The Best Horror Film You’ve Never Seen: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

     I never understood the manic obsession that people have had with Elvis Presley. I recognize the man being a hell of a singer and entertainer, but this godly status status that he has obtained over the decades, just over my head. 

     So I guess I entered Bubba Ho-Tep with a bit of a smile. The story is a bit silly that some Elvis fans could see as disrespectful, but I found to be incredibly engaging. One of the most famous theories, that the film capitalizes on, is that Elvis (Bruce Campbell) didn’t actually die in 1977,but had switched places with an impersonator and is now in an old folks home in Texas. One of the residents is Jack (Ossie Davis) who claims to be JFK (the CIA dyed him black to cover up the truth). At the home, an evil, ancient mummy (Bob Ivy) is taking the souls of the residents, so its up to old Elvis and black JFK to stop it once and for all. 

     I know this plot sounds fucking absurd and silly, but holy shit does it work. There’s an unexpected pathos to the character of Elvis, which actually made me care about him. He actually wonders through this beautiful written narration that if his daughter knew he were still alive, would she come visit him? 

     The key to Bruce Campbell’s performance is that he doesn’t treat Elvis as a joke; he skillfully manages to weave a characterization that doesn’t even come close to parody. When the climatic battle occurs, I was genuinely worried that Jack and Elvis might not be able to get out alive; I started to wonder how many horror films have evoked that feeling in myself. 

     Director Don Cascarelli (Phantasm) found the delicate balancing act that evokes both laughs and a tear or two by his use of Brian Tyler’s oddly melancholy score. When one of the residents went out guns blazing facing off against the Bubba Ho-Tep, it was fucking sad. The characters actually mourned his death, isn’t it against the law to have characters in a horror movie actually give a shit that someone they knew died? Maybe they didn’t get that memo. 

     After first seeing this film, I finally got the joyous appeal of the King, how heroic and tortured the man was. I’m shocked to this day that more Elvis fans haven’t lauded the movie as the most respectful portrayal of their icon in film. That they finally get to see their hero in the way they have always seen him. 

     I’m a big advocate of films that are fearless in just taking a batshit crazy idea for a movie and just fucking go with it. The difference with Bubba Ho-Tep is that Coscarelli actually shows respect to his characters, and I’m pretty damn certain that after you see the flick, the bar for horror was unknowingly set quite high. 

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