"COME AN' GIT IT, YOU UNDEAD SACK A' SHIT!" -ELVIS PRESELY AS
PLAYED BY BRUCE CAMPBELL IN BUBBA HO-TEP
Ahoy there, squirts. 'Tis the very excited and totally crusty seaman, Quint here and I'm just as pleased as punch to get this series kicked off here. I spent 2 weeks in LA last April on the set of Don (Phantasms 1-4, Beastmaster) Coscarelli's new movie Bubba Ho-tep, starring Bruce Campbell as a 70 year old Elvis (the real one) and Ossie Davis as an elderly black man who thinks he is JFK.
But more on the awesome characters and the totally out there story line in a minute. I need to get some of the pre-set stuff out of the way first. I can tell you've got a lot of questions. "QUINT! HOW EVER DID YOU GET ACCESS TO THIS MOVIE SET?" Good question. It all started at the place of magic known to us mortal filmgoers as the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX. This was April Fool's Weekend of 2000. Tim and Karrie League, the way cool owners of the Alamo, had booked an event called PHANTASMANIA, a screening of all four of the Phantasm films over 2 days with the director, Don, in attendance with the stars of the Phantasm series, Angus "Boooooooooooooy" Scrimm and Reggie "It gets hard on the road" Bannister.
Now, I bought my tickets early. I love the Phantasm series, have since those late night summer viewings of Phantasm 2 on HBO back in my puberty days. Well, to be honest, I love the first three films and like the fourth, but I think the shoestring budget really hindered that last film, but I still like it. So, I was there and I met the gang and kept finding myself talking to Don. For whatever reason our personalities clicked and we became instant friends.
After PHANTASMANIA we traded numbers, email addresses and the like and he offered his spare bedroom anytime I found myself in LA. I ended up taking him up on that offer last October when I went out to the city of sin to catch Anchor Bay's screening of a mint and restored print of Halloween at the Egyptian Theater (you can read about that adventure here!). I spent 5 days at Don's place, got to know his family and dogs real well and had a blast.
Now, he'd been trying to raise money for the fifth and final installment in the Phantasm series and had met with very little success. Even though he was always talking about getting this last Phantasm film made, he was developing another project based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale called Bubba Ho-tep. When he talked to me about Bubba, he had excitement in his eyes, hurried speech. I could tell he was very proud of the screenplay adaptation he had written and was eager to get going on the project. That spark in his eye just didn't seem to be there when he talked about Phantasm 5, not due to lack of excitement about the project... it's just that he'd been trying to raise money for it over the last 2 years, you know? The chance of the final Phantasm film getting made was depleting the more time went on.
But then he'd get on the subject of Bubba Ho-tep again. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He mentioned something about Elvis or an Elvis impersonator. He talked about getting somewhere on the financing of the picture. He mentioned talking with (Bitchtits/Eddie) Meatloaf about playing Elvis at one point, but that not going anywhere.
Then when I was staying at his place for the Halloween event, he ran me over to KNB because he needed to have a secret meeting with Bob Kurtzman. I was all, "Fine. You go talk with Bob and I'll check out KNB's labs and shit." Later that night at the pre party for Halloween, I ran into Bruce Campbell for the first time. All this is in my LA Adventure which I linked above, but what I didn't put in my LA Adventure story was that was the night I found out that Don wanted Bruce to play Elvis in this movie he was doing... and that Bruce was gung-ho about it.
Before I left LA, I made Don promise me that I'd get to hang out on the set of Bubba. He promised and I flew home with a smile on my face. Cut to a couple months later and I hear that he's definitely in preproduction on Bubba. I start to find out more about the story and the more I heard the cooler the project sounded. Just to let you know, before I set foot on the set I knew only these facts: Bubba Ho-tep was the name of a 2000 year old Mummy who is stalking the halls of a Texas old age home, picking off the weak elderly, sucking their souls out of their assholes. Elvis, who had traded places with an Elvis impersonator back in the early '70s, is now at that old age home and has to team up with Jack, an elderly black man who thinks he's JFK, to defeat the mummy, thus saving the old folks at the home.
Pretty fucking cool sounding, isn't it? Weird, but so terribly fun sounding. So, I was psyched. I talked to Don and we set some dates for me to come out. We decided April 10th-18th would work well and I'd get a full week on set, plus a weekend to dick around with some of my LA buddies. Just to get this out of the way, I FLEW OUT TO LA AND BACK ON MY OWN DIME! Sure, the ticket was a promotion from Vanguard Airlines that I had to wait 4 hours in the freezing cold to get, but goddamnit I paid the airport taxes and got there by myself.
