Published Jun 01, 2004In terms of oddball concepts, it rarely gets more out there than Bubba Ho-Tep's. What if instead of dying, Elvis switched places with an impersonator? And what if Elvis got stuck living the life of the impersonator after all his documents went up in a BBQing accident? And what if the Elvis of today is a crotchety, mean old man with a cancerous sore on his penis who waits for the end in a miserable Texas rest home? And what if this rest home was being stalked by a soul-sucking mummy? Bubba Ho-Tep is a film that could easily slip into B-movie absurdity but it manages to rise above its constraints and bizarre concept due to the strength and performances of its principal actors: Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) and Ossie Davis (Malcolm X). While it's easy to marvel at Campbell's brilliant performance (he literally becomes "the King"), it is Davis's role as JFK (now black and wheel-chair bound) that lends the movie its dramatic weight, anchoring its flights of fancy with the fate most will face: old age. Director Don Coscarelli takes care to honour writer Joe R. Lansdale's script, exhibiting society's abhorrence of anything old, especially people, while also empowering the elderly, making them the heroes of the film. Despite it looking its B-movie origins at points and its pacing dragging slightly, it's the performances and underlying themes of humanity that make it cult royalty. It may only be a single-disc, but Bubba comes complete with a commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell. Content to be at the end of the project, Coscarelli and Campbell reflect on the journey, feeding off each other and dropping tidbits about placing Bruce in danger, the screening during Toronto's International Film Fest while SARS was in the air and their inability to use any Elvis music or films due to budget restraints. But it is Ossie Davis, in the "making of" featurette, who offers a moving critique on his life's work that again carries the most dramatic weight. Hell, Bubba Ho-Tep is so good even the King manages to drop by for a commentary track. Plus: deleted scenes, more. (MGM)
I couldn't believe the obstacles that were placed in Bubba's path, in terms of financing and distributing, considering those involved.
Bruce Campbell: Awww, it's the usual. Every major distributor turned us down and now it's the gag; it is like a bank loan: in order to get a loan you have to prove that you don't need it. We proved that we don't need them and now MGM are handling the distribution. It's a very odd industry. Shockingly, people aren't that imaginative in Hollywood, it's one of the least imaginative industries I've ever found, which is ironic considering it's supposed to be creative
Has playing "one of the greatest entertainers ever" grappling with mortality and age affected your view on aging?
I was 42 when we shot, the same age as Elvis when he died. That was weird, because I thought, "wow, he really had to trash himself to be dead now," because I felt pretty good. The money, the power, it's a bad combination, throw a little ignorance in and it's a volatile combination. My job was to portray a guy who was an old man. He doesn't have the Memphis Mafia, he doesn't even have his dance moves, his health is gone, no one believes him, that was my deal, just play an old guy; it wasn't so much playing "Elvis."
So there were no considerations about portraying an icon and how it would be received?
I think the film is very positive. You find him in the shitter, you always have to have somewhere to go with your character. You have nowhere to go but up, he's got cancer on his dick and he's 70 and he's dying, what could be worse for a guy who used to be Elvis? That was the only challenge, not "what would people think of the icon?"