Ink & Pixel: Bubba Ho-Tep

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

We all love the art of filmmaking here at Joblo – that much is obvious – though I'd venture a bet that many of us (both staff and readers alike) are also big music fans as well. Throughout the course of our history as humans, capable of expressing ourselves through song and sound, acts like Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Carole King, Michael Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and many more have all served to help shape the voices of many a generation. There's no doubt that each of the artists I've just listed is a legend in their own right, but it's only a select few that could ever be considered “royalty” among(of) their industry. However, I'm not here to talk to you about “The King of Pop”, no sir. We're about to gyrate, swivel our hips, and take care of business as we focus down on “The King of Rock n' Roll” – Elvis Aaron Presley.

Now, everyone knows that Elvis Presley was more than just a curled lip and rhinestone-covered singer. In addition to being nothing but a hound dog, Presley also starred in and contributed to 31 separate film projects, including movies such as: JAILHOUSE ROCK, BLUE HAWAII, KISSIN' COUSINS and SPEEDWAY – just to name a few. Unfortunately for “the King”, his reign would come to a sad and tragic end on the evening of August 16, 1977, when he was found unresponsive (and later pronounced dead) on the floor of his Memphis, Tennessee bathroom. It's common place to hear that Presley died as the result of a drug overdose, but many forget that the man also suffered from glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and extensive IBS-related ailments. Mix all of that up with a steady diet of pills, powders and grass and you've got yourself a recipe for one dead monarch. With a story like his, you can understand how The King has inspired creators in genres across all mediums.

Released in 2002, BUBBA HO-TEP is a comedic horror film directed by Don Coscarelli and is based on the 1994 alternate history novella of the same name by writer Joe R. Lansdale. The story was featured as part of a larger anthology collection by Lansdale entitled The King is Dead. In the movie, an aged Elvis impersonator by the name of Sebastian Haff (Bruce Cambell) is convalescing, from an cancerous growth on his pecker. As if that's not enough, Sebastian is forced to endure the excruciating misery that comes with the pained cries, hallucinations, and moaning of his fellow residents in the Shady Rest Retirement Home. What's peculiar about Sebastian is that he claims to be the real (and very much still alive) Elvis Presley. You see, after tiring of the money, fame, and ceaseless travel that came with being the King, Elvis found Sebastian (an uncanny Elvis impersonator), and contracted him to take his place upon the throne of rock n roll.

Years later, the residents of his retirement community start dropping like flies, though it isn't old age or the terrible food that's killing them – it's a 4,000 year old mummy returned from the dead to feed on the souls of the living. Sebastian, alongside his friend Jack (Ossie Davis) – a sharp-witted black man who believes himself to be former president John F. Kennedy – hatch a plan to rid their community of the undead beast once and for all. At the end of the day, of all manner of death surrounding you while wasting away in a retirement home, having your soul sucked out through your asshole isn't the way you want to go. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that part? Well, now you know, and knowledge is power! (Jumps into the air, pumps fist, freeze frame).

I'm supposing that by now you'd like to know where the crazy idea for this movie came from, right? Well, one evening, during a mummy movie binge-watch, Lansdale began to wonder what it would be like if one of those mummies hailed from the deep South – Texas to be exact. Couple that notion with a ceaseless curiosity about all those crazy Elvis sightings you see in magazines like The National Enquirer and you've got the seed that would one day grow into the story of BUBBA HO-TEP. In regard to how Coscarelli and Lansdale came to work on this project together, Don was alerted to Joe's talents while visiting a book shop in Los Angeles, California. After asking the clerk if he'd read any good horror lately, it was suggested to Don that he give Lansdale's novels a read; their tendency to include a high body count was what sealed the deal. Years later, Don happened upon Lansdale's The King is Dead anthology, and fell in love with the concept of Bubba Ho-Tep. Thus, the discussions of bringing the story to the big screen began.

Personally, I give a great deal of credit to Coscarelli and his crew for creating such a unique looking film while having access to only a $1 million dollar budget. Monetary constraints meant that the film would need to forgo any fancy digital effects, and would instead need to rely on good old fashioned makeup, simple animatronics, and wicked costume design to complete its look. Additionally, the film was shot in just 30 days – outside of Los Angeles – using an abandoned hospital campus as the location. The area was big enough so that every locale you see in the film (including the fair grounds and trailer park) were able to be built, dressed, and shot in close proximity of one another.

Speaking of makeup and design, Bruce Campbell himself had to spend upward of 3 hours sitting inside of the makeup chair in order to complete his transformation into an aged Elvis. We're talking wigs, liver spots, wrinkles, nose and chin prosthetics, the works! Furthermore, actor Bob Ivy (Bubba Ho-Tep) arrived early to the set everyday in order to be fitted with full mummy regalia. Applied first was a mask that reached around the Ivy's entire skull, taking a total of 30 minutes to apply. After that, foam fabricators from the KNB EFX Group constructed a full-body suit pieced together from skeletal molds left over from previous films. Each bone was then glued onto the suit and painted so as to appear ancient and fragile. Finally, the body then had a layer of foam latex applied to it, which was later carved to include wrinkles and remove chunks of remaining flesh.

Tragically, the film never truly connected with theater goers during its theatrical run, and only managed to collect a total of $1,239183 from the domestic market. However, like many great and under-appreciated films BUBBA HO-TEP has found a home among the Cult Classics section within the hearts of film buffs and Elvis fans alike. When looking back on a film's success, I think it's important to not just look at the numbers. The fact of the matter is that films live on beyond the box office, and sometimes go on to be even bigger hits upon reaching both the home and digital markets. In my estimation, BUBBA HO-TEP is one of those films. Be sure to check film out if you haven't already, and as always, thanks for reading – thank you very much. *curled-lip sneer, hip swivel, karate chop*


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.