After spending 2 hours in Kansas City (!) in my layover between Austin and LA (since K.C. is right on the way to California from Texas, right?), I finally landed in LA and was met by a girl who went by the name of Ash. No joke! Born Ashley, she was one of the PAs on Bubba Ho-tep, a really cute California blonde girl, and we shot off to the set, which was in Downey, a small town just outside of LA. We chatted a bit and I found out she was basically Bruce's personal assistant on the film. She always picked him up at the beginning of the day and dropped him off at the end of the day, not to mention fetch him whatever he wanted or needed while onset. She told me Bruce had to spend at least 2 hours each morning in the makeup chair getting his old age Elvis makeup put on and about an hour each night getting it taken off.
She also told me that just a few days before I arrived Bruce had showed up on set without his Elvis makeup and almost gave some of the crew members a heart attack. They couldn't believe it was the same person they have been filming for the last 2 weeks. At least those that were uninitiated to the living legend that is Bruce Campbell. Everyone else obviously knew what he looked like from his past films.
Now, my plane got into LAX around 11pm and we wound up getting to set around midnight. For the 2 weeks I was there, most of the filming was night shooting. Dusk till dawn. Outdoors. In upper '30s to lower '40s temperatures. Good thing I brought my jacket, I thought. I mean, the shark on the lower half of the body is good insulation and all, but my manly upper body got really cold during those night shoots, let me tell you.
Don had told me before I left that I would arrive on Ossie Davis's
last day of shooting, but when we got there, since my flight had been
delayed about an hour, Ossie had already finished shooting his last scene in
the film. I was totally bummed out. I mean, this man is living history! He
gave the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral, for god's sake! I was so looking
forward to seeing this prestigious actor play a crazy old coot who thinks
he's John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Oh well.
I had, however, gotten there in time for lunch. I saw the crew come in and grab some grub while warming up a bit. Then in walked Don, a little weary, but standing strong. He saw me, came over and gave me a hug while we greeted each other. "How's shooting going?" "Long, but I can't complain. How was your flight." "Long, but I can't complain." etc.
We grabbed some food and went into his office and got caught up. While I was feeding my shark intravenously, I asked, "So, Don. What excitement do you have for me tonight?" He smiled and said, "How about Bruce as Elvis fighting the mummy?" Perfect! I was ready to see this fucker start shooting.
Before we finished dinner, though, we got to talking about the status of the film itself. Bubba Ho-tep is a total, honest to god indie film. Don raised all the money from private investors and there are no studio ties whatsoever right now. That's good in a way, because they have the freedom to do whatever strikes their fancy, but it also means that as of right now the film doesn't have distribution. It'll get it, I have no doubt, but both of our big fears were that the only distribution Bubba would get would be straight to video, which would be a damn shame. I still haven't seen the film yet, but as of June of 2001 I've read the script and have seen them film half the movie and I'll still say that this film would kick the asses of just about any fan of B movies and all of Bruce Campbell's fans will shit themselves silly over it. Wanna know the feeling of the film? Think Tremors, but weirder and R rated. That's the tone of the film... Anyway, back to the story:
Out we went, into the cold, cold night. They were shooting in a little park-like area on the practical set, which was an abandoned school of some kind, I believe. Don introduced me to some of the crew members. I met the producer, Jason Savage, the first AD, Rosa, the sound guys, Mike and Paul and a bunch of others. Don goes off to consult with Adam Janeiro, the Director of Photography on the film, on what they're going to do in this next shot.
I saw long, flat planks of wood being laid down on the grass for about 60 feet or so. There were some crew members working on the camera dolly, attaching an electric wheelchair onto the front of it so when the dolly is being pulled back, the wheelchair will be pulled along with it, giving the effect similar to what you would see if you mount the camera on a moving object, like mounting the camera on the hood of a car during a chase scene. Pretty cool.
They were working on this for a bit and when they were finally ready, they sent Ash off to fetch Bruce from his trailer. A few minutes later, The King entered the park, fully decked out in a white studded jumpsuit, cape, glimmering belt and all.
The makeup job on Bruce is incredible. Exquisitely detailed down
to the smallest wrinkle. He looked astounding. The hair, the sideburns, the
jumpsuit, the diamond studded rings, the sunglasses... then he spoke. My
hat's off to Bruce. He came up with the perfect voice for this character.
