She’s hot, vulgar… and out for money!
Come to think of it… Given what this website is called, there’s simply no way we can go around Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, without at least giving her a wink (or a tip of the hat if we should happen to wear one). Almost 30 years ago, Cassandra Peterson started her acting career as Elvira. And ever since, she has been bringing a lot more terrific cards to the B-horror table than just her twin ace material. There, since I figured nobody would forgive me if I would not include at least one boob-joke in this review, I’m glad we got that out of the way. Now let’s get down to Elvira’s legacy of the macabre, more specifically this fine highlight, her first feature length film.
Since the start of her career in the ’70s and vastly throughout the exuberant ’80s, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) has grown into a modest icon and genuine cult figure in the world of horror & bad monster movies. While Ms. Peterson has taken on various supporting roles in motion pictures, covering a wide variety in genres, it was her TV-character Elvira that brought her the most fame. Part of her charm – and respect from the fans – lies in the fact she never turned her back on the horror genre that made her famous (unlike many other big name actors & actresses that like to distantiate themselves from their “early” work). I’ve seen only bits & pieces of her TV performances – hey, I’m from a small country in Europe that never aired her shows, so you can’t blame me – but her cameo role in Ghoultown’s recent tribute song “Mistress of the Dark” really encouraged me to check out more of her stuff. One thing had been clear to me already long before this music video: Over the years, Elvira had become a force of influence herself by the time the mid-eighties came around.
And in 1988, after films like ‘Fright Night’ (1985) and ‘TerrorVision’ (1986) incorporated homages to and spoofs on her TV-work, it finally happened: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the motion picture (coincidentally (?) released the same year ‘Fright Night Part 2′ came out). Now, I had seen the trailer for it already back in the VHS rental days, but it took me until now to finally see the actual film. A few years ago, I did manage to watch ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ (made in 2001), but for some reason it didn’t impress me all that much. Was it really that forgettable, or should I give it another watch? I actually really do feel like re-watching it now, as this first Elvira film from ’88 really convinced me. Though perhaps partly responsible for making this film work, might be Sam Egan and John Paragon with their contributions to the script, there really is no denying it: Cassandra Peterson has a great feel for comedy (she also co-wrote the screenplay).
When Elvira learns she’s one of the beneficiaries of a Great Aunt (she never heard of before), she takes it as the long cherished opportunity to start up her own show in Las Vegas. Out to claim her rightfully inherited money, she travels to a quiet New England town. But the uptight townspeople of Falwell are in for a treat. In less than no time she manages to shock and insult all noteworthy inhabitants of the conservative little town with her (often unintentionally) provocative behaviour. To make things worse, her inheritance turns out not to be what she expected: A rundown mansion, a cookbook and a poodle. But what she doesn’t know, and her evil uncle Vincent Albot (William Morgan Sheppard) does, is that her Great Aunt was a witch, and the cookbook contains recipes to concoct the most hellishly dark powers imaginable. And if you haven’t turned off the movie yet by the time Elvira has cooked up her first dish from the recipe-book, then rest assured, you’re going to sit out this ride with a smile on your face.
It’s surprising how a script rigged together with boob-jokes, witty one-liners, movie references, inside jokes and bade taste merriment also manages to tell a coherent story. Simple, of course, but coherent. While other movies, heavily relying on gag-like situations, often make you loose track of the story completely (like ‘The Naked Gun’ films, for example), this film doesn’t. A lot of horror-comedies were being produced during the 80′s, but not a lot of them actually worked. Let alone a horror-spoof that doesn’t derail at some point – ‘Killer Party’ (1986) comes to mind, although I’m grateful for this one going completely bonkers during the finale – or becomes too tedious too quickly (‘Saturday the 14th’, 1981). Although Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is more situated between comedy and spoof than it can be considered horror, it doesn’t loose track of what it’s doing regardless, and consistently builds up towards a mildly grotesque finale, complete with a supernatural showdown in the streets of Falwell between newborn witch Elvira and evil uncle wizard Talbot, including a real honest-to-god witch hunt and Elvira’s very own burn-at-the-stake moment.
I’m telling you, there’s no power in hell that could make this movie unfunny. I’ll be the first to admit it gets a little silly and moronic at times, but it is damn well funny. Admittedly, being a child of the ’80s, might help appreciate this flick a little more. One of the first giggles I got was during the opening credits already, when Daniel Greene‘s name appeared. Daniel who? Oh yes, I recognized his name (and later on his dim-witted macho-face). How can one not forget Daniel Greene once you’ve seen… ‘Atomic Cyborg’ aka ‘Fists of Steel‘ aka ‘Vendetta Dal Futuro’ (1986). If you haven’t seen Atomic Cyborg, then I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to laugh with his face in this one. While Mr. Greene does try to act his way out of this film – I must admit, he kind of pleasantly surprised me with this, uhm, somewhat ‘naive’ performance he was going for – he remains severely miscast and is absolutely no match for Ms. Peterson. While William Morgan Sheppard, on the other hand, does provide a worthy contender for her, putting down a deliciously evil character with uncle Vincent Talbot. But since this really is Elvira’s show and nobody else’s, I’ll come back to her while wrapping this up… I never could have imagined Elvira looking this cool while ignorantly driving away from a gas station. Even Robert Rodriguez could not have made that shot look any better.
BONUS CLIP: For those of you wondering how Elvira’s doing these days… Psycho-rockband Ghoultown recently payed tribute to the Mistress of the Dark. Go to our video-section, watch the music video… and discover that Elvira – or perhaps I should say Ms. Peterson – still looks as stunning as ever!
And now… without the make-up:
What was that again about men aging better than women?
To visit Elvira’s website, click the red rose below… or well, any other part of the pic you might fancy:
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