By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Summary: The premise may seem wild, but the message is sound.
Review: The whole of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is more than the sum of its parts. Its story is an orthodox but daring mix of Elvis legend and Mummy-lore with just a dash of Kennedy conspiracy theory. Sounds a little ridiculous, no? But beneath all that is a powerful tale of redemption; of a man, long having fallen from grace, who finds something to fight for before he fades.
According to ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’, the real Elvis Presley switched places with an impersonator long ago so that he could “get away from it all”. It was the impersonator that died, not him. Elvis lived on, quite content, until an accident sent him to a rest home in east Texas. Now old, sick, and crippled, he spends his days lying in bed, contemplating the mistakes in life, and occasionally talking to fellow resident Jack, who claims to be John F. Kennedy, also never having died.
Things become (even more) strange when other residents start dying off mysteriously at the hands of a cursed Egyptian mummy who feeds on the souls of the elderly. It would take too long to explain how the mummy got there, but to make a long story short, it’s up to JFK and Elvis to stop him and save their home.
The story deserves major props for originality. It takes the stuff of the best campy B-movies and mixes it together into one nice package; and that’s probably also why it’s a little surprising to discover that the film actually has a lot of heart to it. That’s because it really isn’t focusing on Elvis Presley or JFK or mummies. What it’s really about is a man (who happens to be Elvis) who has fallen from grace. And his is the most tragic of falls-from a youth worshiped as a god and adored by millions, to a sick, elderly shell of a man; accused of delusion for trying to tell others who he once was.
What the mummy really represents, then, is a chance for redemption. For all the mistakes in his life, for everything that has gone wrong, Elvis has one last chance to make a difference, to save the other residents, to set things right. And because of this, though dying, he will not fade; he will not go quietly into the night. He will take a stand for something and go out in glory. Redemption is the most powerful message for the human condition, that no matter what one has done or where he is in life, if he is willing to give himself, he can still find salvation. That is what ‘Bubba Ho-tep’ is really about it. Beneath it’s comedic, horror, and camp elements, this film is truly emotional.
Made for just one million dollars, this movie is a testament to the potential of low-budget filmmaking. The performances of Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as JFK are just plain awesome, as is Brian Tyler’s score. The guitar driven themes are touching and add much drama and weight to the film. Though at times unnecessary vulgarity and seeming plot holes hamper it, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ nevertheless succeeds thanks to a fresh, engrossing, and deep story with a wonderfully cathartic conclusion. This is one for the books, boys.