by Erik Henriksen

Bubba Ho-Tep

dir. Coscarelli

Opens Fri Sept 19

Cinema 21

Throughout history, cinema has told many great stories--stories that revolutionize cultures, that meditate upon emotion and philosophy, that attempt to define what it means to be this thing we call "human."

All of those stories are pure shit compared to Don Coscarelli's brilliant film Bubba Ho-Tep. Bubba Ho-Tep has an ingenious premise: Elvis (Bruce Campbell)--who didn't die, but instead swapped places with an Elvis impersonator--is stuck in a dilapidated rest home, spending his days desperately trying to convince nurses and visitors that he's The King.

Unfortunately, the only person who'll believe Elvis' claims is another rest home resident: JFK (Ossie Davis), who insists that he survived his assassination, was dyed black, then stuck in the retirement home thanks to a Lyndon Johnson-led conspiracy.

Elvis and JFK soon notice their geriatric compatriots are dying off even more often than usual. After some investigation, they discover that the culprit is an evil, soul-sucking mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep. So, as only two American mega-icons can, the two combine forces to kick some undead Egyptian ass.

Coscarelli--whose screenplay is based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale--could've easily let such a concept support nothing more than an amusing horror/comedy. Instead, he takes the risky-as-shit route of focusing on the characters--Campbell's subtly nuanced Elvis is a tired has-been who eventually rises to hero status, while Davis' JFK gradually evolves from a doddering old man to a presidential authority. Character development and shlocky horror could have clashed horribly, but Coscarelli manages a strangely effective balance--it's unexpected and surreal, but Bubba Ho-Tep is as involving as it is entertaining.

Way more important than all that, however, is this: watching Elvis and JFK go after an evil mummy flat-out kicks ass. When you cheer on The King as he charges Bubba Ho-Tep and calls him a "soul-suckin' sack of shit," you will thank me for informing you of this simple, incontrovertible fact: Bubba Ho-Tep might very well be the greatest film that has ever been or will ever be made, and you should go see it, immediately.