OK, here goes. Elvis never left the building. In fact he never died, at least not the real Elvis.
The real Elvis swapped identities with an impersonator to escape the fame and failings of his life and get a second chance at a normal existence.
But it all went wrong. Decrepit and alone he is forced to live out his days trapped in a rest home where no one believes his story apart from a crazy old black resident who claims to be John F Kennedy.
Everything seems hopeless – until a soul-sucking Mummy turns up and starts to kill the ageing residents. The King of Rock ’n’ Roll is forced to get out of his bed, solve the mystery and destroy the king of the dead.
If this all sounds like the plot of a bad B-movie horror film that’s because, fundamentally, that’s what Bubba Ho-Tep is. With its obvious low production values, unpolished special effects and wacky plotline, all done with its tongue firmly in its check, it’s a prime candidate for underground movie of the year.
However, like the Texas nursing home it’s set in, Bubba Ho-Tep is full of surprises, the most unusual being its poignant and moving meditations on life and old age – most expounded by Elvis himself.
It is the cast that really elevate this: Ossie Davis’s JFK is perfectly pitched, just strange enough to be hilarious and likable but not mad enough to make him unbelievable. Cult movie icon Bruce Campbell, immensely underrated and underused, gives the performance of his career: he is the definitive movie Elvis. As the cantankerous mouthpiece of the film in voice-overs and flashbacks he mulls over his fame, his past and the growth on his ‘pecker.’
Never has a real-life character been so believably portrayed: although he looks and sounds perfect, Campbell’s take on Elvis is not simply a parody or an imitation. Elvis is played as a ‘real’ person, scared of his own mortality and regretful of his mistakes. It is a strange and truthful insight into the imaginary mind of the legendary star… and a wonderful epitaph.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a hidden gem that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Beneath the schlock horror lie two brilliant central performances and a script brimming with originality, offering dark comedy and an oddly touching portrayal of humanity’s fear of death in both a physical and philosophical sense.