For this entry of Phantom Limbs, we’ll be dropping by the Shady Rest Retirement Home in East Texas to pay a visit to Bubba Nosferatu, Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli’s long developed yet tragically unproduced sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep, the 2002 adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s novella of the same name. As with that initial film, Bubba Nosferatu would have found a geriatric Elvis Presley doing battle with supernatural forces, this time accompanied by Paul Giamatti as Elvis’ notorious manager Colonel Tom Parker.
Joining us for a look at this hunka hunka burning sequel are Coscarelli and Stephen Romano, who cowrote the screenplay with the filmmaker.
As 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep concluded, viewers bore witness to a climax which saw an elderly Elvis Presley fighting an evil mummy for all the spirits stolen by the undead villain from the retirement home in which the former superstar expected to live out his final years in anonymity. Elvis defeats the mummy and frees the souls of his friends, but not before receiving an apparently mortal wound and passing away as the universe assured the reluctant hero that “All is well”.
Even with this seemingly definitive ending, the film’s credits nevertheless provided a tantalizing tease for more:
“Elvis returns in: Bubba Nosferatu: ‘Curse of the She-Vampires’”
In the wake of the film’s successful DVD release, writer/director Don Coscarelli set his eye toward developing a follow-up. Though the end credits teased a brush with vampires, Coscarelli initially considered doing Bubba Sasquatch, which would have found Elvis battling a clan of murderous…bigfoot? (Bigfeet? Bigfoots?)
Further consideration, as well as an interest in the real Presley’s fascination with the occult and martial arts, led the filmmaker to mull over the possibility of a prequel featuring a younger Elvis whipping supernatural ass alongside his “Memphis Mafia” – his imposing, handpicked entourage. In addition to this approach, Coscarelli also considered throwing Colonel Tom Parker into the mix, seeing Elvis’ corrupt manager as a metaphorical vampire who could be easily written as a literal bloodsucker for the sequel. Thus, Bubba Nosferatu was born, initially taking shape as a nine-page treatment.
The following synopsis heavily references Mr. Coscarelli’s memoir True Indie, an essential read for fans of the filmmaker, as well as anyone interested in the trials and tribulations of indie filmmaking.
Picking up just after Bubba Ho-Tep’s finale, Bubba Nosferatu opens with Elvis’ nurse (played in the original film by Ella Joyce) discovering our hero’s just-expired body and resuscitating him. In the fallout of the first film’s events, the two survivors are sent packing from Shady Rest to a new rest home in New Orleans. On the trip to their new destination, Elvis admits his reluctance to revisiting The City Care Forgot due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding the making of a film shot in the area that he was due to star in back in the 1970s.
From there, the story would flash back decades to 1974, finding a much younger Elvis under the sway of Colonel Parker, who’d convinced the singer and occasional movie star to lead a new MGM horror film called Curse of the She-Vampires. This scary flick would have been lensed in a “spooky old mansion in New Orleans”, seeing Elvis share the screen with aging genre star Claude Kilgore (think Boris Karloff, with the role having been conceived for Phantasm’s Angus Scrimm).
It would eventually be revealed that Colonel Parker had orchestrated the film shoot to satisfy a debt owed to a group of vampires he’d run afoul of as a young man. Explaining the title and its relevance to the plot, Coscarelli tells this writer, “’Bubba Nosferatu’ refers to the entire vampire clan who Colonel Parker is in hock to, and that Elvis must throw down with.” The resulting battle between Elvis and the undead (dubbed “the Blood Riot”, and featuring the Memphis Mafia) would be intercut with the present day Elvis and his nurse taking on the same bloodsuckers decades later. As Coscarelli’s eventual cowriter Stephen Romano notes, “the gimmick was that it was like The Godfather Part II. It has a prequel story that intercuts with the current day story where young Elvis has various adventures, and it all kind of informs the ongoing story with old Elvis and eventually it all kind of intersects at the climax.” Accompanying our heroes for their final battle would be Elvis’ new rest home neighbor, an elderly Native America who believes himself to be Chief Sitting Bull.
In True Indie, Coscarelli notes that the Elvis “would finally vanquish the vampire threat”, with the climactic battle featuring Elvis taking on a feeble, long in the tooth vampire queen in a “crazy, low-speed joust on mobility scooters.”
