Region 1 (US) Edition - Reviewed by Matt West

Director:  Don Coscarelli

Starring:  Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy

“That’s my daughter”

“I know. We weren’t there for our kids when they needed us, were we?”

“Man, if I could just talk to her again, tell her I love her. Try to make things right somehow”

“No need for regrets, Elvis. We were the best fathers we could be under the circumstances”.

That exchange pretty much typifies Don Coscarelli’s Bubbo Ho-tep. The cover of the disc proclaims it a horror, some websites have called it a comedy – this is no more a horror comedy than Die Another Day is a Bond film. There are fleeting moments of horror, and glittering moments of comedy – but at its heart this film is a tribute to two of America’s icons – Elvis Presley and John F Kennedy.

It’s going to be difficult to wax lyrical about this film without several spoilers, to that end I apologise if anyone feels they’re missing out on any surprises. I shall try to cover up as many spoilers as I can.


Elvis Presley now spends much of his time in an old people’s home, Shady Rest in East Texas. He is an old man, full of regrets, with a bad hip and a pus-filled lump on his genitals. He’s still Elvis, we can all see that, but to the staff of the home and his fellow residents he is Sebastian Haff. It’s this depiction and portrayal of Elvis that’s the key to the film’s success. For many people, whether they like Elvis or not, he is an icon – almost an untouchable person. To see him dilapidated in a hospital bed fretting over whether he’ll ever get an erection again is instantly heartbreaking, and it’s difficult to not feel something for this shadow of the former king.

Something’s amiss in Shady Rest. Residents are being attacked in the night and carted out dead the next morning. Pay attention to these sequences where residents are removed as it’s the only time the film scores a negative on the perfect-o-meter. At a guess I’d say it was a case of the director casting his mates… but the two orderlies from the morgue are far too over-the-top in a film which manages to make over-the-top the norm.

As you can read in any write up, Elvis and JFK eventually do battle with a mummy.

Forget all that. The film’s not about the mummy – it’s about the heroes… JFK and Elvis. Or to put it more bluntly and cynically – it’s about our treatment of the elderly, the famous and celebrities (I always separate the two). There is no denying that this old people’s home is an exaggeration of the real thing - paint-peeled walls, tattered wallpaper, dreadful food, no music, no recreation, no interaction, no visitors – but it gets its point across very well. They may be old now – but that old boy in the corner bed might have once been the President of the United States… or even The King of Rock and Roll.

Very early on we’re fed a subliminal moment which will programme us for the film’s closing moments. A young girl comes to clear away her dead father’s effects and Elvis doesn’t exactly berate her, but he does reclaim the old man’s proof of existence – his purple heart, his photos, items which had been thrown into the bin. This moment is played with incredible emotion by Bruce Campbell – for once proving he’s not the B-Movie actor he claims to be… but a gifted performer capable of bringing a subtle anger to a scene which any other actor would make cheesy.

But I digress. It would be easy to stage a song-and-dance appreciation of Bruce Campbell’s performance as Elvis – but I feel in previews and reviews I’ve read previously that Ossie Davis is being cruelly ignored.

I’m sure for most people out there the discovery that JFK is not only still alive but also black makes perfect sense. To me it’s the icing on the cake for a film that simply doesn’t care about trivial details. Yes you could argue the toss that perhaps he’s not really JFK… equally you could do the same about Elvis – he’s not really Elvis he’s an impersonator. That’s not the point. This is two old guys trying to regain a bit of dignity and an ounce of their former glory. The tragedy here is that two men who changed the world so drastically are sitting in a care home with no visitors, none of their family and nothing to look forward to.

Which brings me full circle to the quote at the top of the page - Elvis’ lament to his daughter and JFK’s equal regret toward his own children. This isn’t a horror and it isn’t a comedy – it’s a tragic tale with some incredible performances and several fantastic laughs.  


What we have here is a single disc edition. The bitrate while average sits at between 4.4 and 7.8 – occasionally peaking at 10 during black video (work that one out!). The menus are animated with occasional sound bites from Elvis… namely the Special Features menu. The disc is, as one would expect, presented in anamorphic widescreen.

The major fault with the disc that I can find is the sound. While it’s not offensive, the dialogue seems to distort, mostly toward the end of the film. At first I thought it was my centre speaker and actually stopped the film to rewire it – but the fault remained. So I tried it on a mono TV and the dialogue still distorts. Check the scene mentioned above (chapter 27). The music and sound effects are fine though, and the 5.1 score floods the speakers nicely with its blend of bluegrass and gentle rock. And the dialogue thing isn’t a major distraction – but I spent some time stripping a new wire for the speaker and needn’t have bothered.

The picture however is sharp as a pin, the slightly de-saturated rest home sequences look even better when highlighted by the brightly coloured flashback sequences. The disc certainly does them justice.


The extras package is surprisingly lightweight. There’s a commentary track with Coscarelli and Campbell which is a pleasant affair. It’s hard to credit Coscarelli’s lack of credentials (Phantasm?!) but he’s clearly on track now and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of his name. Campbell displays genuine enthusiasm for the project – even dismissing the make-up application sessions in a very “So what?” kind of way.

A second commentary track features Campbell as Elvis. It’s more of a talking info-text track than anything else and I must admit the novelty wore off after five minutes. All audio tracks are selectable via the audio button and not locked via the menu. Hurrah for that.

The film is based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale and there is a reading of this novella by the author on the disc. It’s accompanied by Photoshopped images from the film.

The Making of Bubba Ho-tep is split into four parts, and even then feels like it could’ve been more. However, the impression is given that the money with this film was spent on the film itself and not on a prospective DVD release as is usually the case these days. It’s interesting enough… but still feels like EPK.

The music video is an odd case. As the film ended I wondered if there was a soundtrack album – but then I thought about it and realised there was really only the one long piece of music repeated several times. However it’s a superb soundtrack – the main theme is presented here in a music video cringingly reminiscent of the John Carpenter music video on the Big Trouble in Little China DVD.

A trailer, TV spot, about a dozen trailers for dreadful MGM releases and a photo gallery are also present.

But the deleted scenes make for interesting viewing. Rather than Elvis’ voice-over we now have Lansdale’s reading as a narrator. It’s a crucial lesson in film-making that the smallest change can make all the difference.

 I just can’t believe this is the guy that made Phantasm!


This film spat a tear in my eye at the end and for that I’m grateful. It’s a refreshingly different film in a good way, unlike the pseudo-bohemia of Being John Malkovich. I’d recommend it to anyone and I’ve actually lent it to my mother who is a big Elvis fan. It should be interesting to hear the results.











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