Bubba Ho-Tep is a very unusual story, and it is not just because its plot revolves around a geriatric Elvis Presley fighting an Egyptian mummy. So much of our culture is youth-oriented, especially when it comes to the horror genre. It is refreshing to see a story that focuses on the elderly not only having to deal with a supernatural threat but also with their own issues like loneliness and having a lack of self-worth.
Elvis has been alive this whole time and found himself in a nursing home at the beginning of this tale. He is in a “The Prince and the Pauper” situation in which he has switched places with an Elvis impersonator. He enjoyed being able to be “normal” again, and he was able to get away from some of the negative influences in his life at the time because of the switcheroo. The only problems were that the impersonator, Sebastian Haff, liked drugs a little too much and died in his place. All the evidence of the exchange that Elvis had burnt up in a trailer fire some years ago. This situation creates some comedic reactions when he stops pretending to be Mr. Haff and starts telling people that he is the real Elvis Aaron Presley.
Both the book and the movie do a great job showing Elvis’ frustration with not being taken seriously and it is not just because he was claiming to be the real Elvis. He is at an age where even if he cusses out someone, he does it without upsetting them. He says it best “Everything you do is either worthless or sadly amusing.” Women aren’t concerned about their modesty around him because they view him as a harmless little old man. More of an old hound dog than a man. He is far from the “King of Rock and Roll” that he used to be.
His only friend is a man that believes that he is John F. Kennedy, despite the fact he is the wrong skin color. After J.F.K.’s famous assassination on November 22, 1963, he claims that his skin was dyed and a piece of his brain is in a jar hooked up to a battery sending him signals. He believes that he is in constant danger due to his enemies, Lyndon B. Johnson, sending imaginary assassins after him. At this point, the lines between nursing home and mental hospital start to blur a bit. The important thing is that when the residents of the home start to die, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Presley begin putting the pieces together about what’s going on and decide to T.C.B. (Take Care of Business).
Notwithstanding their questionable mental states, there is an honest to goodness Egyptian mummy terrorizing the residents of the nursing home. It has to feed on the souls of the living for it to continue existing. The senior citizens’ souls don’t have much life in them since they are near the end of theirs. What they lack in quality though they make up in quantity. The mummy has a veritable buffeteria of souls. While preying on those that are naturally so close to death, no one suspects a thing is wrong when they die.
The movie is a very faithful adaptation of this short story. I don’t think that either is necessarily for everyone. Both versions feature some pretty vulgar language and imagery that usually focus on the King’s penis. There is a point to it all, and his struggle with his privates represent physically the things that he is wrestling with emotionally. I think that it’s done cleverly, but it’s easy to see that it’s not intended for a mainstream audience.
The mummy’s sense of humor is kinda lowbrow too. He sucks the souls from the elderly out of their butts, then passes the waste after he digests them in the toilet. He writes in hieroglyphics on the walls of the restroom stalls insulting pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphics are actually drawn out in the book and used as subtitles in the movie. I thought that was a nice touch for a few jokes.
The story is more than just dick and fart jokes. There are several tender scenes in the narrative. For example, Elvis’ roommate, Bull, at nursing home passes away. Bull’s estranged daughter shows up to go through his belongings in an icy manner. She takes a few things but leaves behind several photos and his Purple Heart. This causes Elvis to think about his relationship with his daughter, and he wonders if she would act the same way if he died. The scene is almost too real to handle. Its a reminder of how easily that some elderly folks can be forgotten by society and their loved ones. It’s potentially the scariest part of this narrative.
I enjoyed both the short story and the feature film of Bubba Ho-Tep. If any of what I’ve said interests you, I don’t think you could go wrong with either version. The movie does have the advantage of having some great performances by its two leads, Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. I can guarantee you that it is the best Elvis versus a undead mummy story that you’ll ever see or read. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Written by Joe R. Lansdale
Original Publication Date: August 1994