Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) Dir. Don Coscarelli
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) possesses one of the oddest concepts for a film you’ve ever heard. Not just the horror genre, but cinema as a whole. Describing the film to the uninitiated will make you sound crazy. It sounds like a pitch idea culled from a group of middle school aged boys on the tail end of a macaroni & cheese and chocolate milk bender. IMDb describes it as follows: “Elvis and JFK, both alive and in nursing homes, fight for the souls of their fellow residents as they battle an ancient Egyptian Mummy.”
That’s only half of its absurdity. Ozzie Davis plays JFK, the character insinuates that they put a bag of sand where he was shot that fateful day. He claims the government dyed his skin to go off the grid as a handicapped African-American. Elvis, portrayed by Bruce Campbell, feels his health dwindling as cancer takes hold. Did I mention the cancer is on "his pecker?" He sure does.
The film sounds so absurd that you’d think it has no room for drama or actual scares. However, it bears an incredible reflection on the treatment of the elderly. And the visual components of the mummy have genuine thought behind the lighting, costume and shot composition.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have absurdity embedded throughout. Campbell fights Egyptian scarabs in a scene that recalls his infamous fight against his own hand in Evil Dead II. And the mummy acquires souls in a rather…unconventional…matter.
But at its core is the struggle of two old men coping with their life choices. Elvis wanting his old life back and wonders what it could have been had he not disappeared from the life that he once had. He ponders if his wife would ever take him back, or if his daughter even thinks of him anymore. The performance has a strong emotional core that results in incredible moments of catharsis. It’s all driven by the performances of Campbell and Davis. Writer and director Don Coscarelli’s take on Joe R. Lansdale’s short story makes it his own. The final magnificent piece of the film is Bryan Tyler’s incredible score. One of his earliest pieces, Tyler would go on to score many of the latest Marvel films, Battle: Los Angeles, and Call of Duty video games.
Just as the concept is one of the most peculiar pitches ever uttered in a producer’s office, the film is one of the most unique film experiences you’ll ever watch. It holds a genuine sense of horror looming over the Texas nursing home where the narrative takes place. There are some big laughs thanks to Campbell. But there is also genuine heartbreak. Everyone associates Campbell with the Evil Dead series or his recent role on Burn Notice. But this is one of his defining roles that encapsulates why he has such a devoted following: his sheer entertainment value.
By day, Thomas A. Fowler is a Broadcast & Digital Producer at Vladimir Jones, a Colorado based full-service ad agency. By night, Fowler is a writer of commercial mainstream and science fiction. He does this sometime in between being a husband and a father. He pursues both dreams to prove to his children that they can accomplish their goals with dedication, education, and lots of hard work.