God Times Two

Elvis and JFK, who's black, fight the dark forces of evil as only two legends could.

What is God? Is He that Asian man who walked on water and who gets invoked by our president all the time? Is He Durga the Many-Handed? Is He Odin or Allah or Love or the smile on a child's face?

Or is God, as many intellectuals and philosophers believe, merely the one we call "Elvis?" If you read the Weekly World News, you'd see that sightings of Elvis are often accompanied by miraculous healings and hunks, literal hunks, of burning, burning love. How much more proof of divinity does one need? Indeed, the only American who has a cult that can rival that of Elvis would be JFK.

So it's no surprise that eminently religious filmmaker Don Coscarelli, maker of such pious gems as Phantasm, Beastmaster and Phantasm IV (not to mention Phantasm III, and, most surprisingly, Phantasm II) would turn his attentions to these great holy men for his latest outing, Bubba Ho-Tep.

The setting is an east Texas old-age home where the 68-year-old King of Rock is rotting away his final years. Troubled by his departed libido and the giant, mystical insects that infest his room, Elvis learns that there is more to the world than his much-vaunted science and logic can explain.

Indeed, there is a mummy loose, a "Bubba Ho-Tep," if you will, who feasts upon the souls of the decrepit and elderly. Knowing that this could be his final fight against the forces of evil (which is sort of "Elvis" spelled sideways and without the "s"), Elvis must team up with the only being in existence who equals his power.

That, of course, would be JFK, who is also in the old-age home. It seems that the CIA and the Tri-lateral Commission (with the help of the Freemasons and the Disney Corporation) didn't actually kill JFK in Dallas. Rather, they cut out a section of his brain and then made him black.

Thus, Black JFK and Elderly Elvis concoct a plan to save the world from this ancient Egyptian avatar of evil, even if it means giving up their own lives in the process.

Cult favorite Bruce Campbell plays Elvis, and activist/actor/writer/ director/eulogist of Malcolm X/utterly cool dude Ossie Davis plays the part he was born to play: a wheelchair bound, African-American JFK.

Their performances have a campiness which may seem odd in a mummy film about Elvis, and which hides the deeper sense of this movie. While this is superficially a supernatural horror comedy, it is not like the earlier supernatural horror comedy movies, such as Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman or Terms of Endearment. Instead, it's a soulful elegy on aging and death. Campbell presents an Elvis who is unable to live in his past glories and gets little satisfaction from a life centered around mushy foods and naps.

He plays a man, in short, who has done the one thing that the divine Mr. P would never do: He has surrendered. Even the threat of death by mummy can't stir him from his male menopausal moroseness. No, for that it takes a great leader, a man who could survive a gunshot wound to the head and a conspiracy theory that grows more complex as it recedes further into the past.

The combined force of JFK and Elvis is really the dream of an America past, a time when these gods walked the earth. Together, the two symbolize what made America a great nation, before the hippies and born-agains and aerobics trainers destroyed it with their feel-good-now philosophy.

Of course, even in coming together to defeat a swamp-dwelling Egyptian monster, Elvis and JFK cannot re-create the past; they can only salute it, and end it with dignity. This, then, is a film about the last stand, about looking back at a life full of promise and mired in waste, and taking it, once more, to the brink, where dwells glory and truth and honor.

It is also a sad movie, one of the saddest film about Elvis, JFK and mummies ever made. Nonetheless, in its own way, it's a hopeful film. It tells us that no one is beyond redemption, not even an overweight ex-rock star with a bad hip and a hip badness. Not even a president who failed at invading Cuba but succeeded at invading Marilyn.

And what more could we want from our gods than that they would rise up from the depths of despair and uselessness and defeat the dark one? If Bubba Ho-Tep is indeed a true story (as it purports to be), then it shows that our worship was not misplaced, and that we needn't turn towards the East for our taste of divinity. No, America itself can produce not only true gods, but gods who have a soulful understanding of what it is to be human, to age, to fail, and to try again. Isn't this the rational-and-yet-humane religion that the 21st century needs? Go to Bubba Ho-Tep, and if you don't leave with tears in your eyes and a newfound sense of purpose, then return to your drugs and churches and gymnasiums, but never, never again, claim to be a true American.