Sometimes a movie comes along that just defies explanation. It bends genres and breaks conventions. The kind of film that you literally can't even describe to your friends because they either a) just don't really even understand it and it makes no sense, or b) it sounds so crazy that they think you're making it up. I'm confident in saying that tonight's movie falls into probably both of those categories. So here's how the typical conversation goes:
Me: Hey, have you seen Bubba Ho-Tep?
Them: No, never heard of it. What's it about?
Me: What! You've never seen it???
Them: No. What's it about?
Me: Okay. So Bruce Campbell plays modern day Elvis Presley, and he's living a nursing home. His best friend is an old black guy who says that he's President Kennedy, and that they dyed his skin black to put him in hiding. In this nursing home, a mummy comes in every night and sucks out the souls of the elderly residents, and Elvis and black JFK decide to fight back.
Them: Oh. Okay.
If that's not a bonkers synopsis for a film, then please educate me. But if you want to know the truth, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is one of the most endearing, original, and genius movies of the last 20 years, not just of the horror genre, but any genre. Period.
Bruce Campbell, as legendary a guy as he is, undoubtedly gives the performance of his career as the King of rock n' roll. When the film starts, we're shown the star reality of what happened to Elvis. He's in his 70's, bed-ridden, sickly, living out the rest of his days in a run down nursing home, full of regret. Of course, no one believes he is the *real* Elvis, just an impersonator. Through a flashback, we're shown that he actually is THE real Elvis, and that at the height of his fame, he'd gotten sick and tired of the fame and fortune, and actually switched places with another Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff, so that he could live the rest of his life without all of the fame and everything that went with it. One of the interesting aspects of this performance is you truly don't know if he is actually supposed to be Elvis. That's how we're shown it went down, but maybe he is just a crazy old guy with dementia who just believes that's how it went down. But like I said, I'm inclined to believe that he's supposed to be the real Elvis.
In a scene early on, we're introduced to another elderly man, in another brilliant performance, played by Ossie Davis. This is the guy whom I referred to as JFK. He believes that they removed a part of his brain, and dyed his skin black, so that no one would know he is the real Kennedy. Is his role as ambiguous? Absolutely. When we see him in his room, his room is decorated with pictures of Jackie Kennedy, he has a diorama of the assassination, Oswald's mug shot. He even has the scar to back up his theory that the CIA had a part of his brain removed. Regardless of whether these men are truly who they say they are, is beside the point. The point is that they truly believe they are who they say they are, and that's good enough.
We start seeing the residents being attacked by these very large scarab beetles, one who transforms into a mummy-looking creature. We learn that this is Bubba Ho-Tep, an evil mummy who visits the nursing home every night to suck out the souls of the residents. Something odd is afoot, and through some investigative work, Jack (JFK) has convinced Elvis that something bad is happening around the home. Jack has found some hieroglyphics on the bathroom wall, translates them, and tells Elvis about his experience last night with the mummy trying to suck out his soul from a particular orifice in this lower extremities. Through their investigative reading, they discover that this undead creature can come back to life but taking these souls, but this is when the social commentary starts up. Jack's theory is that the souls of the elderly are easily taken because they don't care anymore. These people are brought to the Shady Rest nursing home to die, and they've lost their want to live.
Bubba Ho-Tep, as a fully realized character, is just amazing. He's a Western cowboy mummy, his design is impeccable, and all 100% practical, no CG bs. The weight and brevity of an actual actor, in a suit, a physical being in a space, can never be understated and replaced, regardless of how great technology advances. You can never beat the real deal, a human being in a suit, makeup, and prosthetics. We discover a bit of the mummy's background, from the time he was possibly King Tut, to the more recent time where his sarcophagus was an attraction, once aboard a bus that wrecked, apparently freeing him. And now, to sustain his life in the undead afterlife, he must absorb souls, and what easier targets than the bedridden elderly? Some of the scenes come across as pretty emotional and very effective because we all have a natural sympathy for the elderly. For example, the scene where Elvis first crosses paths with Ho-Tep, one of the fellow patients is a guy they called Kemosabe. He's obviously not of sound mind, and believes he is the Lone Ranger. He is using his cap guns to "shoot" Ho-Tep, but falls dead from a heart attack. Scenes like this have a pretty genuine emotional weight to them.
Our two heroes decide to fight for their lives, and hatch a plan and go after the mummy. Of course, Elvis dons the infamous white jumpsuit for the fight. Armed with their walker, Rascal scooter, and plenty of flammable material, they're on the hunt in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, Jack does not survive his tussle with Bubba, and this just inspires Elvis to fight back even harder. After a hard fought battle, Elvis sets Bubba Ho-Tep up in flames, destroying him and freeing the souls he'd taken. Then all is right with the world.
It's no secret that I absolutely adore this movie. From the very first time I watched it, I was blown away by the heart it has, the message it portrays, and the sheer originality and creativity of it all. Elvis versus a mummy sounds like something you might see in a SyFy original, but this movie was made with the integrity of even the most serious of films. All of the individual parts that make up the big picture are perfect. The acting, the story, the visuals, the soundtrack, the dialogue. This is one of those movies that not near enough people have seen, and any chance I get, I profess my love for this movie. It's pretty damn classy.
"Bubba Ho-Tep" gets 10 soul suckin' mummies out of 10!