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Bubba Ho-Tep - Don Coscarelli Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Have people close to the Elvis Presley estate seen the film?
A.
Well I haven't heard from Lisa-Marie or Priscilla yet! I was hoping one of them would call me. Actually, Elvis' step-brother, David Stanley, when Elvis' mother died, the father re-married and this guy, David, but he - at 15 - moved into Graceland, with Elvis, for the last four years of his life, so he has some pretty interesting stories, because he knew Elvis, and he was very complimentary, especially about Bruce's performance.

Q. The casting of Bruce - was it always obvious to you that he was the man for this role?
A.
No, not really. When I first got the short story the one that I knew we needed was Ossie Davis, because I don't think there is anyone on the planet, of Ossie's age and race, who could effectively make you believe that he was John F Kennedy.
When I approached him, he once said that he had actually fraternised with a lot of American presidents and he wanted to one day play one, but he never expected to be offered this role.
But Bruce, I had seen him once at an appearance at a horror convention, back in the Nineties, well before the Bruce-mania thing started up, and he really had a connection with the audience - it was unbelievable.
Have you ever seen Bruce at a convention? If you ever get a chance, it's really worth seeing. He did this stunt from the Evil Dead in front of the crowd, which was pretty amazing. He was walking across the stage and put his hand behind his head and did a full 360-flip, and the audience just went nuts, because he would risk his life for his fans.
But there was no question that when I approached Bruce there were some worries, because as great as the Evil Dead movies are, they're not really known for their subtlety. So, the question was whether he could do something like this?

Q. What's happening with the Roger Avary script for Phantasm?
A.
Well, I made this film, Phantasm, and then a couple of sequels to it, and there was a chance that we might do another sequel.
Roger Avary co-wrote Pulp Fiction, with Quentin, and I had known him, and we had this advertising campaign in the US where, one somebody wins the World Cup or the Super Bowl, they film them and say 'you've won the World Cup, where are you going?', and they say 'I'm going to Disneyland!'
And so Roger should have said, after he won the Oscar, 'I'm going to Disneyland', but he said 'I'm going to write this epic Phantasm sequel to your movie'.
So he wrote this really cool screenplay, which was quite epic in scope and hyper-violent and we were never able to get anyone to fund it - we needed about $20-$25 million. So it's still sitting there, ready to go.

Q. Did Bruce have any problems picking up the Elvis voice or mannerisms?
A.
He seemed to groove right into that without any problems at all. We did bring in an Elvis tribute artist, from Vegas, to come out and work with Bruce for the big performance sequence, and he worked with Bruce for about 45 minutes and then went away and said 'you're on your own, man'!
But he didn't have any vocal coach, and I think he pulled off that pretty well.

Q. Was there any attempt to bridge the age gap, given that the main characters are elderly and you're probably going to be appealing to a fairly young audience?
A.
I think there's something to that. I certainly believe that - if you want to get philosophical about it - older people in our culture are ignored. When I read the short stories, beyond the cool concept of Elvis fights The Mummy, what I got out of it was that it's a story about empowerment for the elderly, in a funny way.
And the author, Joe R Lansdale, always told me that he saw it as a Western, rather like Ride The High Country, but in a walker and a wheelchair.

Q. How much of what we seen on-screen is in the short story?
A.
I learned a really interesting thing for aspiring film-makers out there, that if you ever want to adapt some kind of literary material into a film, I think the last thing you want to try and adapt is a novel, where you have 300-600 pages long. These short stories are about 40 pages and we pretty much included the main bones of the story.
I added a few things, like the comic just alluded to the Elvis trading places part, and I thought that the concept of what would it be like for Elvis - like the Prince and the Pauper - to go out among the people and live in a trailer park?
Also, once Bruce was on board, I really wanted to throw one bone for the Evil Dead fans, so I brought that beetle into the story, to give him this one scene with a rubber prop that he does so well in the Evil Dead films.

Q. Did you ever have to reign in the performances of either of the two principles?
A.
Honestly, no. I never had a problem with Bruce, where I had to go 'stop mugging'. Never! And certainly not with Ossie Davis. He could be sitting at the corner of the set, you know, snoring, and you would go, 'Mr Davis, you're on', and he was the president, which was really quite cool.
I think some of the other actors. The nurse, maybe, was playing it a little over the top.

