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  • Benjamin May

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Review

By the late 1970’s, Elvis Presley had grown tired of the demands and stresses of fame. Seeking respite, he swapped places with an Elvis impersonator, who was the one who died in 1977. After an explosion destroyed his documentation, the real Elvis was doomed to live a life of anonymity forevermore. Now an old man, the King resides in a nursing home, where the only one who believes his story is an elderly black man claiming to be JFK. After another patient at the home dies, the King realizes that an Egyptian mummy is on the prowl, feeding on the souls of the aged; and he and the President are the only ones who can stop it.

Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, and based on the novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is a wildly original comedy-horror that also serves as a poignant meditation on the aging process. Arguably the best film about Elvis Presley to date, Coscarelli’s characterisation is rich and his dialogue wackily comedic, though also affecting. Despite the fact that some aspects of the narrative concerning the mummy seem slightly rote, and the ending is underwhelming; the plight of the aging Elvis and the skin-dyed JFK is engaging and entertaining.

The film presents these two once all-powerful men being physically diminished by time, though with the same gusto and spirit they had in their glory days. The King might be riddled with cancer, but he can still take care of business, and through his battle with the mummy; a profound point is made about the importance of having purpose in life, and that though someone may be old, that doesn’t mean they don’t have value. For a film about a lumbering, cowboy-hat sporting mummy in a nursing home; ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ has surprising depth.

It is a low-budget affair, though one could be mistaken for thinking otherwise, considering the stylish cinematography from Adam Janeiro and Daniel Vecchione’s assured production design. Janeiro creates a grubby visual palette both atmospheric and striking, which Vecchione’s detailed work compounds. The nursing home is presented as having a depressing, dull air, as if it were forgotten by time; bolstering the films themes and enhancing its tone. Damon Carruesco’s set decoration and Justin Zaharczuk’s art direction also contributes effectively to the mood of the piece; both down-trodden and despondent.

Moreover, Shelley Kay’s costume design is rich, contributing to the personalities of the characters, and adding to the depth of the narrative. Additionally, Gene Doucette- who designed the outfits worn by Presley in real life- also created the ones seen on screen, lending proceedings authenticity and realism. Furthermore, Brian Tyler’s score is stirring, compounding the films tension and suspense; while Scott J. Gill and Donald Milne’s intuitive editing keeps things running at a good pace.

‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ stars Bruce Campbell as Elvis, alongside Ossie Davis as JFK. A charismatic, versatile actor, Campbell has arguably never delivered a performance as powerful or nuanced. He becomes the aged King so believably that the likes of Don Johnson and Austin Butler seem like bad mimics in comparison. Subtle and affecting, Campbell’s work lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled, and will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.

Davis, meanwhile, has never been funnier than he is as the supposedly skin-dyed JFK. Sharing a great chemistry with Campbell, he is something of the comic foil of the two; and his sincere insistence that he is the 35th President- despite all the evidence to the contrary- is both heart-warming and raucously entertaining. In addition, Ella Joyce is excellent as a feisty nurse caring for the King, while Bob Ivy’s performance as the titular mummy is a masterpiece of physical acting.

Poignant, powerful and a whole lot of fun, ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is a brilliant comedy-horror cocktail, with heart and soul to match its kooky characters and wackily original narrative. Although the ending boils down to a forgettable fight sequence, the journey there is a brilliant one, featuring strong dialogue, rich characterisation, much hilarity and striking visuals. Star Bruce Campbell has never been better, while Ossie Davis is marvellous, and their supporting cast don’t let them down. In short, Don Coscarelli’s ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ will leave you hailing the King; baby.


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