"You know what I think, Mr. President?"Bubba Ho-Tep gives you that Being John Malkovich feeling at the end -- you've just seen something incredibly fucked up, and you may not fully understand what you just saw right then and there, but you do know that you ain't gonna see a film like it ever again. One part creepy to one part bizarre to one part profound to one part monster movie. Add a gigantic scarab-like cockroach and stir.
"What's that, Elvis?"
"I think it's time we killed ourselves a mummy."
- Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis
"Oh holy shit, that was the best exchange ever."
- the guy sitting behind me in the theater
Just imagine the pitch, if you will: "Okay, see, there's this mummy, this Egpytian soul-sucker, and he's feeding off the souls of people in an ancient nursing home in East Texas. Only, see, two guys decide to fight the mummy. One's Elvis, who's still alive -- switched places with an impersonator long ago -- and the other is JFK, only he's a black man. And together they go to stop the mummy, only they're really old and really slow but it's not about action, it's about aging and the existential crises that arise when you realize you're just old and useless, and former glory, and ... oh, hey, did I mention the gigantic scarab-like cockroach?"
Bruce Campbell walks a fine line in this film, playing Elvis as an elderly gentleman and trying very hard to get the performance out of a one-joke rut. He pulls it off, amazingly enough, and turns in one of his most subdued characterizations to date. Yes, there's a karate stance-throwing Elvis, but he's frail and cracks a hip. Yes, he's got the big sunglasses and the sideburns down to his Adam's apple. Yes, he's got the lipcurl and the accent down. But he doesn't sing. And he's off the drugs. And he knows he can never see his daughter or wife again, and he misses them terribly. He knows his glory days are over, and he's confined to a bed in a creaky, depressing nursing home which has a hearse visit it almost daily. The complexity of Campbell's prosthetic makeup may vary from scene to scene, but behind it all is a very human role.
Ossie Davis is Jack, who believes he survived an assassination attempt ("they dyed me this color!") and is still looking out for Lyndon Johnson, whom he's convinced is going to return one day "to finish the job." When Elvis informs him that LBJ is dead, Jack defiantly responds "That won't stop him!" and there's enough conviction in it that we almost believe, too. Jack's room in the nursing home is made out to look like the Presidential bedroom, which is hilarious in its own right -- down to the Red Phone and, oddly enough, a model-train-like mockup of Dealey Plaza in the corner. It's Jack who does all the research on the Egyptian soul-sucking beast thingy, and Elvis goes along to provide support and backup. We're never quite sure if he's really JFK or not, though -- at least, we are sympathetic enough to Elvis to believe he's the real deal, but JFK might just be another nut acting along. It doesn't really matter in the end, though, I don't think.
There's no real kung-fu action here. This is what surprised me. Sure, the elderly men do battle with the mummy, whom Elvis dubs "Bubba Ho-Tep" because the mummy likes to wear a cowboy hat and boots when consuming souls, but they're not supermen. They really aren't much of men at all in their advanced years, so they make do with what they've got. Somehow it works, with a minimum of gore. (In fact, the squickiest part of the film has nothing to do with any mummy or scarab; Elvis has an, er, very personal problem and a nurse has to come in and, well, drain the pus every day. We don't see what happens, due to it being very personal and all, but some clever Foley artist out there is most certainly counting his well-earned pay and grinning like a loon.)
It's a dark film in tone and in cinematography. It was directed by Don Coscarelli, who did the Phantasm series, so it's got all those horror movie shock touches, but nothing too bad. But it's not a horror movie, and it's not an outright comedy -- it's almost too sincere to believe that it's playing itself for the broad laugh -- and it's not, well hell, it's not easily definable. It won't be your favorite movie unless you're a serious Bruce Campbell or Elvis fan, but you will probably enjoy parts of it. It's slow to start and really slow throughout, but the elderly pace feels right at home there. The screenplay was adapted from a short story, which is probably the biggest fault I found with the film: content-wise, there's really not much there beyond a simple short story. But as far as short, weird indie flicks go -- much like Being John Malkovich, you can be sure it ain't been done before.
I liked it. I think. Yeah. I'm pretty sure I liked it.