Bubba Ho-Tep was Don Coscarellis long-awaited return to new genre material and is his most mature and intelligent film to date. Disappointingly, Bubba Ho-Tep did only modest business, more on video than in theatrical release, although did build up a slow cult reputation around the world. It also won several awards when it came out, including the Bram Stoker Award for Best Screenplay, even a surprise nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Online Film Critics Association.
Bubba Ho-tep, which is taken from a 1994 short story by Texan horror writer Joe R. Lansdale (the first of Lansdales works to be adapted to screen), has a concept that sounds like a way-out tabloid headline Elvis and JFK found alive in a Texas retirement home and team-up to combat a soul-sucking mummy. To Coscarellis considerable credit, the film plays such a concept far more seriously than one might have thought possible. Indeed, everything in Bubba Ho-tep is played with a thorough conviction. A completely unrecognisable Bruce Campbell does an excellent job playing Elvis, getting the voice down perfect. Moreover, Coscarellis script gets inside the character of an aging Elvis with surprising thoughtfulness. Shitty pictures every single one, Bruce Campbell dismiss Elviss movie career in one of the voice-over reminiscences. Later he notes: Shouldve fired Colonel Parker about the time of the pictures. Old man was a shark and a fool and I was a fool for following him. Ozzie Davis also plays JFK with witty amusement.
Coscarelli does a fine job of portraying the maddening banality of a retirement home the aging dementia of the residents, the indifference of family members, the patent condescension of the nursing staff. At the same time amidst this, the film has a sophisticated tongue-in-cheek wit Elvis combating giant cockroaches with a bedpan or the image of Bruce Campbell on a walking frame and Ozzie Davis in a motorised wheelchair arming themselves and heading off into battle with the mummy. Bruce Campbell sums the absurdity of the exercise up perfectly at one point: Im damned if Im going to let some damn, graffiti-writing soul-sucking mummy in a goddamn oversize cowboy hat and boots take my friends souls and shit them down the visitors toilet.
The horror element is surprisingly subdued and takes a backseat to the eccentric character comedy at the forefront of the story, nevertheless Coscarelli crafts the mummys appearances well, especially a sequence where it walks down the hall in cowboy boots backlit by light.
The end credits announce that Elvis Returns in Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires, starring Sebastian Huff, which Don Coscarelli has now announced for several years. His next film was the mind-bendingly hilarious John Dies at the End (2012).
Joe R. Lansdales books were also adapted into the thriller Cold in July (2014). He also wrote the screenplay for Son of Batman (2014), as well as episodes of the animated Batman (1992-4) and Superman (1996-2000).
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this sites Best of 2002 Awards).