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'Ho-Tep': Elvis Hasn't Left the Building

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2004; Page WE38

"Bubba Ho-tep" is one of those films that sound good on paper. It's a horror comedy set in an old folks' home in eastern Texas where a crotchety-but-still-very-much-alive Elvis Presley (or someone who thinks he's Elvis) joins forces with another geezer (this one calling himself John F. Kennedy) to do battle with an undead Egyptian mummy in a Stevie Ray Vaughan hat who has been terrorizing the residents. Come to think of it, when I read that description I just wrote, it doesn't sound that good on paper either. On film it's even sillier. Oh well, it must have looked good to someone at some point.

Joe R. Lansdale's short story, on which the campy film is based, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, which is kind of like the Pulitzer for horror fiction. And "Bubba Ho-tep," the movie, certainly comes with its own pedigree. Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, creator of "Phantasm" (and its various sequels), the film stars Bruce Campbell of the "Evil Dead" series as Elvis in a touching, funny and at times grotesque performance that is actually the best thing about the movie. Watching him gripe profanely to the nursing home staff about how he traded places with an Elvis impersonator, only to get stuck in that identity when the fake "King" died in 1977, you almost come to believe him. "Jack Kennedy" (Ossie Davis), on the other hand, is an obvious fruitcake, explaining to anyone who will listen how he had been dyed black as part of some government coverup that, quite frankly, I couldn't follow. Maybe I was having trouble staying awake.

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Filled with vulgar cracks about sexual dysfunction and genital sores and boasting special effects only a few notches above a home movie, "Bubba" is neither particularly funny nor scary, but tiresome. The best thing I can say about it is that it's original in conception, which these days is not to be underestimated. The trouble is, it may be too original for its own good.

BUBBA HO-TEP (R, 92 minutes) --Contains obscenity, partial nudity, brief violence, sexual discussion and gross bugs. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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