“Don’t fuck with Elvis.”
- Elvis Aaron Presley
Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator, gorges down a tin of blueberry pie with purple sludge drooling down his chin when, suddenly, he feels an omniscient presence in the Force. The door swings open revealing the silhouette of the King. Nervous, Haff settles on to his trembling knee in a bow. When he looks up and sees His hand and a shimmering kaleidoscope of diamonds encrusted on to a thick, gold band. Sebastian takes the mighty one’s hand and kisses the ring. Moments later, Haff steps out of the building wiping dried blueberries from his lip and is greeted by his entourage. “Forget it, boys. Just another freak.” Haff disappears into a Limo and will soon take over the throne of the King.
There are a lot of reasons to like Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s a movie faithfully-based on the original Joe R. Lansdale short story about an aged Elvis who’s alive and not so well in an old age convalescence home somewhere in Texas. A sarcophagus is stolen from a museum and finds its way to Elvis’ home for the blue-hairs, where this demonic Egyptian hillbilly sucks the souls out of people’s fart holes to survive. Apparently, Bubba Ho-Tep uses the souls as food, shits them out in the toilet late at night where he gets bored, and scribbles Egyptian graffiti on the shithouse walls. Soon, Elvis’ brilliant and loyal sidekick, JFK, who believes the CIA tinted his skin black and has his brain sitting somewhere in a jar at the White House and is running off an old battery, deciphers the mysterious and complicated hieroglyphics. Together, they realize that they must stop Bubba before all the blue-hairs’ souls are sucked dry. On top of a goofy storyline, actor Bruce Campbell is obviously great as the King. It’s a low-key performance; it isn’t a mockery of Elvis impersonators, but a reality-based portrayal of the King as if he was actually 300 years old and had a pulsating boil on his penis spurting pus every ten seconds.
Where the movie differs from the short story is in director Don Coscarelli’s interpretation. The movie is not as sick as the short story, but there are some really trippy effects. When it’s time to get spooky it does, but it’s so thin on fright you’re lulled into a comedic sense of security--especially with the rockabilly score blasting away in the background. Since Coscarelli did make some additions to the flick, he should’ve also added more horror plot.
Since the movie is faithful to the story, some of the same comments apply. Getting past the Elvis and JFK mythology, you have to get to the story at some point. The movie spends a lot of time cracking old age jokes about the King and the Prez; but then there’s the horror element--actually a weak premise when everything else is so clever. Bubba Ho-Tep himself isn’t really dangerous until the third act, and when Elvis and Bubba meet for the first time nothing more happens than a moody light show. In more ways then not, however, Bubba Ho-Tep can be called an art-house flick because you’re dealing with two aged kings battling for the souls of the elders held captive and defenseless in their own decaying bodies. Since the old folks are so close to the end anyway, no one really cares about the blue-hairs and someone has to be their champion. This movie isn’t exploitation. It really has something to say about not just Elvis, but the elderly in general, the shit they go through with fledgling family members, the corruption of fellow patients, and body parts breaking down. Worth checking out.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2 ½ out of Four)
R, 2002, 92 min., Distributor Pending.
Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Bob Ivy, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Larry Pennell, Daniel Roebuck, Daniel Schweiger, Harrison Young, Music by Brian Tyler, Produced by Don Coscarelli and Jason R. Savage, Written by Don Coscarelli, Based on the Short Story by Joe R. Lansdale and Directed by Don Coscarelli.
Other movies about The King:
3,000 Miles to Graceland, Dudes, Wild At Heart, Heartbreak Hotel, Six String Samurai, True Romance, Honeymoon in Vegas, Angela Anaconda…