Bubba Ho-Tep is not as popular as it should be. It’s a 2002 independent film (made with an extremely low budget) directed by Don Coscarelli, a director who made a handful of movies during his over thirty years-long career that began in 1975 with Jim, the World’s Greatest. His most successful film is probably 1979’s Phantasm, but today I’m writing about one of his latest works, Bubba Ho-Tep (based on the book of the same name by John R. Lansdale). Not only is it directed by an d not only directed by an indie director, but the protagonist is Bruce Campbell, an actor whose career is filled with films made with little money and turned out to achieve cult status (ask Sam Raimi about it).
The film begins with two explanations. 1) Ho-Tep means son of a pharaoh, so it’s a surname pertaining to a family who ruled ancient Egypt. 2) Bubba means uneducated conservative white male of the southern US (redneck). The story takes place in Texas, more precisely in a nursing home for the elderly where Elvis Prestley (that is Sebastian Haff, played by Bruce Campbell), an African American John Fitzgerald Kennedy (played by another legend, Ossie Davis: poet, writer, activist, actor, and more), and various other strange characters are spending their last days. The whole first part of the film shows all too realistically the sadness linked to old age, the diseases that come with it, and loneliness. For example, when Callie (Heidi Marnhout) collects (and throws away) the things that belonged to her father (Harrison Young) who just died in the room he shared with Elvis, it’s sad to discover that she had never visited him in the various years in which he was in the nursing home even though she thought he had been a good man. But this doesn’t change the fact that he spent his last years lonely and abandoned! This is even more sad thinking about all the old victims of Covid-19 of this first half of 2020…
I know what you are thinking: is this movie about Elvis (who’s alive), JFK (who survived the Dallas shooting), and an ancient pharaoh so serious? Well yes it is, and this surprised me when I was watching it. Bubba Ho-Tep is a melancholic film about old age and features two elderly people as the protagonists, which is quite rare in high-budget Hollywood movies where everyone’s always young and beautiful. At the same time, though, it’s a fun b-movie about giant beetles attacking old men and an ancient pharaoh sucking their souls out!
In short, in Bubba Ho-Tep there’s a bit of everything, so much so that there are moments when Coscarelli exaggerates with the explanations that I would have preferred not to get in order to leave some mystery around the strange appearance of a pharaoh in Texas. On the other hand, I appreciated Elvis’s thoughts narrated by the off-screen voice of Bruce Campbell (who had to undergo a two-hour and forty-five make-up session every day before filming). By the way, he’s great both in the role of the elderly and sick Elvis and as the young Elvis tired of his life, success, and fame. His voice-over gives depth to the part of the story centered on old age and loneliness without being boring or repetitive.
Finally, I’d like to add that Coscarelli gets the most out of a skimpy budget: the movie looks like a medium-budget film, and there are also at least a couple of really impressive stunts when the pharaoh catches fire! In short, Bubba Ho-Tep qualifies as the perfect cult movie: it’s an independent film made by an independent director with two legendary actors, what more could we ask for? Its 88 minutes of duration literally fly and in addition to pure entertainment, the movie even manages to make you think about the conditions of the elderly in today’s society. Highly recommended! Ciao!
- The movie trailer on Youtube
- The movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
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