Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is almost certainly the Citizen Kane of "Elvis and JFK battle a zombie in a cowboy suit" movies.

If you watch as many movies as I do, your most common complain about them is probably something like "I felt like I had seen it all before". You wonder if there are any ideas that are truly fresh and original. Tell you what. You really can't lodge those arguments against Bubba Ho-Tep. Whatever else you may say, you can't gainsay its originality.

Years before his "death", Elvis switched places with an impersonator and returned to private life. As the film begins, he is living in a rest home in East Texas, a Sad Sack of an elderly man, moving about with the aid of a walker, and ruminating endlessly in voice-overs, mostly about getting old. His best friend is an elderly black man who insists that he is really JFK. The real "assassination" conspiracy, he insists, involved LBJ removing him from power and dying him black so that nobody would ever believe his claim that he was really the President. In fact, when JFK later hears the mummy in the corridor, he thinks it is Lyndon Johnson coming to finish him off. Elvis says, "Lyndon Johnson is dead", and Kennedy answers, "Dead? That won't stop Lyndon."

Somewhere near their rest home, there was a fierce storm which threw a truck into a river. Inside that truck was a rare Egyptian mummy and ...  well, to make a long story short, the Mummy is back. Elvis and JFK were heroes. They ARE heroes, and if heroes, even elderly decrepit ones, won't battle an evil resurrected mummy - who, I ask you, will do so? Besides, the great heroes are feeling useless and this fight is a chance to restore their youthful glory.

Very funny idea. In fact, the movie could have been both very funny and very touching, because Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis are both magnificent as Elvis and JFK, and both men play their parts perfectly straight, and with complete conviction. Campbell nails an "old Elvis". Davis doesn't try to impersonate JFK, but I think that's because we're supposed to believe that JFK is simply a crazy man who thinks he is JFK, while Elvis really is Elvis. Not that it really matters.

The source material was an award-winning oddball short story by Joe Lansdale. All the stars seemed to be aligned for this project, and I was really looking forward to this film. This really had the potential to be a zany-ass interpretation of the cinema classic "They Might Be Giants".

Unfortunately, it just doesn't really work, and the blame falls squarely in the shoulders of director Don Coscarelli, who just couldn't seem to put the whole thing together so that it was emotional, and funny, and coherent at the same time. Perhaps that could have been done, but it would have required a master to do it, and Coscarelli is basically a hack. Imagine Andy Sidaris directing American Beauty, and you'll get the idea. The final showdown between Elvis and the mummy is so clumsy that it strips all tension as well as all humor from the battle. Coscarelli's best previous films are Phantasm and The Beastmaster, two films which I like but which were made more than twenty years ago. In the twenty years between Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-tep, his directorial output consisted mostly of inferior sequels to his two successes from so long ago.

  1. (5.21) - Survival Quest (1989)
  2. (5.21) - Phantasm II (1988)
  3. (4.76) - Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
  4. (4.59) - Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)
  5. (3.96) - Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996)
  6. (3.32) - Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Given the fact that Coscarelli had no film rated as high as five in the 1990s, the film world must have been shocked to see him emerge from mediocrity at age 48 to direct a film rated 7.5 at IMDb! Bubba Ho-tep isn't really that good, of course, but it has a solid cult following because it has plenty of great ingredients: an original concept, two solid performances, and some good one-liners. If you are looking for something very different, you may join its tiny but devoted legion of fans!


DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell

  • Commentary by "the King"

  • Theatrical trailer(s), TV spot(s)

  • Joe R. Landsdale reads from Bubba Ho-Tep

  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell

  • "The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep" featurette

  • "To Make a Mummy" (makeup and effects featurette)

  • "Fit for a King" (Elvis costuming featurette)

  • "Rock Like an Egyptian" (featurette about the music of Bubba Ho-Tep)

  • Music video

  • Photo gallery

  • Limited collectible packaging

  • 12-page scrapbook/behind-the-scenes photos with personal comments from Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli and a two-page letter from Campbell to his fans

  • Widescreen anamorphic format


Two anonymous Egyptian women are topless in flashbacks.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus two and a half stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3/4, Owen Gleiberman C-.

  • British consensus out of four stars: two and a half stars. Mail 2/10, Telegraph 6/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 8/10, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.5/10. To tell you the truth, it should be more like a six, but these people voted with their hearts, and I admire that. That kind of passion is what film is really about.
  • The Box Office was about a million dollars. It never reached as many as thirty theaters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Cult favorite. I would have said C or even C- without looking at the IMDb scores and external reviews, because it is really a clumsy execution of some terrific ideas, and it sparked no box office interest at all. I really looked forward to it, then was almost completely disappointed by it. But the judgment of the film geek world, with too much supporting evidence to ignore, is that it is a great cult smash, so C+ (Cult Classic) is the obvious verdict. I think it has been overrated by people who are in love with the idea, but I'm out-voted, and it is an incredibly comprehensive DVD, so it's a must-own if you are a fan.

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