So a couple weeks ago, while I was laid up with that kidney stone, I spent a lot of time watching movies and trying not to curl up into a fetal position. One of the movies I watched — re-watched, actually — was “Bubba Ho Tep”, an adaptation of a novella by Joe R. Lansdale (which I happen to own) starring Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley and Ossie Davis as John F. Kennedy. Yes, THAT John F. Kennedy. Oh, and there’s also a soul-sucking mummy.
I’m sure no one will be surprised that I love pretty much anything that features Bruce “Hail to the King, Baby” Campbell, from the “Evil Dead” series to “Brisco County Junior” to that one epside of “The X-Files”. In “Bubba Ho Tep”, you WILL believe that Campbell is Elvis, and that Elvis changed places with an impersonator named Sebastian so that he could spend some time away from his overmanaged superstar lifestyle, and that when all evidence of his real identity was lost in a tragic barbecue accident he decided to continue to play the part of a man playing the part of Elvis rather than try to get his old life back. Furthermore, you WILL believe that JFK survived the events of Dallas, but that part of his brain was removed and he was dyed black and squirreled away in the same nursing home where Elvis is spending his twilight years. You WILL believe that cap gun revolvers, in the right hands, can drive away the undead. And, finally, you WILL believe that sometimes, mummies dress up as cowboys, write graffiti on bathroom stalls, and siphon the souls of the elderly out of any convenient major orifice. (Which orifices count as “major” are left as an exercise to the reader’s imagination.)
If all this sounds like a mishmash of the horrific and the absurd, you aren’t far off. “Bubba Ho Tep” is a jet-black comedy that doubles as an indictment of how our society treats its oldest members once they’re no longer “productive”, with some shambling-monster antics to provide our aged protagonists one last chance to be heroes. Don’t go in expecting any world-beating theatrics like in the recent “Mummy” films featuring Brendan Fraser and tons of CGI; this is an old-fashioned slowpoke mummy that any reasonably fit person could run away from. But when you can only move with a walker or motor around in a wheelchair, a slowpoke mummy becomes a deadly threat.
This is one of my favorite Bruce Campbell roles (second only to Ash, of course), while Ossie Davis brings a remarkable level of dignity to his role as (possibly) the former president. Their two fully-committed performances elevate the proceedings above camp. However, my favorite player in the film is a secondary character, known as Kimosabe, who is the wielder of those cap gun revolvers. His march up the hallway, in pursuit of the mummy, cap guns blazing, is the best use of imaginary firearms this side of R. Lee Ermey’s assault on the Reaper in “The Frighteners”. You go, Kimosabe.
My wife didn’t watch “Bubba Ho Tep” this time around, but the first time we saw it she stayed awake for the entire thing. This is partially due to its being such a short film, and partially due to the novelty factor of Elvis doing battle with a mummy.