Q. How are you feeling now you managed to get it out there finally? And where do you take it from here?
A.
It was a long road for us, certainly getting to the UK. One of the things... we had finished the film and were invited to a couple of film festivals and got a pretty nice response and some really good turn-outs, but we had a hard time trying to get American theatrical distributors to take the movie seriously and come out to the screenings, so it could be very frustrating.
But then we hooked up with this guy from an American cinemateque in California. He had this idea that we could put it through the arthouse theatres and make some really good money. So we worked with him and everything worked out great.
But I was really worried, because it took so long, it was a good year after the film was done, that we started getting some buzz on the internet, but it actually served our purpose well. We were really eager to get it out, but it kind of created demand by waiting. But thanks for holding out.

Q. What is the best way to gain funding for something like a low-budget horror film?
A.
Wow! It's a challenge that greets everyone when they set about making a film. It's a weird business, which no one ever told me about, but which is quite obvious, but when you finish a film, then you're out of work. Every year, practically.
But in terms of funding a low-budget horror film, there are different ways you can go about it.
You can go back 20 years to the way that Bruce and Sam did the Evil Dead - you know, they shot a ten-minute promo, and spent a small amount of money, and they showed it to some investors.
Another friend of mine, Jamie Blanks, who directed Urban Legend, before he did that film he was down in Australia, as an aspiring film-maker, and he had seen a copy of this script, I Know What You Did Last Summer?, and they were looking for a hot video director, and he took the script and cobbled together about $3,000 and went out with a friend and shot like four minutes of it and sent it to the producers of the movie.
They liked it so much they tried - they'd already hired another director, and they were trying to fire him - but actually ended up telling the director to make the movie just like Jamie's little promo.
And, ultimately, they felt so bad that they gave him the budget to make Urban Legend.
But you have to figure out a way and make it simple. One of the nice things about this Bubba Ho-Tep movie is that while it's complex in some respects, production-wise it's pretty simple. It's just a couple of guys talking in a couple of rooms.
The one thing that Bruce and I have going for us in the horror genre is that we have some good friends who we've worked with, and were able to impose on some of the effects guys.

Q. One suspects that it won't be as hard getting the money together for the next project?
A.
Well, I don't know, the studio presidents aren't knocking down my doors. There are a lot of very satisfied Bruce Campbell fans out there. I really think he has a lot of fans out there who've been saying to their friends, and anyone who will listen, that this Bruce Campbell is really something. He's a great actor and Hollywood never really gives him any kind of role.
But now we have a movie here that some mainstream critics have been really complimentary about the performance, and the Evil Dead fans are going 'I told you so'.

Q. So can we take, at face-value, the Nosferatu reference at the end of the credits?
A.
Well, on the US DVD we did a commentary track, where Bruce says 'and now if everybody goes out and buys 17 copies of the DVD, we'll definitely make the next one'. Bruce would love to revisit this character, I know.
The other cool thing we have on the release is that Bruce came up with this idea of doing his own commentary track, and I didn't know what he was talking about at the beginning. But it's basically 90 minutes of him, in character as Elvis, watching the movie and making comments about it. It's really hilarious. He's eating popcorn and taking phone calls, saying things like 'they got me watching this kind of terror picture, I don't know what kind of film this is...'

Q. Was there ever a concern about the chemistry between the two leading men?
A.
Oh yeah, that was a real concern, but I think Ossie really appreciated Bruce's style and sense of humour and certainly, I think what he liked about Bruce is that he is pretty much a no-bullshit kind of guy about when he gets on the set. There's no premadonna elements about him. I think you've hit on something that is really one of the strengths of the movie, which is that these two guys really liked each other and it couldn't help but translate.

Q. Would it be fair to describe this as your crossover movie?
A.
Well I like to think it is, but I guess it's still a horror movie. The problem with this horror genre is that if you do a film that gets successful, you tend to get typecast in that area.
It's the same for an actor, always getting offered a maniac cop, or something, but it's a hard little thing to break out of.
But we sort of looked at this as maybe a chance to not necessarily break out of it, but to move in a little bit of a different direction. I like to think that I could show this to some Hollywood big shot some time, so that they could see I could direct some comedy, but I don't know if that's true or not.

 

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