Weird Watch: ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’

Drew Dietsch

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Star Wars, there is The Black Hole. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and TV shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 2002 horror/comedy Bubba Ho-Tep (Last time: Big Man Japan)

Some historical figures are larger than life. Their immense fame allows them to step beyond simple facts and into myth. One of the most legendary characters in American pop culture was Elvis Aaron Presley. The events surrounding his decline and death are tragic and unbefitting of such an iconic figure. So, why not rewrite history a bit to give Elvis a more heroic final adventure? And why not have that adventure take place in a rest home and involve a soul-sucking mummy? Welcome to the hilarious, vulgar, and strangely heartfelt world of Bubba Ho-Tep.

The King Is Dead

Based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale – the Stephen King of southern horror – and written/directed by Phantasm‘s Don Coscarelli, Bubba Ho-Tep begins at the Shady Rest Retirement Home in East Texas. The place is an isolated and crummy rest home that houses a number of kooky old-timers. Among them is a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy (“They dyed me this color!”) and Sebastian Haff, an elderly Elvis impersonator who actually is the real Elvis. Apparently, Elvis got tired of his life and switched places with Haff. Now, Elvis is wasting away at Shady Rest with little left to show for his life of excess and stardom. Well, there is that pus-filled growth on his…

weird watch bubba ho-tep elvis bruce campbell

Bruce Campbell plays Elvis and it’s easily one of the best fictional versions of the King ever put to film. No joke. Campbell does some of his best work in Bubba Ho-Tep and the movie is worth seeking out for his performance alone. He gets across the sadness of the character so well, and when things kick into gear he brings his trademark swagger to the game. And what causes things to go so crazy?

The King Is Undead

Turns out a mummified pharaoh was stolen by some thieves and crashed into a river during a storm. The mummy was cursed and brought back to life when his sarcophagus was opened, and now he must survive by feeding on souls. How does the mummy extract the souls? Through any available orifice, though his favorite one seems to be… how do I say this without getting in trouble?

weird watch bubba ho-tep mummy mouth
Would "Bubba Ho-Tep prefers the chocolate starfish" be considered too vulgar?

So yeah, ol’ Bubba haunts the nursing home and snacks on some senior citizen souls. When Elvis and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis in one of his funniest roles) get wind of this, they decide to take matters into their own hands. It’s time for these two codgers to take out a mummy.

Long Live the King

As bizarre as this all sounds, Bubba Ho-Tep isn’t just an exercise in ridiculousness. The story deals with the concepts of growing old and being forgotten. Campbell and Davis both turn in truly endearing performances that take these potential caricatures and turn them into lovable characters. You can tell that the story – as crass and silly as it is – really wants to give Elvis and JFK endings that are far more fantastic than their real deaths. The fact that Bubba Ho-Tep accomplishes that while also being a zany horror comedy is nothing short of magical. If you’re a fan of Elvis, fun horror flicks, and/or Bruce Campbell, this is a must-see flick.

weird watch bubba ho-tep elvis jfk
Hail to the kings, baby.

Check out our other Weird Watch articles here!