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Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) Blu Ray (Arrow)

An iconic horror hostess visits small-town America

This horror-comedy is a feature-length spin-off of Cassandra Peterson’s character Elvira, a vampish American TV horror hostess with a rather pronounced cleavage. Here, she decides to quit her regular show and establish herself as a Las Vegas entertainer. Unfortunately, there’s one small obstacle to overcome: she needs $50,000 to get herself set up. Before you can say plot convenience, she discovers that her great-aunt Morgana has passed away, spurring her into driving across country to her hometown of Fallwell, Massachusetts, in time for the reading of the will.

When she arrives, she receives a warm welcome from the small town’s hormonal adolescents - but a rather less enthusiastic one from the overly conservative adult folk, led by busybody Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg). Never mind… with a bit of luck, she won’t need to stick around for too long before moving on to fulfil her dreams. As it turns out, however, her part of the inheritance is not exactly ideal to her needs: she has been left Morgana’s creaky old house, her poodle and a recipe book. But… this is no ordinary recipe book: it contains a series of incredibly potent spells. More to the point, Elvira’s power-crazed great-uncle Vincent Talbot (W. Morgan Sheppard) desperately wants to get his hands on it and is more than capable of resorting to underhand methods in order to do so.

Watch a trailer:

Cheesy but not Razzie-worthy

Fact: Cassandra Peterson’s turn as Elvira here was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actress in the 1989 Golden Raspberry Awards. One can’t help but feel, however, that the board who was responsible for shortlisting her was entirely missing the point. While I certainly wouldn’t argue the case for her being one of the world’s best actresses by any stretch of the imagination, this film is clearly meant to be a spoof and, as such, her performance is deliberately campy and hammy. Moreover, she has enough in the way of personality to just about carry this otherwise very slender movie on her shoulders.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

At its heart, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is the logical extension of her Elvira's Movie Macabre TV show. In other words, it contains plenty of sardonic jibes at bad B movies, along with hefty helpings of mild Carry On-style innuendoes and gags related to the size of our heroine’s mammary glands throughout. The difference is that, whereas her TV appearances consisted of interlude sketches spliced through the runtime of various trashy films, this particular venture develops an entire plot around her act alone (although there are a couple of brief sequences where she comments on “highlights” from It Conquered the World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!). How much you enjoy it depends entirely on your own sense of humour. While some of the jokes are sight gags, the majority consist of one-liners such as this particular exchange which takes place during a scene in a bowling alley bar:

Elvira: Bloody Mary.

Bartender: No hard liquor served past eight o'clock. Do you want a virgin?

Elvira: Maybe, but, ah... I'll have a couple of drinks first.

If you laughed at that, then this movie is probably for you. Myself, I must admit that I did chuckle a fair bit. At the same time, however, once you take away Elvira and her smutty/snarky asides, the rest of it is pretty cheesy. Most of the cast either overact like it was just about to be made illegal (W. Morgan Sheppard and Edie McClurg as the two main villains of the piece) or barely act at all (Daniel Greene, a man who was appropriately cast as a muscular robot in the Italian post-apocalyptic action flick Hands of Steel in 1985). While there are some special effects towards the end, most of them only rise to the level of a Charles Band film from this period; they range from an obvious glove puppet monster to some magic lighting-type stuff which was clearly drawn on the celluloid with a felt pen. The animatronic severed hand is pretty good though.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to go into Elvira: Mistress of the Dark expecting it to be some kind of Orson Welles-style masterpiece. As such, it’s a passable time-waster - nothing more, nothing less.

Runtime: 96 mins

Dir: James Signorelli

Script: Sam Egan, John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson

Starring: Cassandra Peterson, W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Susan Kellermann, Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

This 4K restoration is an absolute 1980s riot of colour. The 2.0 Stereo sound is a little less commendable because the dialogue is a little too far down in the mix at times. However, the music sounds bright and vivid.

Extras

The film includes a brief, optional introduction by director James Signorelli. Sadly, while it tries to be funny (by having him repeatedly flubbing his lines), it fails miserably in the process.

