Ever watched a film set in a nursing home where an elderly Elvis and J.F.K. (who just so happens to be black) join forces to fight a cursed mummy feeding off the souls of the aged? I have. It’s called Bubba Ho-Tep, and it’s actually very good.
The film suggests that Elvis might not have actually died in 1977. A few years prior to this, so ‘Elvis’ claims, he had swapped places with an Elvis impersonator so that he could live a quieter life. The Elvis impersonator was who subsequently overdosed and famously died on the throne. Having no way to prove his identity, ‘Elvis’ languished until he wound up alone and bitter in a nursing home.
‘J.F.K.”s story is just as unlikely. After having had his brains blown out in Dallas, surgeons were able to revive him. They filled the hole in his brain with a bag of sand, and covered up the whole thing by dyeing his skin black. His brain is now kept in a jar in Washington, hooked up to a wireless transponder.
You choose whether to take the two at face value, or just to see them as two delusional old men. And that’s part of what makes Bubba Ho-Tep so good. Even the box art refers to them as ‘Elvis’ and ‘J.F.K.’ in inverted commas.
Bruce Campbell (from the Evil Dead trilogy) gives the performance of his life as the elderly ‘Elvis’. If he ever decided to stop being a cult icon, he’d make a killing from the Elvis impersonation circuit. Ossie Davis (now sadly deceased) plays ‘J.F.K.’ completely deadpan, and provides the film with some moments of true comic genius. The scene where he talks about Marilyn Monroe will go down as one of my favourite scenes in history.
But this isn’t so much a film about a cursed mummy as it is about growing old. Whilst the premise of a mummy sucking souls out through old people’s arses is an unusual one, it isn’t what carries the film. Elvis’ musing on what it means to be an old man is surprisingly poignant and tender. These two men, once powerful and admired, have been emasculated and left to die in a derilict care home. As such, their encounter with the mummy becomes an act of defiance against the ageing process; a final stand to prove that they are still relevant.
So the next time you feel like watching a B-Movie, you can’t go wrong with this. It isn’t perfect– it doesn’t quite get the balance of horror and comedy Shaun of the Dead managed to do so expertly. But it is a unique film with a great premise, some hilarious moments, a good soundtrack, and a truly touching discussion of what it is to grow old. Think Benjamin Button with zimmerframes and killer scarab beetles.