Column: Slicing Score: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

By Maria Mitchell

Bubba Ho-Tep (soundtrack, 2002). Composer: Brian Tyler.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a movie that gleefully shatters the mores of horror films. Based on the short story by Joe R. Lansdale, the movie has protagonists that are old, weak and thought to be insane by their caregivers at the rest home where they spend their elderly days. Through the course of the story, Elvis Presley and Jack Kennedy reclaim their dignity, as they defend their souls against a lethal Egyptian mummy who has traded his linen shroud for Texas cowboy duds.

This wildly inventive fantasy has a score which captures the yearning for freedom and the thoughtful dignity of the main characters in a western-rock main theme. With an Egyptian nemesis, some Middle-Eastern-type music is present in the score to give the mummy the appropriate accompaniment. The musical cues intended to evoke the spectral presence of the Mummy when he is not visible utilize the Eastern ululations that Westerners commonly associate with historical Egypt, thus giving the score a nice punctuation of historical horror. The Mummy’s theme, when he is present on screen, is brash and brutal in execution, and is the perfect annunciation for a bad-mannered, soul-ripping ghoul with aspirations of cowboy machismo. Some heavy, frenzied bass lines provide enjoyable tension during the fight scenes between Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, a scarab beetle, and Bubba Ho-Tep.

It is the main theme, though, that is the soul of the film. The lack of “old” and “weak” heroes in mainstream film is a perfect example of the shyness of popular culture to embrace this demographic as one possessed of pride, dignity, and power. What is a hero, though, but a person who earns pride through the sacrifice of personal weaknesses? The greatest weakness any person will have to shed in the course of his/her life is the fear of death. This is the fear that Elvis and Jack shed to protect their legacy in the afterlife. The main theme provides both their vitality and their elegy.

The disregard of death is a theme writer Joe R. Lansdale has visited in more than one short story, a personal favourite of mine being “Not From Detroit”. It’s important to realize that what many people fear the most is not that they will die, but that they may lose what makes life worth living. This theme is the backbone of both “Not from Detroit” and Bubba Ho-Tep.

The plot of Elvis Presley living in a rest home requires the score to treat his thematic accompaniment far more pensively than the wild music the King of Rock epitomized. The main theme is rock, but it’s soft, wistful and romantic, somewhat similiar in feeling to Elvis’s “Love Me Tender”, his real-life tribute to the traditional folk song, “Aura Lee”. It’s not a big loss that the film wasn’t able to use any of Elvis’s real music in the score because this Elvis is not the Elvis of the stage. This Elvis, aged and ill, has to be accompanied by a music that captures the somber turn his old age has taken.

The fullest rendition of the main theme isn’t heard until the end titles. I would have liked to have heard the fuller version somewhere in the film, but it’s good to hear it anywhere.

Bubba Ho-Tep‘s soundtrack is available through