Each year seems to feel shorter and shorter than the last as we get older.
This isn’t too surprising, of course. When we really stop to think about it, each passing day, month, and year is a smaller and smaller fraction of our lives. It’s why high school can feel like an eternity in our memories but eight years post-college feels like a blip in our collective lives.
Good times, and bad, start to feel fleeting because of this. Spend a nice day with a girl or guy you love in your adulthood and it can be over and done with before you even realized it started. Whole relationships that span years can feel like they barely happened at all once they are over and become more and more distant memories as days increase into months and years. Nostalgia begins to set in here and melancholy follows shortly after, making us yearn for golden days that either feels long past or were never really there, to begin with.
This is what getting older starts to feel more and more like and though I’m hardly an old man myself at the ripe age of 31, I do tend to lament days gone and what potentially might be ahead as I think of my many regrets of the past. In this mental state, we tend to wallow in our melancholy, wishing we could turn back the clock and fix things we should’ve fixed and be the person we wish we could’ve been in the right moment. It’s frustrating but the important thing, in the end, is to keep pushing forward and be the person we should’ve been now, instead of fixating on what didn’t happen forever and ever.
So, what does this have to do with an old B-movie called “Bubba Ho-Tep” starring Bruce Campbell as a not-dead Elvis Pressley and a black John F. Kennedy (yes, you read that correctly) taking on a soul-sucking Mummy? Well, despite its absurd premise it’s a surprisingly earnest film about becoming old, feeling forgotten, and it never being too late to live up to your own expectations.
“Bubba Ho-Tep” is a cult classic 2002 horror-comedy about Elvis Pressley, who switched places with an impersonator in his 40s to live a more subdued life following a divorce with his wife and estrangement with his daughter. He finds himself in a nursing home, not long after waking up from a coma following an accident on stage that left him with a bum hip, and comes to accept that he is stuck here. The nurses don’t take him seriously because of course, they don’t think he’s really Elvis Pressley (claims the documentation of his real identity went up in flames in a BBQ accident many years ago) and leads to feelings of worthlessness as he comes to terms with the fact that he is inching closer and closer to Death’s door. But in the midst of all this a series of strange deaths begin occurring among the senior citizens in the house and after Elvis befriends a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy, reskinned following his assassination attempt but left to die by Lyndon Johnson in this nursing home, they discover that the people are slowly being killed off by a Mummy on the premises. With no other choice, the two come together in their shared dread for their past lives to stop the creature before it can kill anyone else.
What makes “Bubba Ho-Tep” such a great movie beyond its ridiculous setup, is its earnestness in depicting the thoughts and pains of the elderly as they age into their twilight. Bruce Campbell is well-known for his many manic characters over the years, none greater and more classic than Ash from “The Evil Dead” series of course, but here he is remarkably more subdued and sincere in his portrayal of the King of Rock and Roll. It would’ve been very easy to let Bruce do his usual thing of playing a loud mouth smart ass as Elvis but to his credit, he dials back his more typically ridiculous antics to give us a character that feels very human as he laments his final days and it’s shockingly moving.
This Elvis is full of regret, full of yearning to fix things he should’ve in his younger age and correct the mistakes of his stardom but also understands, painfully, that he can never go back to those times ever again. He spends most of the movie speaking in an internal monologue about his wife and his daughter he wishes he could’ve patched things up with and it’s tragic regardless of what age you are watching this as we all live with a certain degree of regrets. Some worse than others.
Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time around grandparents knows there’s a degree of melancholy there no matter how happy they might seem on the outside. They know their time is rapidly coming to a close and in many cases, their family becomes less and less interested in spending time with them. In one of “Bubba Ho-Tep’s” opening scenes, Elvis watches as one of his roommates eventually passes away and the next day meets his daughter who hadn’t bothered to show up for him in the previous four years. He watches as she casually tosses mementos of his into the trash as if they were meaningless instead of the last attachments to the mortal realm still left of him. Elvis knows this and it pains him to watch and his pain is made worse by the thought that there probably won’t be someone coming to see him once he’s gone.
