(2002) dir. Don Coscarelli
Bruce Campbell fans are pretty much geeks.
Which is something that I think they’d be proud to agree with.
Campbell, whose career as a B-movie star was cemented forever in his part in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, has had a long career of oddball roles, some big, some small, all over the place. And yes, I guess that I would consider myself a fan of Bruce Campbell. It all comes down to Evil Dead II (1987), which was Raimi’s masterpiece and perhaps Campbell’s as well. Pretty much created and perfected the genre of horror-slapstick-comedy.
Bubba Ho-Tep, I want to say, is a concept that looks good on paper. But that isn’t quite so. The concept, Bruce Campbell plays an aging Elvis Presley (who swapped identities with an Elvis impersonator and never really died), holed up in a low-rent nursing home battling an Egyptian mummy who is feasting on the souls of the aged and decrepit. It sounds good on paper if that is your kind of thing, is what I mean. And I remember when it came out in the theaters, that I thought it sounded fun. After a recommendation by my brother-in-law, I queued it up.
Written and directed by a semi-notable B-movie-maker, Don Coscarelli, the film has its B-movie pedigree in place. Coscarelli was the creative mind behind the cult horror film Phantasm (1979) and The Beastmaster (1982) and their respective sequels. The film is odd in a number of ways. It’s a bit slow-paced, actually taking a good deal of time to get moving, spending the first half hour establishing Elvis’ backstory and the milieu of the nursing home. The eventual battle between Elvis and the mummy takes a long time to come around. So, it is kind of dullish at times.
But the odder thing than its pacing is the deliberate quality of that pacing. The film is in many ways quite a sympathetic take on aging and the lives of the elderly. Elvis is a very sympathetic character, whose perspective on life is one of regrets and loss, loneliness and abandonment. While he is reempowered by the fight with the evil creature and his friendship with Jack Kennedy (Ossie Davis), the film’s tone and focus is spent on character development and the depiction of the world of the elderly, sad and lonely. It’s kind of touching.
So, that’s weird. Just not what one would expect from the scenario.
All told, the film isn’t all that great. It’s not all bad, but it feels like the kind of thing you stumble on Comedy Central on those slow afternoons when there’s nothing on television that you can bear to watch. And it doesn’t necessarily sustain you. Still, it has some merit.