master of “Mojo” storytelling (before the Austin Powers variety of the term came along), Bubba Ho-Tep tells the unlikely tale of a small town Texas nursing home plagued by an unholy soul-sucking mummy. The home’s last (and only) line of defense from this menace just happens to be a decrepit and bitter Elvis Presley in a walker (Campbell) and his sidekick, an elderly Black gentleman who claims to be the one and only J.F.K. (Ossie Davis), and who has been tucked away in the home by the government after being died black and given a new identity. When the aforementioned mummy shows up and begins to feast on the denizens of the Mud Creek Nursing Home, these two old nutjobs unite to send the undead redneck packing. Lucky for them, the mummy is also a decrepit old fart (a couple of thousand years old, give or take), and the minimal sustenance he receives from sucking the weak souls of the old even the odds in our heroes’ favor.

While I never really bought Davis as JFK (besides the obvious reason), he’s still a kick in the role - and I never expected to see such a venerated actor appearing in a film by the same guy who made the Phantasm movies (Director Don Coscarelli). But what really gives Bubba Ho-Tep the lion’s share of its humor and heart is a damn good performance from the criminally underrated Bruce Campbell. Even non - Evil Dead fanboys have to respect Campbell as an actor, after the surprising depth and range he brings to the role of the discarded King of Rock and Roll. He’s so good here that not only do you believe that his character really is Elvis, but you often forget that you’re watching Bruce Campbell, the guy best known for a chainsaw hand and his heroic square-jawed good looks. I don’t want to bandy about the overused phrase of “Oscar Worthy” – but God Damn, if this role can’t bring him some long-overdue respect from that cesspool of an industry known as Hollywood, than nothing can.

While fans of both Campbell and Coscarelli will be gratified by the subtle but knowing nods to both the Phantasm and Evil Dead series, an insider’s knowledge is not required to enjoy Bubba Ho-Tep. It does tend to drag in a few places, and the plot barely seems able to stretch thin enough to fill the movie’s 90 minute running time. However, the charm of the two leads, as well as an honorable mention for Ella Joyce in the role of Elvis’s nurse, keep the wind in the sails when the plot threatens to falter. Campbell and Davis have such good buddy chemistry, however, that they would practically be a shoe-in to play Joe R. Lansdale’s two most memorable and prolific characters – Leonard Pine and Hap Collins. If you’ve never read a Joe R. Lansdale novel, I suggest you start with a Hap and Leonard mystery. If you’re not hooked after that, send me an email and I’ll reimburse you for the book myself - after I smack you upside the head with it.

Although only in a very limited release at this time, it’s well worth doing the Ho-tep two-step to your nearest art house if you are fortunate enough to have this film come to your town. Otherwise, pray for a strong DVD release soon. And remember this – “Never, but NEVER, fuck with The King . . . Baby!”

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