While the sequel was initially due to be funded by MGM/United Artists, whose home entertainment division released the first film to great success on DVD, these plans were dashed when the studio closed UA. New Line Cinema swooped in just after, eager to both remake Phantasm and produce Bubba Nosferatu. However, as the plans for the remake stalled, so too did the studio’s interest in the sequel.
At about this point in the project’s history, Paul Giamatti started making it known that he wanted to work with Coscarelli, as he was a huge fan of Bubba Ho-Tep, having become obsessed with it after initially catching it at a New York art house theatre. Speaking with Vanity Fair, Giamatti noted that “it’s just such a damn clever movie. It works for me on so many levels. I never thought of it as just some goofy genre flick. Like most of Don [Coscarelli]’s movies, it’s got a really unique weirdness to it. It’s almost like a fantastic piece of outsider art.”
Coscarelli saw the actor as being a great fit for Colonel Parker, and secured Giamatti’s involvement to not only star in the sequel, but produce the film as well. As the project heated up, Coscarelli attempted to involve Bubba Ho-Tep creator Joe Lansdale in the process, but the author ultimately proved too busy to work within the initial timeframe. Coscarelli then enlisted prior collaborator Stephen Romano to assist with the screenplay. “Joe was too busy, or something,” Romano tells this writer. “I don’t remember what the circumstances were … but Don calls me out of the clear blue sky. [He’s] on the phone going, ‘I gotta write this script!’, because Paul Giamatti had expressed interest in working with him.
“Paul was going to costar as Colonel Tom Parker and coproduce the movie, so Don had to come up with a script, and he had already written a draft. So he brought me in to rewrite it, come up with things and try to figure out who this Bubba Nosferatu guy actually was. At first we were thinking Lance Henriksen. You know, like a dusty old Near Dark cowboy with long braided hair and stuff, you know? It was cool. So we spent about two months writing.”
Giamatti raved about the resulting script. “I don’t know why I’m so excited about this script,” he told Vanity Fair. “It’s usually impossible to get me out of the house to do anything. But I’m kinda nuts about this project … I really think movies like this are so much more insightful about Elvis and the myth of Elvis than any bio-pic could ever be. Anyway, it also explores his relationship with Colonel Parker, his Svengali-like manager who controlled so much of Elvis’ career. It’s about how the Colonel cons him into doing one more movie, and then they get involved with vampires and the Colonel literally ends up selling his soul to the devil. There’s also a character who thinks he is or may actually be Sitting Bull. And there are peyote trips and all sorts of weird, supernatural things. It’s such a great script.”
“Paul Giamatti loved it,” Romano confirms. “And Bruce Campbell did not, unfortunately.”
Indeed, as many fans are surely aware, Campbell ultimately dropped out of the project. According to Coscarelli’s account, Campbell was initially interested in exploring a young Elvis’ early adventures. He responded favorably to Coscarelli’s treatment, and even helped drum up interest in the film during its early days with MGM/UA. However, as the project was coming together, Campbell began voicing his concerns about the completed Bubba Nosferatu screenplay. At around the time he was set to start filming Burn Notice, Campbell noted some major issues he took with the sequel’s story, specifically the multiple timeline approach. “He believed you could make a movie about Young Elvis kicking undead ass,” Coscarelli writes in True Indie, “or a movie about Old Elvis kicking undead ass, but you could not combine them into one.” While Coscarelli tried to address Campbell’s concerns to secure his involvement, the actor was resolute.
The film floundered after this loss. Years passed as both Coscarelli and Giamatti attempted to revive the sequel, approaching various potential replacements to don the King’s jumpsuit and mutton chops, including Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Hugh Jackman, and even Dwayne Johnson. Yes, that Dwayne Johnson – The Rock might very well have played The King! As Coscarelli explains to Bloody Disgusting: “Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia’s company had kindly offered to provide funding for our film. I think we might have been a bit overeager, and when Campbell declined to participate we asked if Dwayne might consider stepping into the white boots. It would have been audacious casting, but he was obviously fully booked and politely declined.”
As reported by Empire, Giamatti proved that he was beyond determined to get the film made, telling MTV: “We’ve been trying to make that for two, three years, and we’re going to get it done at some point,” Giamatti says. “I’m going to f***ing break my spine in half if I have to to get that thing done.
