Sadly, we all know the King is dead. But what if the King were still alive? What if Elvis Presley switched places midway through his career with the world’s greatest Elvis impersonator and continued on living off the grid? What if he set out to make a new life? What if that life sadly ended in a nursing home? Oh…and what if Elvis’s dick was rotting off and he and a black John F. Kennedy took on an ancient evil that devours souls and then ultimately defecates them out. The answers to these age old questions can only be found in Don Coscarelli’s low-budget 2003 cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep.
The nurses and orderlies just shrug it off as alzheimers or craziness but our bedpan saddling hero is truly Elvis Presley (played with charismatic greatness by Bruce Campbell). In the mid 1970s Elvis switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff (Bruce Campbell, again) and set off to begin a new life, only to find himself in the same old trailer park shenanigans and lifestyle of hard partying. When Sebastian Haff spent years succumbing to all things fried and peanut butter, and eventually kicked the bucket as the famous Elvis Presley, the real King took to the stage as an impersonator. Several decades and one hip thrust too many later Elvis has left the building…and entered The Shady Rest Retirement home.
The number of guests in the retirement home starts depleting and Elvis meets an elderly black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (played by the late, great Ossie Davis), apparently dyed black after the assassination and abandoned by Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy shows Elvis ancient hieroglyphics carved into a bathroom stall and together they discover an Egyptian curse unleashed upon the retirement home when a mummy was stolen from a museum in West Texas and the thieves crashed their getaway bus into a nearby river.
What ensues is a madhouse of horror and hilarity as two old, slow-moving icons go head to head with an equally old and slow-moving corpse. Played with an energetic, jazzy tone and true sense of self parody, Bubba Ho-Tep becomes a laugh riot. Campbell is the master of not “bad acting” but “acting bad”. Under gobs of aged makeup and a classic Elvis pompadour, Campbell gyrates and scenery chews his way into the hearts of fans. Campbell is given the greatest of one liners and a hilarious voice-over narration which includes such epic quips as “its been two presidential elections since I’ve had a boner like that” and “man, you are one big, bitch cockroach”.
The epic battle in the film’s climax involves all the wheelchair gags, slow moving chase scenes and using-a-walker-as-a-weapon fight scenes the plot would suggest. And the teaming of Campbell with the great Ossie Davis is a wonderful choice. One could even argue that Ossie Davis is serving in a master/apprentice capacity with Campbell in the world of great character actors. They are certainly two people who, just their inclusion in a film alone, automatically earns a movie bonus points and credibility. Also, this film to a degree had killed the movie The Bucket List for me. Despite them being completely different movies, every time I saw Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman together in that old folks home I immediately wished that somehow killing vampires would be on that list.