Blue suede ghoul 

Elvis lives, just barely, in Bubba Ho-Tep. Don Coscarelli's low-budget horror comedy imagines the king of rock 'n' roll still alive in the present day, wasting away in a seedy East Texas nursing home where even the walls look liver-spotted.

Played by Bruce Campbell in wig and old-age makeup, Elvis spends much of his time in bed, brooding over Priscilla and Lisa Marie, not to mention the lost hard-ons of his youth. That is if he's Elvis at all -- he might be a mentally scrambled Elvis impersonator who thinks he's the real thing. But when an Egyptian mummy starts stalking his nursing-home neighbors, Elvis discovers a new lease on life.

Campbell is the Elvis of schlock movies, having won legions of geek-fans thanks to his gonzo blend of slapstick comedy and action-hero self-regard in the Evil Dead trilogy. In Bubba Ho-Tep's flashbacks, Campbell looks absurdly unlike the original Presley, but as the elder Elvis, he gets both the poses and the nostalgic melancholy just right. It's a hoot when he faces down supernatural assailants with Elvis' patented karate moves.

Elvis' only ally is a fellow resident who believes he's Jack Kennedy (Ossie Davis), kept under wraps after the Dallas assassination attempt. Bubba Ho-Tep has great fun riffing on the two American icons. When "Jack" first glimpses the mummy, he thinks it's Lyndon Johnson come back to finish the job. The film also relies heavily on scatological jokes, like the idea that the mummy can suck the soul "from any major orifice" of its victims.

The Phantasm movies are director Coscarelli's claim to fame (if you can call it "fame"), and Bubba Ho-Tep can only aspire to be a cheesy B-movie. The makeup and visual effects are bargain-basement, with a flesh-eating scarab looking like something you'd buy at a Wal-Mart discount bin. The script, based Joe R. Lansdale's short story, suffers from being too thin and could sorely use another character or complication.

But at least Bubba Ho-Tep has some weighty points to make about aging and mortality. After all, who better to comment on the fleeting nature of fame, sex and worldly things than Elvis Presley, living or otherwise? Opens Nov. 7 at Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema.



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