Why 'Bubba Ho-Tep' hit it big during OKC run

Coscarelli is the writer/director of the 1979 horror cult classic “Phantasm” and its three sequels. The original film and “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” will hit DVD in new special editions Tuesday, along with his little-seen 1989 foray into action-adventure, “Survival Quest.”

As an independent filmmaker working outside of the studio system, he’s understandably a fan of DVD technology.

“For starters, DVDs have made (my films) available. Any person in the world can now be a film buff,” Coscarelli said. “When we were making the first ‘Phantasm,’ if you wanted to see a movie again, you had to wait for it to show up in a revival house. Today, you can get on the Internet and have it in a day. It’s amazing.”

Ten years ago, he realized he was meeting a lot of people in their 30s who said, “I saw ‘Phantasm’ when I was 13 and I never forgot it.”

“Now I’m starting to see people in their 20s say, ‘I saw that movie when I was 14,’” he said. “DVD allows the film to play forever, which is pretty cool. I never had any idea that here we’d be, decades later, talking about it.”

Plans are afoot for a “Phantasm V,” but killer spheres aside, Coscarelli also is known for the 1982 cable staple “The Beastmaster” and, more recently, “Bubba Ho-Tep,” which set box-office records upon its release at the Oklahoma City Art Museum’s Noble Theatre in 2003.

Brian Hearn, film curator at the museum, said that “Bubba” was “at the time, our top-grossing film.” He admitted a movie about Elvis Presley fighting a mummy in a nursing home wasn’t a natural choice for an art museum, and the circumstances surrounding its acquisition were equally unusual.

“It was from a microdistributor, almost self-distributed. And it was right before Christmas, which was a dicey proposition, but it clearly had some kind of crazy buzz on it,” Hearn said.

Nevertheless, the “Bubba” screenings were packed, with almost every showing sold out.

“I’m sure it was because of (star) Bruce Campbell and his following, and the track record Don had with his other horror series,” Hearn said. “The combination of all those things — and the weird Elvis component — it was kind of like a perfect storm. We were delighted. It’s been an anomaly.”

Last month, “Bubba Ho-Tep” was one of three films the museum reprised for its fifth-anniversary celebration, alongside such unlikely, Oscar-friendly company as the French romantic comedy “Amélie” and the documentary “Winged Migration.”

Word of “Bubba”’s local popularity had reached Coscarelli’s home in West Los Angeles, as he preps the film’s sequel, titled “Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the She-Vampires.”

“That’s just a cool thing about Oklahoma,” Coscarelli said. “It makes me think … we should really do something special (with the sequel) — try and do a screening and bring the actors there or something. The city deserves it.” —Rod Lott