When her Great Aunt dies, famed horror hostess Elvira® heads for the uptight New England town of Falwell to claim her inheritance of a haunted house, a witch’s cookbook and a punk rock poodle. But once the stuffy locals get an eyeful of the scream queen’s ample assets, all hell busts out and breaks loose. Can the Madonna of the Macabre find love with a studly cinema owner, avoid her creepy Great Uncle, titillate the town’s teens and become a Las Vegas dance sensation all without being burned alive at the stake?
Cassandra Peterson stars in this sexy comedy hit, filled with wild wisecracks, campy chaos and scary movie spoofs, all poured into the lowest-cut black gown in horror movie history!
eyelights: Elvira. the kitschy humour.
eyesores: Elvira’s corny one-liners. the weak ending.
Chastity Pariah: “I don’t know who you are or where you came from but you most certainly don’t fit in this town. Why, you don’t even fit in that dress.”
Elvira: “Listen sister, if I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you.”
I was never ever interested in Elvira until I picked up this movie. I’m not even sure exactly why I did. But this was the early days of DVD and I found a double feature that included this and ‘Transylvania 6-5000’ on its flipside. I’d heard of both, and it was new and cheap, so I figured that it was a good deal; as per usual, my insatiable curiosity got the better of me.
Truth be told, though, this is one moment where it was a good thing that it did.
While I can barely stand ‘Transylvania 6-500’ (and likely will never blurb about it), I immediately reconsidered my vague impression of Elvira. As corny as she is, I thought that she was a boatload of bodacious fun; I discovered that the character wasn’t just iconic because of her looks, but because of her sassy, brassy attitude.
Elvira is one bad-@$$ chick. I love that she is subservient to no one and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is who she wants to be and doesn’t let anyone get in the way. She also has her own way of looking at the world which means that she doesn’t always understand what most would consider to be common sense. She also has her own unique hopes and dreams.
In some ways, despite her accoutrement, she is a feminist. She is female power personified, at ease in her own skin, confident and unashamed of her sexuality. What makes her a walking contradiction is that she is also a Barbie doll. In black. She has a traditional penchant for such things as high heels, long nails, lingerie, muscle-bound men and walks in the dark.
Frankly, I could see how some people would take offense at the portrayal of such a woman. On the one hand, there are those who would want her to be more traditional, and on the other there’d be those who would want her to be less traditional. Elvira really is a mix of two worlds, a cartoon character that likely doesn’t exist in the real world. At least, not in that form.
Actually, her attitude is typical of many ’80s rocker chicks I’ve met. They had that spunk that made them appealing and off-putting at once: a part of you liked that they were strong-willed, but another would wonder where all the anger and/or push-back was coming from. The difference with Elvira is that she makes up for it with a sense of humour and playfulness.
Yes, I must admit: I’ve become a fan.
Sadly, while Elvira may have broken the mould, she never broke through to the masses: she’s a cult icon, certainly, but she mostly languished in the dark (come to think of it, she probably likes it that way). She is misunderstood: Cassandra Peterson, who incarnates Elvira, was even nominated for a Razzie for her performance in the picture – even though this performance is kitsch, not inept.
If anything, that’s what the character is: over-the-top, exaggerated, a caricature – as much her acting as her appearance. It truly shows poor judgement to Razz Petersen for it.
Elvira trades on her allure as much as Dolly Parton does, except that Elvira is what Dolly would look like in the guise of Morticia Addams: long plunging dress, black; high heels, black; long nails, black; massive ‘do, black; stockings, black, and so forth. Can she breathe, let alone walk in that outfit? Apparently so. But when she can’t, she simply changes into something more comfortable.
The film itself trades on Elvira’s allure, of course: that’s part of her -and its- shtick. Much of the story’s tension revolves around the reactions people have to her, including sexual harassment, prejudice, jealousy, spite, and, of course, uncontrollable longing. To make these elements coalesce, Elvira is thrown into an “alien” environment: small-town U.S.A. (a.k.a. buttf*** nowhere).
And that’s where the core of the film takes place:
Elvira, having quit her cable TV show after being harassed by its new owner, goes to Fallwell, MA for the reading of a will – hoping to inherit enough money to finance her Vegas debut. Unfortunately, her Macabremobile breaks down and she is stuck there for a few days, during which time she has to contend with the locals’ various prejudices and disapprovals.
But Elvira is implacable, and with her good humour manages to charm the town’s cinema owner as well as the local teenagers; with their moral support and able assistance she pulls through many predicaments. But little does she know that there is an evil witch trying to get his hands on the spellbook she is bequeathed – one she naively believes is merely a recipe book…
Let’s be real for a moment: ‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’ is a low-budget ’80s comedy. It doesn’t have a lot going as far as scope or finesse. But the picture has heart, and it’s a real gas. Furthermore, while the performances are exactly what can be expected for the genre (i.e. hammy and/or amateurish), anyone seeking award-winning turns would likely be looking elsewhere anyway.
But they’d be missing out on tons of goofy fun: a fierce “punk” poodle, a PG-rated orgy, the obliteration of a gas station, a sexy homage to ‘Flashdance’, an Elvira rap, a late-night screening of ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’, a witch burning (complete with stake and enraged mob), and so many hilariously bad zingers you’d be hard pressed not to clean your ears afterwards.
Who would want to miss all of this?
I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t like all of ‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’, but it was a campy revelation to me; I don’t go very long without popping this movie into the DVD player late at night, for a few much-needed chuckles. I’ve even picked up the sequel, as well as a few of her ‘Movie Macabre’ double feature DVDs, since.
I’m not Elvira’s biggest fan. Hardly. But I’m glad that I saw through my own preconceived notions just enough to give her a chance; my life would have the poorer for not knowing about the Mistress of the Dark. She’s an original.
Vincent Talbot: “I must apologize for my behavior in the office, it’s just that your appearance was a bit of a shock to me.”
Elvira: “It’s OK. My appearance is kind of a shock to everybody.”
Date of viewing: September 16, 2013