Cult film icon Bruce Campbell, in frizzy sideburns, pouchy jowls, and a lazy drawl, is a gloomy senior citizen who claims to be Elvis (and just might be). Ossie Davis, spouting conspiracy theories that would make Oliver Stone giggle from a whirring electric wheelchair, is a restless codger who insists that he is John F. Kennedy (less likely, but who knows?).
They’re a pair made in the buddy movie heaven of an alternate universe in Bubba Ho-Tep (2003), Don Coscarelli’s weirdly inspired, unclassifiable horror comedy, adapted from a Joe Lansdale story that wraps JFK conspiracies and Elvis sightings around a mummy movie set in a drab Texas retirement home.
Campbell, who made his reputation on enthusiasm and winking self-awareness, is unexpectedly touching as Elvis, less a parody than a sad suggestion of a forgotten King. Stewing in recriminations of long ago mistakes and ruminating on the rot of old age eating away his body, he’s roused from self-pity (and the occasional dreams of peanut-butter and banana sandwiches) to fight off an ancient mummy sucking the souls of the frail rest home residents.
That entire detailed explanation is best left to the forthright delivery of Davis’ Mr. Kennedy, who chews over his lines with such matter-of-fact assuredness he makes them simultaneously believable and delusional.
This isn’t a comedy of guffaws and goofy gags, but a wry, underplayed little piece torn between the absurdities of its inspired premise and the melancholy ruminations of a dethroned King who drove away everyone he loved and now rots away in near solitude. Coscarelli never finds his balance but he does inject a profound sense of loss between the cracks of the unbalanced weirdness of two senior citizens who take on the undead armed with little more than a walker and creaky kung fu moves.
“Hail to the King, baby!”
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Bubba Ho-Tep [Collector’s Edition] [Blu-ray]
Bubba Ho-Tep (Limited Collector’s Edition) [DVD]
On Blu-ray and DVD. The special edition features two commentary tracks (one by director Don Coscarelli and star Bruce Campbell, the other by “the King”), deleted scenes with optional commentary by Coscarelli and Campbell, four featurettes, and audio of author Joe Lansdale reading from his original story among the supplements.