Bubba Ho-Tep is a small-release film, written and directed by Don Coscarelli (based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale), starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. The premise: Three old men far removed from their proper places fight it out for their souls. Did we mention the three are Elvis, an old black man who claims he's John F. Kennedy, and a mummy dressed like a cowboy?
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 sequel, "Bubba Nosferatu", was planned (and hinted at in the credits), but died in the planning stage when Bruce Campbell declined to reprise his role.
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:
- Adult Fear: Growing old and weak and finding yourself left to die in a care home, with your children "too busy" to come and see you. (Elvis sees his room-mate's daughter twice in three years - once when she booked him in, and once after he dies. She throws his belongings and mementos in the bin).
- Alternate History: Elvis didn't die on the toilet in 1977, he committed a Heroic Sacrifice killing a mummy in 2002, a death better suiting a king!
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "How did I end up here? What happened to me? What time's lunch, and considering what they serve, why do I care?"
- 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.
- Badass Grandpa: A double shot. Elvis and JFK are old, tired, used up, and waiting to die in a nursing home. However, when it comes to manning up and going out to battle an ancient Egyptian mummy, they kick ass, take names, and get the job done.
- 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. On the plus side, the mummy has been destroyed and the residents of the nursing home are now safe..
- Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: the setting of the movie.
- Captain Ersatz / Suspiciously Similar Song: The movie didn't have the budget to license footage from any of Elvis' movies or any recordings of Elvis' actual music. 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.
- 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.
- Catch-Phrase: All of Elvis' signature phrases are said multiple times. "Thank you very much" and "Takin' care of business"/"TCB" in particular.
- Cessation of Existence: What awaits the souls Bubba devours. Presumably, the ones that fly out of him as he dies hadn't been fully digested yet.
- 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."
- Dramatic Unmask: Subverted. The Lone Ranger is unmasked after he dies with no fanfare.
- Dying as Yourself: Because soul-suckin' sumbitch mummies do not a friendly bedmate make.
- Elvis Lives: Combined with Alternative Character Interpretation, the real Elvis didn't die of a drug overdose, but had retired in secret.
- Fate Worse than Death: Bubba Ho Tep consumes and digests the souls of his victims, preventing them from any afterlife. A rather neat way to illustrate why he's such a problem when they'll all be dying soon anyway.
- 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.
- Go Out with a Smile: Twice.
- "Kemosabe was dead of a ruptured heart valve before he hit the floor. He went out with guns blazing. Soul intact."
- Elvis himself. "Thank you. Thank you very much..."
- 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.note
- Inner Monologue: Elvis spends a fair part of the film reflecting and philosophizing about what might have been.
- 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.
- Napoleon Delusion: Elivs and JFK could be the real deal, or they could just be two very, very delusional old men.
- Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: "Don't make me use my stuff on ya, baby!"
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Never...but NEVER, fuck with The King!!!"
- Running Gag: The oft-mentioned malignant tumor on Elvis's johnson.
- Shout-Out: Among the 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.
- They Fight Crime!: Two legends we only think are dead. They fight one who really is.
- 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.
- It goes away when he realizes that fighting the mummy has given him purpose again.
- Ultimate 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.
- Whole Plot Reference: This inspired the AH.com: The Series episode "The Return of the King".
- Who Shot JFK?: According to JFK, it was Lyndon Johnson and Congress, who proceeded to dye his body black and ship him out when it failed.