It's not fully Elvis, but a nice amalgam of Bruce's natural voice and the
traditional Elvis drawl with some old codger grunts and heavy breathing
thrown in there for the perfect accent for this character. Listening to it,
I had no doubt that's what Elvis would have sounded like if he had lived to
the age of 70.
The makeup people (the two Melanie's) do some last minute touch ups on Elvis's face and hair as the first shot I witnessed started up. Elvis got situated in the wheelchair and the scene called for him to look intensely forward, into camera I believe, charging at Bubba. Elvis slows to a stop and whistles loudly, pauses and says, "Come an' git it, you undead sack a' shit!"
They did this shot a few times and Bruce did a great job. He was really into staying in character during shooting, but sometimes between takes you'd hear the Elvis drawl drop and hear Bruce's voice clearly say, "Ahh, hey Don..." and he'd ask about trying out something new or ask how the scene is flowing, etc. Over the next two weeks, just about every day you'd hear that familiar voice echo out. "Hey Don!" (pronounced more like Dawn than Don).
Anyway, they got that shot and began setting up a big hand to hand fight sequence between Elvis and Bubba. Well, hand to hand isn't exactly correct. It was more like walker to hand combat. They called veteran stunt man and long time Coscarelli collaborator Bob Ivy onto set. Bob was the man in the mummy outfit and when he came onto set my heart stopped.
This mummy get up is fucking terrific! Creepy as all hell and incredibly detailed. Bob Kurtzman of KNB FX spent a lot of time perfecting this outfit and I have to say it's the coolest design for a mummy I've seen in a very long time. It blows away anything in either of Fraser's Mummy flicks. I have it on good authority that I'll get to give you guys a sneak peek at this badass villain sometime really soon.
So, Don and Adam get Elvis and Bubba together to choreograph the fight scene. They decide to shoot the scene between two huge trees. Basically, Bruce is hobbling along with his walker, looking for Bubba and ready to kick ass. Watching Don work with the actors on this was very interesting. I got to see the scene evolve. Both Bruce and Bob Ivy were throwing in suggestions and the end result was a really intense bit of action. The mummy acted very animalistic. lunging and snapping at Elvis, held back only by Elvis's walker. I know it sounds comedic and to a degree it is, but the intensity of the attack on Elvis surprised me and I think it will surprise you folks, too.
Don and crew were now fighting the clock. Sunup was looming and they started shooting this sequence. The performances were great, the action was well handled and the shot looked pretty good from the monitor I was watching. But Don wasn't finding the pacing he was looking for. He was getting a little peeved because he wasn't finding his flow, Bruce was getting a little peeved because he'd been repeating the same scene for an hour, the crew was getting a little peeved because it was cold as a witch's tit, as the saying goes, and Bob Ivy wasn't peeved at all. He's just such a nice guy, I don't think it's in him to get peeved. But, he did have special contacts in that were beginning to irritate his eyes and needed to come out real soon.
In the end, the sun won. Don didn't get what he wanted from that scene that night, but was confident they'd find it the next night. Everything started being struck as the crew closed everything down in the early twilight hours. Don made arrangements for me to be taken to my hotel in Downey. Yes, they were paying for my hotel, but only for 3 nights for that week. The rest of the time was to be spent at Moriarty's exotic lab and spa. And let me tell you straight up, the hotel was extremely cheap. It was a crappy little hotel, but you know what? It was warm. It had a bed and a shower, which was all I needed.
So, I got a ride to my hotel from a PA named Em, who had a passing resemblance to a late teens Drew Barrymore. I turned on the heater full blast and curled up in bed. The next night was a big one. There was a huge stunt that was to occur. Somebody was to be set on fire. Hehehehehehe. I couldn't wait... but I was exhausted and fell into unconsciousness easily where a world full of old Elvis's, creepy mummies and lots of cables and T stands awaited me.
See you at the next report, squirts. You had to go through a lot of back story with this one, but the rest of the Bubba Ho-tep set reports should move quite a bit faster, without all the hoopla at the beginning. I'll try to get at least two a week up for you guys. We'll see how it works out.
So, we've come to the end of the first day. I'm gonna call it a
night, but fear not my fellow seamen and lovely mermaids, for I won't leave
you all alone. As I bid you a fond farewell and adieu, allow me to introduce
you to a friend of mine.
email: Yeah, that's right! I touched Bruce Campbell... again and again and again and again.... come on baby, give ME some sugar!