Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) didn't die in 1977. He's still alive, but now he's wasting away in the Shady Rest retirement home for the elderly in Texas, with nobody believing he is who he says he is and the problem of a growth on his "pecker" causing him concern. When his roommate dies in the night, Elvis strikes up a conversation with his daughter, who arrives to clear out the dead man's belongings in the morning, telling her of his deception. He swapped places with an Elvis impersonator called Sebastian Haff all those years ago, and no one was any the wiser; then a double tragedy struck: Haff died and Elvis, impersonating Haff impersonating himself in concert, fell off the stage and was landed in a coma for a while. But there's another problem to be tackled by the King of Rock 'n' Roll: something evil stalking the retirement home's corridors at night...
There are many people who will tell you, in all seriousness, that Elvis really is still alive. Taking this urban myth as its jumping off point, Bubba Ho-Tep, scripted by the director Don Coscarelli from Joe R. Lansdale's short story, weaves a tale of the twilight years and all the indignities that are suffered by the elderly, and not just the physical ones, either. Elvis is patronised by the staff who see him as a harmless eccentric, has to walk with a zimmer frame to get about, and is impotent, with only the memories of his past glories to keep him warm at night. Into this world of lives winding down enters an ancient supernatural force, and only Elvis can stop it in its tracks.
With help from his main ally, John F. Kennedy (the excellent Ossie Davis), don't forget. Or rather, an elderly black gentleman who believes he is JFK - Elvis' predicament is contrasted with other residents who are a little touched in their old age: another thinks he is the Lone Ranger. But JFK is sharper-witted than most, and after being attacked by an unknown assailant, he has worked out what is going on thanks to his reading matter, which tells him that there is an Egyptian mummy wandering about and stealing souls. Stealing them through his victims' arseholes - just one of the odd details that this film throws in, apparently for the hell of it.
It takes about half the movie for this information to be imparted, so it has to be said this isn't the fastest moving horror film you'll see, but considering the age of the main characters, maybe that's understandable. Fortunately there is a great, charismatic performance at the heart of it, with Campbell doing a very creditable impersonation of the King that has more depth than a straight voice imitation might suggest. Sporting a greying quiff and big shades, Campbell's Elvis is full of regrets; he wishes he hadn't let Priscilla go, he wishes he could tell his daughter he loved her, hell, he wishes he hadn't ended up in this whole situation in the first place.
The regrets that face everyone at the end of their lives is the main theme. Elvis Presley may live on through his music, but he's not around to enjoy it, and rather than have the King anonymously relaxing on a Hawaiian deckchair, sipping cocktails, in this movie the man is in fact dwindling and forgotten, facing his own mortality. In this rest home, we see a woman in an iron lung have her glasses stolen, or the hearse drivers who take the bodies away accidentally drop the corpse: what a drag it is getting old. One nice thing about Bubba Ho-Tep is that the villain is as geriatric as the heroes, and while the climactic battle takes a lot of effort, it is more of a scuffle involving an electric wheelchair. Closer to a character study than a rollercoaster ride, the film is poignant and funny, but a little too small scale for its terrific, central idea. Reflecting on fleeting fame doesn't really convince when you're dealing with an icon, but the irony is welcome. Music by Brian Tyler.