Friday, September 16, 2005

"Bubba Ho-tep": the review

I installed the proper DVD software on my computer at work and watched "Bubba Ho-tep," the imaginative Elvis/JFK/zombie horror-comedy-drama starring the inimitable Bruce Campbell (usually seen in Sam Raimi films such as those of the Evil Dead series and both Spider-man flicks) and the legendary Ossie Davis.

The preview trailer gives you the impression that "Bubba Ho-tep" will be straight comedy, but it turns out to be much more than that: it's also a sobering commentary on senescence, a parable about finding one's purpose in life, and a great subversion of the Campbellian heroic monomyth (I'm referring to Joseph Campbell, now; not Bruce): in this movie, it's the geezers, not the flower of youth, who bring back a boon to their people. The boon, though, takes a surprising form: the chance to live out the rest of your sad, geriatric existence without having your soul sucked out through your asshole.

Set at the Shady Rest retirement home in east Texas, "Bubba Ho-tep," which is based on a Joe Lansdale short story, chronicles the adventures of fellow nursing-home residents Elvis Presley (Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Davis). While Elvis—who narrates the movie—is indeed Elvis (although the staffers think he's a guy named Sebastian Haff), we're not quite sure whether the African-American gentleman before us is really JFK. He sure thinks he is, and he even has a neck scar to back up the claim that "they" removed part of his brain and replaced it with a bag of sand (just bear with me). People start dying at this nursing home with greater frequency than usual, and the culprit is soon discovered: JFK, doing a bit of research, learns that the premises are being raided by a soul-hungry Egyptian mummy dressed in tattered cowboy duds, a sort of "Bubba" Ho-tep, if you will. 

Elvis has been withering for years. He's nearly impotent, and to make matters worse, the tip of his penis (no, you never see it) features a nasty growth that is, he surmises, some sort of pustulating cancer. His nurse periodically lubes him up with a disgusting Vaseline-like solution, ostensibly to combat the growth. It hadn't always been this way. Through a flashback narrative we learn that, years ago, Elvis had switched places with one of his impersonators and had been enjoying his new life of impersonator impersonation (the dude who famously died on the toilet, then, wasn't Elvis but Sebastian Haff, his doppelgänger). The gig was going great until Elvis tumbled off a stage and broke his hip. It was all downhill from there, and it took a mummy to get Elvis active again. Cut to the chase: do Elvis and JFK defeat the mummy, or do they get their souls sucked out of their asses? I don't want to reveal the ending, but I'll give you a clue: 

"TCB, baby. TCB."

The movie features plenty of comedy: sharp one-liners, hilarious physical humor, bad karate, a young woman's tight ass in black undies, marauding scarab beetles, and not a few scenes of old people urinating. (While we're at it, we can't forget Egyptian hieroglyphic graffiti in a bathroom stall.) But at its heart, "Bubba Ho-tep" is also a serious film, giving us large helpings of sober wisdom to balance out the yuks. 

Bruce Campbell takes to the Elvis role with obvious élan, and Ossie Davis seduces us into his imaginary world: by the end of the movie, we're convinced he is indeed Jack Kennedy. For my money, one of JFK's best lines is, "Would you like a Ding-Dong?"

The mummy, played by Bob Ivy, doesn't have much to do but shamble about, eat assholes, and look generally menacing. Special hat tip to the actress whose tits we see briefly in the "Egyptian death ritual" flashback sequence. She was yummy. The DVD contains some short features about the making of the movie. In one such feature, all the principal actors have fun trying to pin down what genre "Bubba Ho-tep" belongs to. Drama? Horror? Comedy? Just what the hell is it? You'll have to decide for yourself. In the end, after all the laughter, you might find yourself, well, touched-- touched by the way that two old farts at the Mud Creek nursing home, "big" souls the both of them, refuse to go gently into that good night. They're feisty and combative; they aim to keep their spirits intact so they can shuffle off this mortal coil properly and take the next step of the cosmic journey, wherever it might lead.

Thank you. Thank you very much.


Anonymous said...

Dude, Bruce Campbell is the man! How can one guy have so many bad ass quotes is beyond comprehension.

Jason said...

But you didn't mention the commentary track by Bruce Campbell in character as Elvis!!! Other than the commentary on "Orgasmo," its the best commentary ever!

SciFi Channel just aired a movie written and directed by The Man called "The Man with the Screaming Brain". Didn't see it but the previews looked badass with Bruce Campbell running around with a prosthetic forehead on his real head.

(Sing with me: "Everybody wants prosthetic foreheads on their real heads...")

Kevin Kim said...


I haven't had the chance to watch the movie with the Elvis commentary yet. Will do so soon.