Audio Commentaries

There are three available here. The first is with actors Cassandra Peterson and Edie McClurg, and co-writer John Paragon (who also pops up on a cameo as a gas station attendant who suffers an unfortunate demise). The second is with director James Signorelli and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. The third is with Elvira impersonator (!) Patterson Lundquist. For the purposes of this review, I decided to go for the Cassandra Peterson/Edie McClurg/John Paragon track.

The trio clearly have a whale of a time looking back on the film. Cassandra points out a Pee-wee doll which is visible in her dressing room set - a reference to the fact that she appeared in Tim Burton’s film Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Indeed, she originally wanted regular Burton composer Danny Elfman to do the score for her film but they didn’t have enough money to hire him. Instead, she got his regular assistant James Campbell to perform musical duties here. Herself and John Paragon had also intended the role of Vincent Talbot to be played by the legendary Vincent Price. Again, they didn’t have enough money spare in the budget ($7.5 million in total) to do this. John also claims that some of the humour was a bit too racy for Price’s taste, although Cassandra denies this. She also had to beg the president of NBC Productions to give them a bit of extra money so that they could film the closing Las Vegas musical number.

They reveal plenty of other interesting bits of trivia in relation to the production. For example, the teen characters were not in the original script but were added at the behest of the production company, who felt that their inclusion was necessary to appeal to an adolescent audience. Cassandra feels that the fact that the film featured so many characters meant that there wasn’t enough time to develop them properly - something which the critics tended to complain about.

Too Macabre - The Making of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

This enjoyable feature-length documentary lasts 97 mins, just a tiny fraction longer than the film itself. It has plenty of interviews with the cast and crew who discuss its development, shooting and subsequent cult popularity. Cassandra Peterson, who still appears to be in remarkable physical shape even now, says that she devoted around 3 years of her life towards pulling the project together. Her dedication is certainly made evident; during the scene where she drives her car away from the exploding gas station, the heat of it was such that it felt like melting plastic was pouring down the back of her head. However, she maintained her composure for the shot because they couldn’t afford to run a second take. On the day when they were due to shoot the closing musical number, she contracted the flu - but again, she decided to go for it despite the fact that she was, in her own words, “gasping on the floor” between takes.

The other interviewees have equally interesting stories to tell. Kris Kamm, who played one of the teenage characters, noticed a particularly handsome young actor who turned up at the audition for his role. Sometime later, he found out from Cassandra that he was one Brad Pitt! The reason why he was turned down was that he was so good looking that audiences would have felt that he should have been Elvira’s love interest instead of Daniel Greene’s character.

Actor Kurt Fuller notes that he thought that his audition was so bad that he was about to give up acting, only to get confirmation that he had landed the role. He played a creepy real estate agent in the film and brought a little of his own experience of the profession to it (the real estate agent part, not the creepy part!). Since real-life real estate agents always walk around the edges of rooms in the house so as to avoid making them feel small, he copied that during his scenes. He also mentions that he was apprehensive about doing the dog attack scene; despite owning two himself, he has been afraid of them since ever since he was bitten at a very young age. Unfortunately, the trained dog missed the intended piece of cloth and sunk its teeth into his leg. His screaming in the scene is real and he still has the bite marks even now.

The filmmakers had hoped that their venture would be successful enough to expand into a series of Elvira films. However, shortly after its release, when word got out about the imminent bankruptcy of production company New World Pictures, cinemas started dropping it from their schedules and, as a result, it flopped. However, it was a huge success on video, resulting in it gaining a sizeable cult following and its main cast members still receiving fan mail about it to this day.

Recipe for Terror: The Creation of the Pot Monster

This excellent 22-minute featurette pulls together FX crew interviews and concept art to take a detailed look at the development of both the Pot Monster sequence and the transformation of great-uncle Vincent (played by W. Morgan Sheppard) into a demonic form. The featured concept drawings include various designs for Vincent’s transformation which were based on different assumptions on who would ultimately be cast. We even get to see some examples of a makeup design for Christopher Lee.

Trailers, image galleries and a collector’s booklet round out the extras here.

Overall:

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is fairly lightweight, disposable fun for horror buffs. The Arrow release itself is very solid, with a quality restoration and fine extras.

Movie: ☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆

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