Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) – WTF Happened to This Adaptation?

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) – WTF Happened to This Adaptation?

The Bubba Ho-Tep episode of WTF Happened to This Adaptation? was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian. Here is the text of Hatfield’s script:

Sometimes you find out that your favorite movies were adaptations of novels. While everyone knows when they are getting a Stephen King adaptation, a lot of the time you won’t know that a movie is based on an existing story until you get hit with it in the credits. Bubba Ho-Tep (watch it HERE) is one of those properties. All of the advertising and certainly the feeling of the movie is that it’s a Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli movie, but the short story was written by Joe R. Landsdale. The movie was the little indie that could that was destined for cult fame and make its way to multiple special edition releases but it’s time to look at its genesis and see where it all came from.

Get your word of power and protect your soul as we find out what happened to Bubba Ho-Tep.

Movie

Bubba Ho-Tep is an independent horror film made by some of the most beloved indie filmmakers of all time. The short story was released in 1994 and director Don Coscarelli had wanted to make it for some time. He knew Sam Raimi who would introduce him to Bruce Campbell and after reading the story and knowing Dons work, Bruce had only one question: are we going to show the penis? He loved the out there idea and agreed to make the movie. Bruce is one of the most beloved horror stars of all time and for good reason. In addition to his turn as barely hero Ash Williams in the 3 original Evil Dead movies and the way better than we deserved TV show, he also showed up in the first 2 Maniac Cop movies, and Sundown: A Vampire in Retreat. Of course, there is so much more. Xena and Hercules, Brisco County, Sam Axe, and all of his legendary voiceover work both in video games and cartoon shows. While he may be forever linked to Ash and Evil Dead, his resume and talent for other genres is limitless. He even directed a couple feature films and multiple TV show episodes.

While Campbell’s mummy fighting Elvis is the main attraction, the rest of the cast is perfect and a lot of fun. Emmy nominated and acting legend Ossie Davis plays an apparently still alive but dyed JFK. Campbell jokes in an interview that he used to ask Davis everyday what he was doing here in this movie but that he was also just the nicest guy. Honestly if you are willing to suspend your disbelief for Elvis being alive and fighting a soul sucking mummy, why not JFK too. While Davis was an active actor for over 50 years, he did things he wanted to do rather than what he felt he had to do. We would show up in prestige projects like Roots and Do the Right Thing, and also pulp like today’s movie and Avenging Angel. He would really stamp into the minds of the 90’s generation with things like Grumpy Old Men and the original TV version of The Stand which is where I first saw him.

The rest of the cast is rounded out with small parts from Ella Joy as the nurse, Harrison Young as Elvis’s roommate, Daniel Roebuck as a hearse driver, and of course Reggie Bannister as the administrator of the rest home in east Texas. Roebuck started off slow and I first noticed him in The Fugitive and its sequel U.S. Marshalls but he shows up everywhere and is a true horror aficionado and collector in the same vein of David Dastmalchian. I talked about Reggie in my Phantasm III video but he’s just a cool hippie that ended up in most of Don Coscarelli’s work as well as a ton of other horror work. While he is and always will be tied to Phantasm, its always fun to see him show up in things like this or Wishmaster.

Coscarelli started his career with writing and directing Jim, The World’s Greatest in 1975 where he first worked with both Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm. Apart from the Phantasm movies, his career has included the Lance Henricksen starring Survival Quest and, more relevant to today, has an episode of Masters of Horror which is also based off a story by today’s author. The only thing he has coming up is the long in development prequel Bubba Nosferatu. The movie had a small budget and only barely made it back but was a success with critics and audiences and has been released multiple times including the coveted 4k. The success is in no small part to Campbell bringing one of the few prints with him on his book tour and showing it off while building word of mouth. I was lucky enough to see it in theaters in Costa Mesa California and fell in love with it.

The Book

Bubba Ho-Tep was first published in August of 1994. Its first appearance was actually in a collection of Elvis fiction called The King Is Dead but has been included in different collections by the author since then. Critics thought that Lansdale was too graphic in his writing and considered it the worst or one of the worst stories in the entire collection. The author of the story, Joe R. Lansdale, was born in Gladewater, Texas in October of 1951. This story specifically was inspired by the first time Lansdale saw the original Universal Mummy film and figured that Imhotep would be a Bubba if he ever ended up in Texas. Joe started writing and would have his first novel, Act of Love, published in 1981. It’s a serial killer story that would jump start him into horror but also other genres as well. As for Bubba Ho-Tep, the movie’s popularity and proposed sequel would eventually lead to Lansdale writing a follow up novella called Bubba and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers. There would also be comics that feature Elvis with who else? Ash Williams teaming up.

