Elvis didn’t really die. See, what happened was, he got tired of the limelight and switched places with a particularly good Elvis impersonator. It was that guy who died in 1977; the real Elvis went on living that guy’s life, posing as an Elvis impersonator, until he broke his hip and wound up in a rest home in Mud Creek, Texas, where he lives today and where no one believes him when he says he’s Elvis Presley.
Or so the story goes. That’s the background on “Bubba Ho-Tep,” a most unusual campy-comedy-horror by Don Coscarelli, the man behind the “Phantasm” and “Beastmaster” films.
Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is in poor health and doesn’t have quite the, uh, manly stamina he once did. He’s bitter and irritated that no one believes he’s Elvis. He flirts a little with the pretty nurse (Ella Joyce) who attends him, but has little else to fill his days as he lies in a convalescent home. He misses his daughter and hates his ex-wife, and regrets making all those terrible movies.
He meets another resident who says he is John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) — THE John F. Kennedy. He says he went underground after he was shot so that those who sought his death would think they’d succeeded. His handlers even dyed him black, so thorough were they in keeping him hidden. Elvis thinks the guy is nuts, but hey, whatever makes you happy.
The two men discover that there’s an ancient Egyptian soul-eater working the rest home, killing patients and devouring their essences. It falls on them, therefore, to find and destroy the monster, armed only with a walker, a motorized wheelchair and a makeshift flamethrower.
Bruce Campbell is the film’s greatest asset, parlaying his cult fame as star of the “Evil Dead” series into a performance that lies somewhere between satire and straightforward comedy. Coscarelli gives him some typically Campbellite lines to say — “It’s time for A-C-T-I-O-N,” for example — and Campbell goes right ahead and delivers them with his usual panache, mixed with Elvis-style machismo. (He actually makes a pretty good Elvis.)
The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek — generally vulgarly, outrageously so — and dips only slightly into the “horror” category. Overall, I’m not entirely sure what it was trying to do. It passes the time pleasantly enough, but it’s less funny than a comedy and less scary than a monster movie. Its unusual premise goes a long way, though: How can you resist a film that has a geriatric Elvis and JFK fighting mummies?
B- (1 hr., 31 min.; )