An aging Elvis Presley living in a Texas backwater nursing home teams up with a black man who thinks he’s John F. Kennedy to defeat a mummy that’s been feeding on the souls of the home’s residents.
However, scriptwriter and director Don Coscarelli, the man behind the Phantasm horror film series, has taken this rather bizarre story idea and turned it into a horror/comedy that manages to be a more enjoyable genre film that any of its bigger budgeted rivals from this past summer.
Elvis is not as dead as the rest of the world thinks, thanks to a “Prince and the Pauper”-style arrangement he made with an Elvis impersonator, Sebastian Heff. After Heff dies, Elvis (played here by cult movie star Bruce Campbell) decides to live out his life in the relative obscurity of Texas, eventually winding up at the Mud Creek Rest Home. Just as no one believes his assertions that he’s the king of rock and roll, he doesn’t believe his friend Jack’s (Ossie Davis) claim to being former President Kennedy hiding out from a vengeful Lyndon Johnson. “Being dead wouldn’t stop him none,” Jack says ruefully. When the two realize that the deaths of some of the residents at the home are the work of a soul stealing Egyptian mummy, they find themselves assuming the task of hunting down the undead killer.
For a genre film, Bubba Ho-Tep has some surprisingly gentle and touching moments, never mocking its elderly characters. The movie finds the humor in aging, laughing with the characters, never at them. Campbell’s Elvis ruminates on his lost youth, how he felt trapped by his fame and the regret that the only way he could get free cost him his family. It’s in these moments that Campbell delivers the best acting work of his career, bringing the script’s poignancy and melancholy to dignified life.
What’s surprising, and frustrating, is that no major distributor has picked up the film for distribution, leaving director Coscarelli to distribute the film himself. The film has already won two awards at the 2003 US Comedy Arts Festival (Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Campbell) and has been screened at numerous other festivals to much audience and critical acclaim. In its first few weeks of limited release the movie has been averaging a per screen box office gross that was more than two times that of the per screen gross of the number one film that week. Bubba Ho-Tep will eventually find its audience through its inevitable DVD release. It’s a shame though, that not more people will get to experience this in a theater as this is one movie that should be seen with a bunch of friends on a Saturday night.
Let’s hope that the filmmakers are able to make good on their promise at the end of the film that coming soon will be Bubba Nosferatu: Attack of the She-Vampires. If made as entertainingly as this one this could be one horror franchise I would look forward to for many years to come.