He would have other works made into shows or films with his longest running series, Hap and Leonard, being made into a series starring Michael K Williams and James Purifoy as the titular mystery solvers. While the show would last 3 seasons, the books have 25 entries from 1990 to 2022. Bubba Ho-Tep would actually be his first work to be adapted but it was followed by the premiere episode of Masters of Horror, Incident On and Off a Mountain Road with Don Coscarelli directing again. After that we would see Christmas with the Dead, star studded drama Cold in July, and the previous mentioned Hap and Leonard. For those of a certain generation, he also wrote a handful of episodes for Batman: The Animated Series, or the greatest cartoon ever. He still writes and is very active with his most recent novel, The Donut Region, being published in 2023 as well as a collection of crime stories also published this year.

What is the Same?

Literally almost everything is the same here. The story, which is only 36 pages, is followed nearly identically in the film. Both open in a nursing home with an elderly and sick and apparently still alive Elvis Presly waxing philosophically on life, death, fame, and other topics. His roommate Bull dies, and his daughter comes to collect some of his things. She ends up throwing away a purple heart and a picture of the man before Elvis chides her for not coming in and missing his own estranged daughter. The nurse, who apparently has breasts like grapefruits, patronizes Elvis and we learn that he switched places with an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff.

They had a contract that stated Elvis could go back any time he wanted but the contract was destroyed, and Elvis had an accident while performing a show playing Sebastian playing Elvis. He hurt himself and fell into a coma and they claim that he came to not all there. Things start to go bad at the retirement home when Elvis hears something at night. He goes to investigate and finds the gentleman who claims to be JFK on his floor. JFK explains that they took a piece of his brain and replaced it with sand while also dying him black. JFK wakes up Elvis and they discover hieroglyphics on the bathroom wall before actually seeing the Mummy who is terrorizing their little community. They figure out that he is a soul sucker who came here from a botched robbery and bad storm and their neighbor known as Kemosabe dies trying to save his roommate.

Bubba Ho-Tep adaptation

They devise a plan to stop the creature with gasoline and matches late at night and while they are successful, they both die in the process but neither has their soul taken. The story, and even much of the dialogue, is taken exactly as how it is written. From Elvis’s inner monologues to some of the best one liners, they all come directly from Lansdale’s words. The descriptions of the characters, their rooms, where all the action takes place, and the names are all taken from the page directly to the screen. Of course, with the story only being 36 pages, there needed to be some additions to make it into a feature film.

What Changed

Nothing much was changed. In fact, mostly we were given some new characters and drawn-out scenes to get from a 36-page story to a 90ish minute film. They kind of swapped a character with a thieving old woman in the movie that doesn’t exist in the book and the sex changed Dillinger character from the book nowhere to be found in the movie. Reggie Bannister plays an unnamed administrator in the movie for a couple scenes and while the “white coats” are mentioned in the book, there aren’t any individual scenes with them in it.

The nurse that takes care of Elvis gets more of a personality and an extra scene while the titular Bubba has a few changes. His hat in the book is actually part of his ethereal living shadow that seems to have a mind of its own. In the movie, we get some effects to show his magic, but he actually has a companion scarab beetle that does reckon and attacks him. This is absent from the story but does a good job fleshing out his powers and gives Campbell more time to chew scenes. Finally, while the movie doesn’t hold back on gross sound effects and language, the short story goes above and beyond with language and descriptions of less than pleasant subjects.

Legacy

While the short story is a fun and quick read, the movie was lightning in a bottle that brought together two of the best independent horror filmmakers of all time. Campbell owns the role like it was written expressly for him and it gives Coscarelli a notch on his belt that isn’t Phantasm related. The movie didn’t make a ton at the box office, but it wasn’t widely released nor was it expected to and has continued to gain new fans with each successive release. The movie would be watched based on its pedigree but it’s safe to say that the story is now finding new readers because of its movie counterpart. Buy your edition of choice to keep this movie rolling but don’t sleep on Lansdale either. He’s a prolific writer that works in enough genres where you are bound to find something you like. Next time you visit an elderly loved one, be sure to check the surrounding area for Ho-Teps, Bubbas or otherwise.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Adaptation? can be seen below. To see the other shows we have to offer, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!