I originally saw Bubba Ho-Tep in the theater, going in with no clue what the movie was about or who Bruce Campbell was. I had heard of Evil Dead but I’m not a horror movie person, so I hadn’t tried hard to seek it out. My initial reaction to this film was “What in the word?” but quickly began to appreciate the insane concept. I have since met and married a man who lists Evil Dead 2 as his favorite movie, and I now fully respect the awesomeness that is Bruce Campbell.
Bruce Campbell plays the king himself, Elvis Presley, who is living out his remaining days in a nursing home in Texas. He explains that he grew tired of his fame and traded lives with an Elvis impersonator, only to have his replacement croak on the toilet. He missing his former life, and wishes he could reconnect with Priscilla and his daughter, but knows that isn’t possible. He feels useless, knowing he is seen as a crazy, old fool, and is depressed about the probably cancerous growth on his withered penis. He finds a kindred spirit in Jack, a black man who claims he’s JFK (Ossie Davis) and that the government altered his appearance to keep his from revealing the truth to the American public. They discover a soul-sucking mummy is attempting to penetrate the nursing home and they are the only ones who can strop.
What I find so fascinating about this is that there’s a really touching story about the embarrassing aspects of the aging process, about a legend finding himself useless, about two lost soul finding each other at the end of their lives – and then they added mummies. And not just a mummy, a redneck mummy. I really believe if you strip the mummy parts from the story, there’s a really decent drama there, but this is Bruce Campbell we’re talking about.
One question that bubbles under the surface of this film is “Are these men really the icons they claim they are?” While Campbell as Elvis is less of a stretch than Ossie Davis as a JFK, both are so committed to this reality that you accept their story. The two trade some of their more famous quotes and talk about their former lives. Another thing you have to wonder is, if Elvis had lived, would old age been much different for him. Many big stars blow through their money and find themselves in some budget facility. Campbell’s Elvis admits he made mistakes and trusted the wrong people, maybe the king would have become another lonely man in a nursing home. We always feel bad when legends die young, but we, as a people cannot handle an old, sick, impotent Elvis.
Many don’t realize their is an artistry to the so bad it’s good movie. It still has to be entertaining, the dialogue – quotable, the characters – compelling. A bad movie is unwatchable, but a so bad it’s good movie can be enjoyed over and over again. I would recommend Bubba Ho-Tep for any “So Bad It’s Good” movie marathon and maybe one day Bruce Campbell will be in a film that garners him more mainstream respect.