Bubba Ho-Tep is a low budget comedy-horror film which is greater, and has more impact, than the film’s ridiculous premise has any right to be. Cinematically, Bubba Ho-Tep feels like an independent film made by a small production team because of the film’s limited sets, lack of gore, and character focused story-telling; but behind the camera, Bubba Ho-Tep was written and directed by Don Coscarelli, the genius behind the outstanding Phantasm series of films. Because of the talent of those involved, Bubba Ho-Tep is much better than other low budget, wacky horror films that came out around the same time. Unlike other contemporary low budget horror movies, Bubba Ho-Tep utilizes it’s grand potential to create a memorable cinematic achievement: a horror comedy without any gore, or violence, with a story that’s impressively gripping with bizarre characters who feel very human.
The main attraction of Bubba Ho-Tep is the star power of legendary actor Bruce Campbell, playing the role of an aging Elvis Presley who lives in a retirement home which is set upon by an Egyptian, red neck, soul sucking zombie. Surprisingly, Bubba Ho-Tep is very serious about the main character being Elvis Presley and not just an impersonator, or the result of a bad joke about Elvis still being alive, the movie’s impeccable writing sets up a complete backstory for the character of Elvis Presley which is funny, and very emotional. The whole film is about Elvis’s personal conflict and his search for redemption after leaving everything behind, and the inclusion of the titular Bubba Ho-Tep is Elvis’s final chance of redemption after all he’s been through, despite being old and having a broken hip. As expected, Bruce Campbell gives a wonderful performance as the aging Elvis Presley. Bruce Campbell manages to imitate The King’s more caricatured mannerisms down to a tee, as well as having a fantastic on-screen charisma that matches that of Elvis Presley himself. He manages to make the character believable, sympathetic and incredibly relatable. Bruce Campbell feels like the perfect pick to play Elvis Presley as he puts his heart, soul and rock ‘n’ roll into the character.
However, to go along with Bruce Campbell’s amazing performance is a fantastically well-written script that seamlessly mixes outlandish comedy with very emotional sequences. Bubba Ho-Tep is a ridiculously wacky film, but it is also very relatable. The film’s main theme is about finding purpose in life, especially finding purpose in a life which is mundane and limiting. The story of Bubba Ho-Tep makes a point about the worth of someone’s soul: the difference between a strong soul, full of energy and passion, and a weak soul, full of regret, loneliness and vulnerability. The personal struggles that the characters go through are relatable to someone of any age who is dealing with emotional struggles and are trying to find their place in life. All in all, the ideas behind the story are much more intelligent than what one would expect from the incredibly crazy premise of an aging Elvis Presley and JFK fighting a zombie hillbilly soul devourer.
In my opinion, Bubba Ho-tep is one the most memorable, understated films of the 21st Century. Ever since I first watched it many years ago, this film has locked itself in my memory as one of the most entertaining and memorable horror films that I have ever seen. The only fault that I could criticize the film for is the low-budget, independent feel of the movie; but seeing as the film was genuinely shot on a tight budget, I feel that my only criticism is completely unjust. In the end, I only wish this film was better known around the horror community, instead of being a cult classic, because this film deserves to be hailed as a contemporary classic of the horror-comedy genre instead of a hidden gem just waiting to be found by horror fans and cinephiles alike.