Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), is an old man living in an East Texas retirement home, having switched identities with impersonator Dan Haff some time before his apparent death, but never got the chance to switch back. He teams up with fellow resident Jack (Ossie Davis) who believes himself to be John F. Kennedy (tinted brown) and the two of them face up to an evil Egyptian entity who has escaped during transportation and has chosen their retirement home as a hunting ground for souls on which to revive.
Review by Louise Keller:
Bubba Ho-Tep is one bizarre trip. In an imaginative twist of facts, writer/director Don Coscarelli has written a whopper of a screenplay from a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, that guarantees to make your jaw drop and your eyes open wide for the duration. It's outrageous and full of novel ideas that will tickle the fancy of anyone who is stimulated by the absurd.
The wacky premise tells how Elvis didn't really die, but swapped lives with an Elvis impersonator called Sebastian Haff, and is now living in a decrepit old people's home as an ailing seventy year old. Although his PJs are not made of suede, they ARE blue, and when we meet the ageing Elvis (Bruce Campbell), we find he spends most of his time bed-bound, or hobbling around Mud Creek Shady Rest Home with a walking frame. Those hefty side-burns are still hefty, the jet-black hair is now streaked with grey, but those trademark oversize tinted glasses haven't changed. He is philosophising about his life, reminiscing about what might have been with Priscilla, Lisa-Marie and Colonel Parker, as a brusque nurse matter-of-factly massages sticky ointment on a part of his anatomy that is rather poorly. Giant cockroaches terrorise little old ladies in nighties and hair-nets and a shiny black hearse regularly comes and goes, carting inmates who are on the way out. Elvis' best friend is black dude Jack (Ossie Davis), who claims to be JFK (in a wildly effective disguise of black skin), and down the hall there's his card playing pal Kemo Sabe (Larry Pennell) who hides behind a Lone Ranger mask, cowboy hat and toy guns.
There is an epidemic of giant cockroaches at the nursing home (watch for the scene when Elvis terminates one with a steel bed-pan), and Jack is convinced that they are really scarab beetles sent by an Egyptian mummy to suck the souls of its inhabitants. This is where the horror elements kick in and when Elvis and JFK confront the mummy in the final climactic scenes, it is almost disconcerting to note the soul-sucker looks rather like Michael Jackson. There are incongruous scenes as Elvis, dressed in his famous white studded jumpsuit hobbles down the corridor along side the wheel-chair bound JFK.
Bubba Ho-Tep works on various levels, and you don't have to be an Elvis fan. The wild premise of re-writing Elvis history is fascinating and strangely enough, it's easy to go along with it. It's almost disconcerting how Campbell looks and sounds like Elvis and I often found myself dipping in and out of reality. But surprisingly, beyond the outrageous, the film has a real heart, and we actually feel empathy for both Campbell's Elvis and Davis' JFK. Their performances are extraordinary, and this scorching satire hits its mark on all counts, offering a whale of a ride for lovers or cult movies.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This truly wacky horror comedy indulges us in some wildly surreal humour, interspersed with Elvis musing about his regrets - some of them pretty close to the mark. Fans of Bruce Campbell will need little encouragement to dive in at the deep end of the cinema (front row) for an adventure based at the rest home for the aged and infirm in East Texas.
From the no-nonsense opening scene we are made aware of both the raw language and the suggestive tone of the film, which plays like a cross between a B horror flick and a crazy hypothetical. But it begins with the reassuringly offbeat notion that Presley switched identities with a great Elvis impersonator who went on to obesity and death, while the real Elvis lived a much more controlled life as the impersonator, playing cheap gigs. It's an attractive concept, but when it collides with Ossie Davis asserting that he really is President John F. Kennedy, but his brain is in a jar for safekeeping while he survives with a small sandbag in its place, the chips are truly down.
Don Coscarelli grabs this scenario and runs with it - and takes no prisoners. There is no safety net with this sort of material, and he knows it. So we have scenes that are made of the darkest black comedy, slamming into scenes of almost lyrical absurdity.
The title is a fusion of Bubba, American slang for redneck, Southern trailer trash, and Ho-Tep, the Egyptian name of a king or pharoah. It is used in dialogue when Elvis, after the first sighting, describes the resurrected mummy intent on sucking up souls at the rest home.
Sometimes sharply observed, sometimes out on the furthest edges of sanity, Bubba Ho-Tep is low budget filmmaking in high jinx style - and played with a darkly sober edge.
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BUBBA HO-TEP (M)
CAST: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy
PRODUCER: Jason R. Savage, Don Coscarelli
DIRECTOR: Don Coscarelli
SCRIPT: Don Coscarelli (from short story by Joe R. Lansdale)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Janeiro
EDITOR: Donald Milne, Scott J. Gill
MUSIC: Brian Tyler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel Vecchione
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 24, 2005