BUBBA HO-TEP: Elvis, JFK, a Mummy, and a… Meditation on Mortality?

Bubba Ho-Tep is available now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

“And elderly Elvis and JFK take on a soul-sucking mummy in a nursing home”.

Given the elevator pitch version of Bubba Ho-Tep’s plot, one might expect it to be an action-packed spookablast or a goofy farce. That’s what I assumed when I discovered it in 2004; I certainly wasn’t expecting a touching, lyrical exploration of aging and elderly dementia.

We’re introduced to an elderly, bedridden man in a Texas nursing home (Bruce Campbell) — also our narrator — who believes himself to be Elvis Presley. He’s pretty much alone in the world and resigned to seeing others around him pass away until his turn comes. His nurse reminds him that he’s Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator who lost his grip on reality, but he knows the truth: He’s the real Elvis. Tired of wallowing in the emptiness of fame and fortune, he traded lives with Haff, and the pair assumed each other’s identities. It was the impersonator who took up his mantle and the latter part of his career, and who famously died.

Life in the nursing home is a constant reminder of fragile human mortality, and Elvis is constantly surrounded by senility and death. And yet, he senses that something’s off lately: the deaths seem to be getting more frequent, and bizarre in nature. But the folks running the institution either haven’t noticed, or don’t care.

The only person who believes him is “JFK” (Ossie Davis), a wheelchair-bound black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy. By his account, he survived his 1963 assassination attempt, but his enemies used the event to stage his death, and then permanently dyed his skin.

The pair discover that a mummy is sucking the souls of the elderly — he’s clothed himself in Texan cowboy duds and made himself comfortable among the near-dead, where his presence has gone unnoticed. Even if some patients were to discover him, who would believe them? It’s this very predicament in which Elvis and JFK find themselves, and so they set out to kill the Bubba Ho-Tep on their own.

What’s so odd about the film is that it doesn’t go full-tilt into camp, action, or comedy. While those elements are all present, the overall feel of the film is much more subdued. Like its protagonists, the pace is slow and measured, then roused to action. Yes, it’s about Elvis and JFK fighting a mummy, but that’s really just what’s happening on the surface. What’s more interesting is our protagonists.

As for the identity of those protagonists, Bubba Ho-Tep provides enough background to leave things open to interpretation. Are these men who they claim to be or not? Or perhaps, is one but not the other? Heck, even the whole mummy angle could just be their imaginations running wild. It’s certainly not presented that way, but we don’t necessarily have a reliable narrator. All we really know is that they believe it. The viewer’s choice to answer — or leave unanswered — these questions can directly influence the whole story’s meaning and impact. On the one hand, it’s a crazy story about Elvis and JFK taking on a mummy — two men in their twilight finding within themselves the will to make one last stand and go down fighting.

Then again, maybe it’s a sad portrait of two senile old men abandoning their sanity and chasing a mad adventure.

Either way, it’s a weird ride.

The Package

Bubba Ho-Tep arrived last month on Blu-ray as a Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory. It features a slipcover with new art and a reversible cover featuring both the new art and the classic design.

Special Features and Extras

I remember the DVD edition of Bubba Ho-Tep being incredibly stacked to begin with, and this new disc ports over all of that along with several new retrospective pieces. Older SD items have been upconverted to HD resolution.

NEW Audio Commentary With Author Joe R. Lansdale

NEW All Is Well — An Interview With Writer/Director Don Coscarelli (24:02)

NEW The King Lives! — An Interview With Star Bruce Campbell (22:01)

NEW Mummies And Make-up — An Interview With Special Effects Artist Robert Kurtzman (8:56)

Audio Commentary By Don Coscarelli And Bruce Campbell

Audio Commentary By “The King”

Deleted Scenes (3:16) and Footage From The Temple Room Floor (2:09)
 A pair of excised scenes with optional commentary By Don Coscarelli And Bruce Campbell — one was way too long and rightfully cut; the shorter one is pretty fun. The “Temple Room Floor” extra contains the full version of the mummy’s Egyptian flashback sequence.

“The Making Of Bubba Ho-Tep” (22:34)

“To Make A Mummy” (5:02)
 Make-up And Effects Featurette

“Fit For A King: Dressing Bruce Campbell” (6:46)

“Rock Like An Egyptian” Featurette
 Covering the film’s melancholy, rockabilly-tinged soundtrack by Brian Tyler.

Bubba Ho-Tep Chapter 1: A Novella As Read by Joe. R. Lansdale (7:58)
 Author Lansdale reads the opening chapter of his book. And you thought the movie was crude.

“A Message From Bruce Campbell” and “Bruce On Bubba” (34:42)
 Archival Bruce Campbell interviews

Music Video (2:19)

Theatrical Trailer (2:16)

TV Spot (0:32)

Still Gallery (4:17)
 Groovy behind the scenes images with emphasis on costuming and creature effects

A/V has left the building.

Get it at Amazon:
 Bubba Ho-Tep — [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

Originally published at cinapse.co on November 15, 2016.

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