“We’ve been trying so hard and we’ve had so many near-misses,” he continued. “It’s almost come together like 15 freaking times and then it falls apart. At some point we’re going to get that done because it’s a great script. We’ll get it done at some point.”
Ultimately, Giamatti reached out to Ron Perlman, who agreed to take the part. The Hellboy star seemed enthusiastic about the role, telling Fangoria Radio back in 2009 that “Elvis is so iconic because there was never anyone like him and never since. Elvis created an entire new place for that image. He’s so iconic, he’s mythic. I’m very titillated to see what it’s gonna be like to be inside the white jumpsuit.” Unfortunately, by the time the project found its star, the funding for it had long since vanished.
A few years down the line, Coscarelli and Giamatti met with Campbell in the hopes to sway him back to the film. The actor let the filmmakers know that he would consider doing the movie only if Bubba creator Lansdale penned the story. Coscarelli accepted, setting aside the script he and Romano had written to approach Lansdale, who agreed to write the sequel. However, due to the author’s busy schedule, he would not complete it until three years later, at which point he presented the filmmaker with a novel titled Bubba and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers. Coscarelli forwarded the book to Campbell, who stunned the filmmaker by replying that he would not be a part of any future Bubba projects for financial reasons.
While Coscarelli ends his True Indie chapter on Bubba Nosferatu on a cautiously optimistic note, hoping that someday there may yet come an actor who will be able to fill the iconic role and get the movie back on its feet, he does state that Campbell appears to be conclusively out of the role. Indeed, the one-time Elvis appeared to put a stake in his involvement with the sequel when he spoke with Clark Collis at Entertainment Weekly in 2018, stating: “I told the creators that I didn’t want to dance around it anymore. I feel that the first one was a nice little gem, and you don’t have to make a sequel for everything. Don Coscarelli, god bless him, go make it. You know, get somebody else. They had Ron Perlman at one point. Knock yourself out.”
Campbell also stated he would not return to the role on Twitter, tweeting “I have officially retired from playing Elvis as well. Joe and Don both know this. To me, each character has a lifespan. Elvis was best as a one-shot deal — an iconic character in a really unique setting, guided by a great director. Why repeat?”
While Coscarelli and Giamatti have been as yet unable to get Bubba Nosferatu before cameras, they did manage to collaborate on a completed project – 2012’s wonderfully insane horror/comedy John Dies at the End. And though Bubba Nosferatu has yet to rise from whatever crypt currently contains it, Joe Lansdale’s unique take on Elvis lives on. Bubba and the Cosmic Bloodsuckers was published in 2017, and was later adapted by IDW as a comic book miniseries in 2018. Less than a year later, IDW teamed up with fellow comic book publisher Dynamite to produce Army of Darkness / Bubba Ho-Tep, a crazy, time-hopping tale which finds Bruce Campbell’s two most iconic characters teaming up to take on…the Necronomicon Ho-Tep? Don’t ask, just go read it ASAP (and take note of how Elvis is resurrected in the comic, which is not at all unlike Coscarelli’s ideas on how to revive the character.)
In closing out this article, we’ll leave the final word to Coscarelli, who tells BD: “Elvis is eternal. Twenty years after the release of Bubba Ho-Tep, the fan pressure has not ebbed in regard to a sequel. There are some terrific actors out there who could portray the King. With luck, one day Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires will become a reality.”
This has been Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which takes a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we chat with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.
Collis, Clark (2018, May) Bruce Campbell has also retired from playing Elvis Presley. Retrieved June 20th, 2022 from the Entertainment Weekly website: https://ew.com/movies/2018/05/02/bruce-campbell-elvis-presley/
Coscarelli, Don. True Indie. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
Spitznagel, Eric (2008, November) Q&A: PAUL GIAMATTI’S DREAM PROJECT: “BUBBA NOSFERATU: CURSE OF THE SHE VAMPIRES” Retrieved June 20th, 2022 from the Vanity Fair website: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/11/qa-paul-giamattis-dream-project-bubba-nosferatu
White, James (2010, June) Bubba Nosferatu Will Happen! Retrieved June 20th, 2022 from Empire Online: https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/bubba-nosferatu-will-happen/