In the 1970s, Elvis Presley (Campbell) sought out the world's greatest Elvis impersonator, Sebastian Haff. They secretly switched places, so Elvis could retire in peace. Unfortunately, all the documentation was lost in a trailer explosion, Haff died from a drug overdose, and Elvis fell from the stage while impersonating himself and went into a coma for twenty years. Now alone, assumed crazy, and convalescent in a west Texas retirement home with a mysterious growth on his genitals, he languishes.
John F. Kennedy (Davis), once president of the United States. His death faked, half his brain removed and replaced with a bag of sand, and his body dyed black by the CIA, Kennedy is also a resident of this same rest home - that's his story, at least. The woman who claims to be his niece is nice enough, and he fears for his life if he goes public, so he sits, re-creating Dealey Plaza in miniature, trying to figure out just what happened to him. He's the only one who believes his neighbor Elvis really is who he claims to be (though Elvis believes he's nuts).
The mysterious cursed mummy was stolen from a museum by treasure-hunting rednecks, dressed in a cowboy outfit, and lost in a storm in the river by the retirement home. He rises from the depths to consume the souls of the living, feeding at the retirement home to avoid detection, releasing the residual parts of their souls into the men's room, and scratching obscene hieroglyphs on the stall. The defeated and sick elders aren't very nourishing, but no one misses them. No one believes them. No one cares. In addition, the film achieves a strong sense of realism by having the mummy prey on elderly people who require walkers, canes, and wheel-chairs to get around, if they are not actually bed-ridden. Being slow and plodding, the mummy would not be a real threat to typical horror movie protagonists who are usually teens or young adults who could easily run circles around it.
Only JFK and Elvis can defeat Bubba Ho-Tep before he condemns more helpless elders to an afterlife in the sewer.
A prequel comic book series written by the orginal author, Joe R. Lansdale, called Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers was published by IDW Publishing.
This film contains examples of:
- Adapted Out: The only significant character not to make the transition from page to film is an old lady who believes herself to be a sex changed John Dillinger.
- Alternate History: Elvis didn't die on the toilet in 1977, he committed a Heroic Sacrifice killing a mummy in 2002.
- Ambiguous Situation: A big part of the movie is that it intentionally leaves it in question if Elvis and Kennedy are really who they say they are or if they're just two deluded, old men (or if one is telling the truth and the other is deluded). Evidence for both possibilities is liberally sprinkled throughout the film.
- Apologetic Attacker: Elvis says "Sorry, man" before setting Ho-Tep on fire.
- Asshole Victim: The mummy's first victim is an elderly woman that snatches the glasses off a woman in an iron lung and steals candies from the sick.
- Ass Shove: Elvis says that if he's caught by Ho-Tep, the mummy will shove the paint can up his ass then shove Elvis and the wheelchair up Jack's ass.
- Battleaxe Nurse: Downplayed with Elvis' nurse. She performs her duties well and isn't physically mistreating Elvis, but she's still an apathetic Jerkass who constantly condescends him and has no patience for his claims of being the real Elvis.
- Big Bad: King Amen Ho-Tep, the soul-sucking Mummy invading the rest home.
- Bittersweet Ending: The last shot of the movie is Elvis breathing his last as he looks up at the stars. The mummy has been destroyed and the residents of the nursing home are now safe. Right before he dies, the stars reshape themselves into the hieroglyphics for "ALL IS WELL", allowing him to die content, knowing his work is done.
- Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Downplayed somewhat. The residents are fed and their medical conditions are taken care of... but that's it. They rot away in their rooms save for mealtimes and occasional visits from family.
- Casting Gag: Ella Joyce played Elvis's nurse in the movie, although she might be more recognized as Eleanor Emerson, a registered nurse married to Baltimore garbageman Roc in the Fox sitcom of the same name.
- Catchphrase: All of Elvis' signature phrases are said multiple times. "Thank you very much" and "Takin' care of business"/"TCB" in particular.
- Cessation of Existence: The souls Bubba devours cease to be entirely. Presumably, the ones that fly out of him as he dies hadn't been fully digested yet.
- Color Me Black: Kennedy claims to be the actual president after the government faked his death and died his skin brown.
- Comic-Book Adaptation: As well as the Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers prequel there was also Army Of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep crossover with Evil Dead.
- Credits Gag:
- The copyright violation warning threatens violators with "the wrath of Bubba Ho Tep". Also, it is stated that Elvis will return in "Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires".
- After the closing credits on the DVD Elvis says, "Remember to be kind, rewind...well, um, guess you don't need to rewind, with DVD these days."
- Death Faked for You: Jack Kennedy claims the government faked his death and stuck him in a home.
- Doppelgänger Crossover: The Army Of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep has Elvis meeting Ash Williams who also played by Bruce Campbell.
- Dramatic Unmask: Subverted. The Lone Ranger is unmasked after he dies with no fanfare.
- Elvis Impersonator: Elvis claims to have swapped places with one then worked as one because that's all he was good at. Or if you believe the nurse, he was always one and the coma affected his mind.
- Elvis Lives: The real Elvis didn't die of a drug overdose, but had retired in secret while an Elvis impersonator took his place. Maybe.
