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Volume 5, Number 47

This Week's Reviews:  Bubba Ho-Tep.

This Week's Omissions:  The Cat in the Hat, Gothika, The Holy Land, The Human Stain, Pieces of April, Shattered Glass.

Don Coscarelli

Bruce Campbell
Ossie Davis
Reggie Bannister
Ella Joyce
Bob Ivy

Release: 26 Sep. 03

Bubba Ho-Tep


“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”

Gen. Douglas MacArthur probably didn’t mean for this statement to include pop icons, but Don Coscarelli, adapting a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, takes a Warholian detour from the old battle cry of the VFW. In Bubba Ho-Tep, the people who never died are John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley (coincidently, both veterans). And, indeed, they have just faded away.

The fade has been so great that they now sit together in a Texas retirement home waxing poetically on the lives they lost because of deceit and accidents. Kennedy (Davis) was carted away from Dallas in 1963 when an assassination was attempted. Hoping to secure his power, Lyndon Johnson had Kennedy died black and returned to the populace. Now, he carts around the retirement home in his electric wheelchair to complain about his missed opportunities to make this place better.

Presley (Campbell), meanwhile, accepts his lost life. In the 1970s, tired of the fans and the managers, he decided to trade places with an Elvis impersonator, the man who died in 1977. He welcomed moving into a trailer park and performing as a kitsch act because his life was again about the music instead of the fame. But, after falling off a stage (and developing a mighty disturbing penile abrasion), Elvis has been forced into convalescence at this rest home.

And, as if this premise wasn’t odd enough, the story also includes a centuries-old mummy clad in cowboy hat and spurs who is sucking the souls out of the elderly residents (although they are easy preys, they have less to offer and thus must be massacred for Bubba Ho-Tep to satiate his appetite). Throw in some scarabs and orifice humor, and Bubba Ho-Tep suddenly becomes the lovechild of Steven Sommers and David Cronenberg.

I haven’t particularly cared for Coscarelli’s shtick throughout much of his career. Not knowing where to stop, his Phantasm franchise has offered moments of brilliance amid a quagmire of idiocy. Worse can be said for The Beastmaster, a film that lacked even the hints of intelligence.

And, yet, despite the directorial pedigree (that of the mutt variety) Bubba Ho-Tep, if modestly, achieves a level of vivacity and genius heretofore unknown to Coscarelli. Although the film falls flat towards the end as the humor of the premise begins to dissipate, the proud way the director and his cast and crew tackle these absurd ideas is joyous and miraculous.

Featuring Bruce Campbell, an actor who could do this with his hands tied behind his back (his chin, an appendage of comparable size, could do the replacement work), the film has the freshness of a Gabriel García Márquez short story with irony-free flights of fancy. It is the way Campbell and Ossie Davis attack this material that allows even my misgivings about Coscarelli to be ushered aside. Bubba Ho-Tep may not be one of the year’s best films, but it is certainly one of the least forgettable.

©2003, David Perry,, 21 November 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry