bubbahotep

From Page to Screen: Bubba Ho-tep

This post introduces a new theme in addition to page to screen adaptations. That is: things you may have missed. In case you don’t know, Bubba Ho-tep is a movie, and a short story, where neither Elvis nor JFK are dead. They are both in a Texas rest home and have been robbed of their identities by fate and the powers that be. To make matters worse, an Egyptian mummy has started to raid the home and steal the soles of residents. Elvis and Jack are the only ones who know and therefore the only ones who can do anything about it. You can watch the trailer here, though it doesn’t do the movie justice.

He's gonna take care of business.
He’s gonna take care of business.

I think a lot of people view this movie as a silly B-movie send up, and I had a similar opinion before I watched it. Now, it might just be my lifelong affection for Bruce Campbell, but from my first viewing I was in love. Sure, it has a ridiculous premise and outlandish characters, but I have only ever seen a beautiful portrayal of aging and the struggle to maintain one’s identity and dignity. Why else would the cast feature such American icons as Elvis, JFK, and the Lone Ranger? When I found out the movie was based on an existing story I was the most excited to see more of the world.

This adaptation was interesting because I have more experience with novels being adapted into films and this was a short story. As such it means the expansion of the world as opposed to the reduction. The film allowed for more time with the characters and the introduction of the funeral home workers who pick up the bodies of residents. They, in particular, brought the “youth” perspective of the plight of the rest home residents and the lack of empathy and interest the rest of the world have for them.

I feel like whichever presentation of a given story allows for more time with the characters is generally the ore affecting for the audience, hence the book is usually better, but in this case I think the film is the winner. The film had a few other things working for it as well. First is tone. The story and movie had very similar tones and much of Elvis’s voice over was lifted directly from the prose, but the story Elvis seemed to be slightly more bitter. There seemed to be a bite to most of the things he said while Bruce’s Elvis had more melancholy and resignation, until he decides to take action. The movie also took advantage of one of the most important aspects of Elvis: his music. They didn’t actually use any Elvis songs, because they couldn’t afford the rights, but the score was Elvis-esque and at times incredibly poignant. This song from the climax makes me tear up every time (yes, this movie makes me cry). Finally, a lot of the humor in the story is based on the fact that they are old, and watching old people do things, especially fight a mummy, will always be more entertaining to watch than to read about.

All in all, the short story is excellent and definitely worth the price of admission, but the movie is my first and great love of the two. If you know the movie, give the story a gander. If you missed the movie, seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Tara Clark

Tara participated in 2012 Taliesin Nexus Filmmaker Workshop. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA where she is pursuing a career in filmmaking through free-lancing in art department and her own writing pursuits. She also devotes a good bit of time to puppets, stained glass, and making things out of things.