In an era where too many context and situations are overused, Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) pops out of the crowd with a surprise that I will not soon forget. Told by simple words, this story can only appear impertinent. One has to savour the first fifteen minutes of Bubba Ho-Tep to grasp the film’s delicacy.
Isolated old folks have specific behaviour and discussion topics. Their way of life is slower, calmer. This is the case of our two heroes that, just like children, secretly devour chocolate bars. Then, when the murders begin, John spurts out a theory implicating an Egyptian mummy that swallows souls. Curiously, he is straight on target. The question that follows is worthy of the best caricatures: instead of questionings themselves about the veracity of their hypothesis, they take forever to try and understand how the mummy evacuates its nourishment.
Bruce Campbell is many things but he is first and foremost the hero by excellence. He has a square face, has sarcasm in his voice and he possesses the charisma needed for the job. Furthermore, his filmography supports this reputation. Rare are those who can personify an old and grouchy Elvis Presley as well as Bruce Campbell did. Even though he fought an army of demons with anything he could put his hands on in Evil Dead, in Bubba Ho-Tep he has trouble standing up and fights off enemies with his walker. When he is tired of being pushed around, he menaces the mummy with Kung Fu stances and dances as only Elvis can perform. Sadly, regardless of how much effort our heroes put in the fight, they don’t succeed in doing much seeing their physical form. This is not only sadly realistic but also amusingly funny.
We don’t see the mummy very well as it is always hidden in the shadows. Judging by the quality of the giant murderous cockroach, the lack of budget is the primary reason for this. Regardless, the makeup and costumes used to add 23 years and 60 pounds on Bruce Campbell are impeccable. I really had the impression that Elvis wasn’t dead!
On another note, the film advances pretty slowly. Those who are pleased by such humour won’t see it as a problem. In fact, the mummy is only a catalyst: a way to push two amusing old men to their limits. There lacks detail pertaining to the mummy’s presence and past; this may have been done on purpose. After all, abundance of detail sometimes kills off the mystery behind a horror movie.
Bubba Ho-Tep is unique. Not only does it avoid clichés, it goes against the grain. It combines humor and sadness with the sinister aspect of horror movies.