Elvira Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Director: James Signorelli
Cast: Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, William Morgan Sheppard
On Halloween night I usually watch a couple of horror movies (doesn’t everybody?) and for some reason, I always end up going with something from the 80’s on Halloween night. I guess cheese goes perfectly with Halloween and so I went with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988). I’m a big fan of Elvira because she’s all about the spooky stuff, the horror movies and coolest part of all; she lives in an eternal Halloween. She’s made a career out of making fun of bad horror movies via her television show ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre’, where she screened horror and science fiction films and in between the commercials and the movies, she made fun of cheesy films like The Giant Claw (1957). Her popularity grew to the point where she got her big break in Hollywood with the release of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988). How was Elvira’s first cinematic venture?
The film starts out with Elvira getting fired from her television show because she wouldn’t screw the owner of the television station. To Elvira’s surprise, she’s just inherited a mansion, a cook book and a ring! She’s kind of happy about the whole thing because she now has a home, but she’s disappointed she didn’t inherit any big bucks, just some silly book and a ring. Problems arise when she realizes that the house she’s inherited is in a town filled with a bunch of self righteous, upright idiots who live with an eternal stick up their asses. Basically, the town is populated by a bunch of folks who don’t know the first thing about cutting lose or having fun. It’s kind of like that town in Footloose (1984), where the religious zealots didn’t want to let their kids cut loose and dance? Something like that. Not only that, they also don’t want Elvira to stay because they are afraid that she might corrupt their souls or whatever. So basically, the teens befriend Elvira and see her as their mentor in the ways of fun, while the adults think she’s the daughter of Satan, ready to corrupt the souls of their younglings. What’s Elvira to do? Pack and go, or stay and deal with the situation?
Since in real life Elvira is a horror connoisseur and she helped write the script, Mistress of the Dark is a mish-mash of a zillion movies that she’s fond of like Frankenstein (1931), Black Sunday (1960) and The Evil Dead (1981). Actually, this film is a lot like an episode of The Addams Family or The Munsters because it has that dynamic in which “regular” folk go nuts when they are confronted with an unorthodox lifestyle, and to the puritans who live in Elvira’s town, Elvira is as unorthodox as they get. How much is this film like The Munsters? Well, the house that Elvira inherits in the film is the actual house used for that show! So anyways, as you can see, this films influences are all over the place. In fact, the film is an amalgamation of a zillion visual gags and jokes that are thrown to us at a frenetic pace. We get shape shifting dogs, demonic priests, magical books, a Flashdance (1983) tribute, killer high heels, exploding gas stations, a monster casserole and more shots of Cassandra Peterson’s breasts than you can shake your stick at! It’s all done with that delicious b-movie flavor; that irreverent tone in which nothing is to be taken seriously, which works like magic. There’s also lots of self deprecating humor, Elvira has no problem with making fun of herself. Then there’s the double entendre humor which is none stop.
Critics burned this movie at the stake calling it dumb and stupid, but honestly, what the hell where they expecting? Did they even have an idea of what Elvira was all about? Elvira is all about silly, stupid “low brow” entertainment, she’s queen of the b-movies and she carries her crown well. Elvira is one in a line of spooky Hollywood ladies that have defied what is expected of women, and broken the barriers of prudence. First there was Theda Bara, an actress from the silent era of filmmaking, she was famous for portraying a vampire lady christened “The Vamp”. Theda Bara appeared in many films, sadly most of them were lost in a Fox Studio fire. Then came Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. ‘Vampira’. Murni went to a Halloween party dressed as Morticia Addams from Charles Addam’s The Addams Family comic strip; she impressed a producer with her Morticia inspired Halloween costume so much that she was given the opportunity to become the first television horror show host in history and so, the ‘Vampira Show’ premiered. Elvira was Vampira’s follow up. Actually, Elvira was born when an L.A. television station decided to revive a horror show called ‘Fright Night’. They tapped Vampira for the gig but her deal didn’t happen, so they did a casting call and Cassandra Peterson showed up and won the part. She was given the opportunity to create her image, so she came up with the punk rock, sexy vixen deal she still portrays. And that’s how Elvira was born.
Cassandra Peterson has appeared in a few films, for example she appeared in Federico Fellini’s Roma (1973), probably because of Fellini’s fixation on voluptuous women. She also did a cameo on Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1988), but Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) was her only theatrical release as Elvira. The film wasn’t a box office success, but it has gone on to become a cult film, garnering fans through the years. There was a second Elvira film, but that film is awful, so awful that I wasn’t even able to muster the strengths to write anything about it. Jokes fall flat, sets look ultra cheap…it’s a total embarrassment. So just stick to Mistress of the Dark, because Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001) is a real stinker, and this comes from an Elvira fan. Mistress of the Dark was directed by James Signorelli a director who was probably chosen to direct this because of his comedic experience in directing and producing many Saturday Night Live episodes, actually, he’s still directing SNL as I write this. Signorelli also directed Easy Money (1983) with Rodney Dangerfield, so this film has its comedic background, mix that comedic experience with Elvira’s charismatic personality and you got yourself an enjoyable cheesy flick, perfect for watching on Halloween night.
Rating: 3 out of 5