Bruce Campbell. As Elvis. Fighting a mummy
Elvis, as you know, didn’t die. Neither did John F Kennedy. No. As Bubba Ho-Tep reveals, Presley and the Pres wound up together in an old folks’ home in East Texas, where they teamed up in a life and death struggle against the spirit of an ancient Egyptian mummy who was bumping off the residents. Reading that synopsis, and knowing that Bruce Campbell? groovy splatstick genius of the Evil Dead series ?stars as the superannuated King opposite Ossie Davis’ JFK (“But, uh, Jack Kennedy was a white guy and, uh, you’re black”?”I know. When they faked my assassination, they dyed me”), you could be forgiven for thinking Bubba Ho-Tep is just another geriatric-Elvis-teams-up-with-an-old-black-JFK-to-take-on-an-evil-soul-sucking-mummy movie. Don’t be fooled. Adapted from novelist Joe R Lansdale’s short story by Don Coscarelli, auteur of the Phantasm films, Bubba is a mess, but a cracked gem of a mess.
On one level, it’s exactly the dumb-ass, six-pack flick it sounds, with toilet gags, a little gore, and Campbell’s jumpsuited Elvis casting his zimmer aside during his climactic battle with the mummy to adopt a creaking, arthritic version of that famous karate stance and mutter, “Don’t make me use mah stuffonya, baby.”Underneath this, though, courses a slow, bittersweet, almost elegiac current, moving at the same shambling pace as the pensioner protagonists. Campbell, whose meditative, muttering, weary-boned narration cushions the film, is a revelation. He’s obsessively turning over thoughts of his life: about the empty circus of fame he walked away from in the early ’70s to swap places with a lowly Elvis impersonator; about the failures of his career; about Priscilla and Lisa Marie; about this dumping ground for the elderly where he’s ended up, trying to get along with a madman who thinks he’s JFK.
There you have it. A meditation on the price of fame, the loss of youth, and the fate of the elderly. The poignancy of two men forging a twilight friendship. And Bruce Campbell, as Elvis, fighting a mummy and saying stuff like, “Cumman’ git it, you undead sackashit.”Why resist?