- Fake Shemp: The movie didn't have the budget to license footage from any of Elvis' movies or any recordings of Elvis' actual music, so the TV scene showing old Elvis movies is stock footage with actors who vaguely resemble Elvis without showing their face, and the scene with Elvis performing is using vague Elvis-like music.
- Fate Worse than Death: Bubba Ho Tep consumes and digests the souls of his victims, preventing them from any afterlife.
- Genre-Busting: It's a hilarious spoof of B-movie monster films, a poignant tale of the decline of Elvis Presley, a parable about how being old does not necessarily make one worthless, a genuinely unnerving horror film and a kickass action movie.
- Gun Twirling: Kemosabe does this with his cap guns before he "attacks" the mummy with them.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Three: Elvis decides it's better to die killing the mummy than wait and languish to die from the cancer on his penis. JFK goes out in a blaze by ramming the creature with his electric wheelchair. And Kemosabe, who dies earlier in the film facing down the mummy with a pair of cap pistols, dies soul-intact.
- Hypocritical Humor: Elvis is very annoyed that people think him to be some crazy old man instead of the genuine article. The only one to believe him is JFK, who Elvis initially thinks is a crazy old man instead of the genuine article.
- Inner Monologue: Elvis spends a fair part of the film reflecting and philosophizing about what might have been.
- Instant Runes: Hieroglyphs sometimes fly out of Ho-Tep's mouth when he talks though it's not clear if they can be seen In-Universe or if they're part of the sub-titles.
- Kill It with Fire: The mummy is destroyed by being doused with a combination of rubbing alcohol and gasoline from an insecticide sprayer and set ablaze.
- Lampshade Hanging: Elvis saying "Shitty pictures, every single one" on footage using an Elvis look alike due to the movie not being able to afford real footage or music of Elvis.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Elvis has suffered erectile dysfunction for decades. His roommate's twentysomething daughter bending over in front of him only causes "[his] dick to flutter for a second, like a pigeon having a heart attack," though he also admits that at this stage of the game, even the flutter is reassuring.
- Napoleon Delusion: Elvis and JFK could be the real deal, or they could just be two very, very delusional old men.
- Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: Elvis has hallucinations, which might imply an underlying problem like dementia. The "supernatural" part comes because he's implied to see ghostly things, such as the soul of one of Bubba Ho Tep's victims pleading for help (Bubba doesn't need to carry the bodies around, remember), he receives a vision of Bubba's past from looking in his eyes, and sees the gods' words in the sky in the end. He's also able to accurately sight and strike at Ho Tep's scarab.
- No Name Given: Ella Joyce's nurse character is never named.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: "Bubba Ho Tep" is just a name Elvis happens to call the mummy for lack of knowledge about its real identity.
- Painful Rhyme: The ancient spell against evil translates out to one of these, but Bubba Ho Tep does seem more vulnerable afterwards.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Why does Bubba stalk a retirement home? Nobody is going to wonder about old people suddenly dying overnight there. Or at least that's what Elvis theorizes is the reason.
- Racial Transformation: One of Elvis' fellow patients at the nursing home is a black man who believes that he's John F. Kennedy, having been subjected to this by the CIA and Lyndon Johnson after the attempt on his life failed in order to ensure that nobody would take his claims seriously. The film never answers whether or not he's right, but it's implied that he's just a crazy old man undergoing a Napoleon Delusion.
- Running Gag: The oft-mentioned malignant tumor on Elvis's johnson.
- Sassy Black Woman: Elvis' nurse is a less positive example as much of her sass is directed at belittling him and mocking his story of being the real Elvis.
- Scatterbrained Senior: One of the residents at the rest home is a rambling, dementia-ridden old man dressed as the Lone Ranger that Elvis calls "Kemosabe". Elvis refers to him as a friend, but admits that Kemosabe never seems to notice his presence. When Kemosabe seemingly chases off the mummy, it's not clear if he actually understands what's going on. Elvis and JFK might also be this, if their stories aren't actually true.
- Sequel Hook: The end credits said Elvis will return in "Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires". This was originally just a Credits Gag, but the movie's positive reception convinced Coscarelli to actually try to make it a reality. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground.
- Shout-Out: Among others, The Lone Ranger appears to have ended up in the nursing home as well.
- Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror
- Stealth Pun: Near the end, the mummy speaks in hieroglyphics... obscene and fake hieroglyphics, at that. It's the mummy's curse.
- Those Two Guys: The two bickering hearse drivers who sporadically appear throughout the film to haul away the deceased. In addition to providing some comic relief, the pair help to illustrate the rest home staff's indifferent, uncaring attitude towards the elderly residents with the two being more concerned with their petty arguments than with the dead bodies they're loading into the hearse.
- Unseen Evil: The mummy's presence causes the lights to fade whenever it approaches, keeping it partially obscured for most of the film.
- Unreliable Narrator: As stated, Elvis, JFK, or both could easily be someone besides who they claim to be.
- Who Shot JFK?: According to Jack, it was Lyndon Johnson and Congress who ordered his assassination, who proceeded to dye his body black and ship him out when it failed.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Elvis ended up working as an Elvis impersonator.
- Your Soul Is Mine!: Bubba Ho Tep eats souls.