This is somewhat of a microcosm of the real world, as our society largely does in fact neglect senior citizens and if anything, is almost in a hurry to see them die. The Pandemic is probably the biggest example of this as politicians openly remarked that maybe senior citizens would be willing to die to improve the economy as if the elderly didn’t have a desire to keep living themselves. In the case of New York, it took a whole year before any criminal investigation into the deaths at senior citizen homes was investigated on following Andrew Cuomo’s forcing COVID patients back into those very places.
The Mummy in “Bubba Ho-Tep” is in many ways a stand-in for our societal neglect of our vulnerable senior citizen community. As Elvis and black JFK work to figure out the puzzle of the Mummy, they surmise that the Undead Egyptian has been giving free rein to suck as many souls as it wants in the homes in order to protect the staff from its own hungry needs. They figure there is an expectation of death anyway in the senior homes and no one is likely to miss one who is living there anyway. It’s a means to an end and the administration is more than willing to help the Creature in order to protect themselves.
According to at least one study an estimated five million seniors report abuse in these homes each year in America. Abuse ranges from emotional neglect, isolation, theft, forgery of documents, negligence with medications, physical injury, and of course, death. Though “Bubba Ho-Tep” isn’t exactly high art or a serious story, the subject matter is indeed serious, and the Mummy is a good stand-in for this, weird cowboy hat, boots, and all.
The film is a microcosm of many things seniors likely go through as they age, as ridiculous as the setup of the story may be. Though I’m very far from being an elder, we all understand what it is like to feel like you’re aging too quickly, like your best years may or may not be behind you. We start to worry about the what might’ve beens and the things we wish we could’ve done in the right moment, feeling pitiful and pathetic because of it. Bruce’s Elvis feels this sharply as the film progresses, he waxes nostalgic about the money, women, and fame he once had but not because he wishes to return to it but rather that he wishes he had done things differently. Perhaps he could’ve been a proper husband to his wife and a father to his daughter but it’s too late to change things and with the presence of an Undead Mummy in his home and no one truly to look out for him it begins to feel like this is proper karma for what he has done.
It’s easy to let feelings of worthlessness snowball when we start to think about our regrets in our past lives. We start to feel like because of our mistakes we deserve to be in ruin. We deserve to feel like shit and feel like nothing will ever be better. We start to think we are living in some cruel joke and become more bitter because of it. Elvis goes through this too in the story as he continues to feel more and more sorry for himself as doom rapidly approaches him. He is ornery, rude, and often crotchety toward his nurse and to others and it’s really a way of coping with his pained thoughts about himself.
We’ve all been there to some degree in our lives and it’s human to feel this way as we get older. But the reason we feel this way, the reason we feel sad is because we want to be happy. We want feel like our lives means something and that we deserve to live and you know why?
Because as sad we might get, deep down we love ourselves and the pain comes from knowing that when we feel our lowest.
Elvis wants to be the man he believes he should’ve been because he does care and give damn as sad as he might feel about his life, and it leads to his ultimate catharsis in the third act of the film. Instead of choosing to simply wait out the Mummy and hope that he doesn’t get his soul “sucked out of his asshole” he chooses to fight because for once he wants to feel like the hero that fans saw him as in a true sense. He and black JFK come together at the climax of the film to do what is right finally, to realize their potential as heroes and through their efforts, the Mummy is ultimately stopped.
For all its B-movie cheese and schlock, “Bubba Ho-Tep” is a movie that tells a surprising number of truths about aging and our senior communities. Many other films with a similar premise would’ve forgone the earnestness to up the absurdity to 11 instead and no one would’ve blamed them. No one goes into a movie like this expecting a real story.
But this is a good example of no idea being too cheesy that it can’t be sincere too. It’s why the movie gained such cult status in the early 2000s and resonated with much of the indie-watching audiences back then. It’s because we all get what it feels like to feel melancholy as we get older, we all understand what it’s like to be filled with regret for our past selves. “Bubba Ho-Tep’s” most important lesson however is that it’s never too late to right the past, correct mistakes, and be the person you always wish you were. Whether you are a 31-year-old like myself, or an aging not-dead Elvis Pressley, getting older doesn’t have to be a painful experience. It doesn’t have to be the pen conclusion of who you are.
You just have to remind yourself that it’s never too late to be who you want to be.
Just don’t get killed by soul-sucking mummies in the process.