Bubba Ho-tep

on September 19, 2003 by Jon Alon Walz
If the great B-movie producer Sam Arkoff had only lived a couple more months to see the brilliant “Bubba Ho-Tep,” he would have passed onto the spaceship in the sky with a big smile on his face. Generally maligned if not completely ignored by most pretentious aficionados of austere cinema, these low-budget, high-concept films about aliens, warlocks, psychopaths, ghouls, and pot-heads raised from the dead, while traditionally horrendous, are often worth a second look today.

Take Don Coscarelli's cauldron-full-of-madness “Bubba Ho-Tep”--one heck of a great concept (from a Joe Lansdale short story) and one hell of fun movie. The film, taking all sorts of acceptable and probable liberties with its characters and situations, manages to make use of a rare skill in today's cinema--subtlety--to tell a ludicrous story about the ass-kicking fighting team of Elvis Presley and former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Elvis (Bruce Campbell in a career-high role), confined to a Mud Creek, Texas, rest home with cancer of the penis (yes), is believed to be Sebastian Haff, the famous Elvis impersonator. Elvis, however, bored out of his mind in retirement, years earlier signed a contract with Haff that allowed Elvis to go on the road as Haff performing as Elvis. The document was lost in a freak BBQ accident, so although the proof is gone, the real Elvis is still thought of as Haff. This is just backstory; go with it.

JFK (Ossie Davis), who also happens to be in Mud Creek, was dyed black after the assassination attempt in a further piece of the larger conspiracy. Working daily to continue to unravel the true story surrounding his shooting, he and Elvis become quick friends and team up first as co-fighters against a squad of rat-sized predatory medieval creatures that have come to Mud Creek for some reason.

But soon, bigger evils are afoot, in the form of the great, lost Egyptian mummy “Bubba Ho-Tep,” who also finds Mud Creek a nice place to hang out.

After a Lexis-Nexis-type search, Elvis and JFK discover that a bus containing a traveling Egyptian museum roadshow was lost in a nearby lake in the 1960s. Now, the lost mummies, creatures, and other artifacts are coming to the surface, ready to kill again. The wheelchair-bound JFK and the King prepare for a battle against Bubba Ho-Tep, who is mystically drawn to Elvis.

So how, you ask, can any of this be any good? The real and true brilliance of the picture is the non-sensational, grounded nature of Corsarelli's script and direction. Passion and ease permeate the realistic modern presentations of these historic characters, the laid-back performances and the wink-wink from the director right when and where needed. May “Bubba Ho-Tep” play at midnight drive-ins until Elvis indeed returns. Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce and Bob Ivy. Directed and written by Don Coscarelli. Produced by Don Coscarelli and Jason Savage. No distributor set. Action-Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 90 min

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