Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley
Ossie Davis as John F. Kennedy
Ella Joyce as The Nurse
Heidi Marnhout as Callie
It’s a true shame that Don Coscarelli isn’t a bit more prolific. The man has an uncanny ability to form mass conglomerations of ideas, toss them in a mental blender and produce a puree of outlandish genius. By all accounts, a sizeable chunk of Don’s ideas should fail miserably on screen, but an apparent quest for perfection empowers this man and his insistence on making absurdity simultaneously frightening and humorous has yielded some unparalleled horror works.
If viewers were shocked by the incongruity of Coscarelli’s now cult classic franchise,Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep should see countless question marks manifest themselves above the heads of perplexed viewers. From the core concept to the quirky execution, this film defies all logic, betrays the senses, and even stirs the pot of inner conspiracy theorist that lives somewhere deep down inside all of us. But, despite the unique sensatory assault launched by this tricky tale, it’s ridiculously difficult to avoid falling in complete love with the film.
Another genre favorite, Bruce Campbell tops the cast here, and the character he portrays is nothing short of staggering: the one and only Elvis Presley. Now a decrepit senior citizen, Presley spends his time in the Shady Rest Retirement Home, where he’s taken on the identity of Sebastian Haff; sick and tired of the drama that travels hand in hand with fame. Also taking up shelter in the nursing home is John F. Kennedy, who, contrary to popular belief was not assassinated. He was actually dyed black and ditched by Lyndon Johnson at Shady Rest. Yes, I know how outlandish this sounds, but believe me, I’m just getting started.
Elderly folks at Shady Rest are dropping like flies, and it’s more than a simple coincidence. An ancient mummy by the name of Bubba Ho-Tep plods through the halls of the nursing home after sun set, preying on the elderly, stealing their souls, utilizing one of the… strangest methods imaginable: Bubba sucks souls from the anuses of his victims; again, I’m under the impression that “Bubba’s” method of murder isn’t a simple coincidence, and I’m hopeful that viewers catch the innuendo, as it only makes for comedy gold. As the population dwindles, JFK and Elvis Presley begin to unravel the mystery, and opt to tackle death before death steals what’s left of their life and their dignity.
Coscarelli crafts the Bubba Ho-Tep screenplay from a short story penned by the talented Joe R. Lansdale (‘Incident on and Off a Mountain Road‘), and boy does he really bring the dialogue to animated life. The film is cluttered with numerous references to the growth on Elvis’ “pecker”, and while these mini monologues are certain to summon a chorus of laughter, there’s also a very somber and melancholy outlook possessed by the former king of rock & roll. As strange as it may seem, the sorrow in Campbell’s character shines through with prominence, leaving viewers left to gaze upon a paradox of a figure: once perched atop the social world, Elvis has become a depressed, bitter old man who only seems to draw joy in the company of those around him, fated to pass soon. Elvis is, in short, a sad but sympathetic hero who really isn’t convinced he wants to uphold the powerful presence it will require to vanquish Bubba Ho-Tep. In the end, it’s JFK who reinstates Presley’s self-confidence.
Both Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis (who portrays JFK) provide proof that an outrageous script can be transformed into an incredible picture; both charming and memorable. The dedication displayed by these two commands total respect, and the chemistry they share on screen is both hilarious and perfect; I can’t imagine a better duo to fill the shoes of two of the most influential men in history, Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy. Cheers to you Mr. Coscarelli, you’ve assembled another iconic picture!