The hills are alive – with the screams of laughter!
Elvira’s back in an all new adventure! With her ample anatomical assets, big black bouffant, and hilarious one-liners, the Mistress of the Dark knocks ’em dead in this side-splitting spoof that’s equal parts Austin Powers and Young Frankenstein. Add a dash of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Co-star Richard O’Brien) and you’ve got the “bust-out” movie of the century.
It’s 1851, and Elvira is en route to “gay Paree” to star in the revue “Yes I Can-Can.” As bad luck would have it, she stops for the night at the Carpathian castles of Lord Vladimere Hellsubs (O’Brien), whose late wife- now a vengeful ghost- is a lateral “dead” ringer for Elvira. What’s a gal to do but break into song and dance, as Vladimere turns her dreams of stardom into a nightmare! But can Elvira keep her hands off the studly stable-master long enough to save the day?
eyelights: the zany, campy humour. the anachronistic pop culture references.
eyesores: the poor production quality.
“Hey, I usually get paid to do this…”
Cassandra Peterson had long planned to film a follow-up to ‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’. Unfortunately, she found no interest from any of the studios. So she and her then-husband (and manager) decided to finance the production themselves, plunking down approximately a million dollars of their own cash in the process.
The film took a long time to make, and it suffered all sorts of troubles along the way , including casting issues: Richard Chamberlain dropped out last minute, and Fabio wanted more money than they could afford (which fortuitously resulted in the awesome gag of the dubbed lover, since the actor they ended up with was Romanian).
So it’s surprising that, all told, ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ is as good as it is. In fact, it’s veritably astounding that it actually bests its predecessor, adding layers of parody and satire to the mix that the former didn’t have. Top it all off with Elvira’s natural charm, her penchant for corny one-liners and goofy fun and it makes for a rather enjoyable 90 minutes.
I was skeptical at first, truth be told: I knew just by looking at the box art that it was a cheapie. But I had been so surprised by the original that I felt it would be worth the gamble. Even if it sucked, as it may very well have, I wouldn’t lose my shirt over it, if not my enthusiasm. Little did I know that it would bolster my respect for and appreciation of Elvira.
‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’, despite its cheeky title, has very little to do with hills and only vaguely something to do with hauntings:
It inexplicably grafts Elvira into the mid-19th century (in Romania, no less), and finds her trying to make her way to Paris to star in a can-can revue. On her way there, she is invited to stay at the Hellsubus mansion by a friend of the Hellsubus family. Perched atop a hill, it is haunted by the memory of Lady Elura, who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Elvira.
This, of course, causes all sorts of hilarity and misunderstandings. And grief, since Lord Hellsubus has not yet gotten over the passing of his wife…
The picture is an homage to and a spoof of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe pictures (including ‘The Comedy of Terrors’, ‘The Haunted Palace., ‘House of Usher’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, ‘Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘The Raven’, ‘Tales of Terror’ and ‘The Tomb of Ligeia’) , starting with the credits sequence, which consists of a pool of multi-coloured paint mixing in a slightly surrealistic way.
While it’s obvious that being familiar with the Corman pictures adds a few layers to the viewers’ enjoyment, they are by no means necessary: not only is much of the humour broad enough to appeal on its own , but the picture also has a blast poking fun at other pictures, such as the 1931 version of ‘Dracula’, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ and even ‘The Shining’. In my view, there are laughs to be had by almost everyone.
If ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ suffers at all, it’s in the casting and production departments. No doubt handicapped by the limited cash flow on hand, the picture often looks cheap (some of the sets looks like plywood, if not cardboard) and the actors vary from appropriately silly to profanely campy. The latter may have been a calculated choice by the filmmakers, one supposes, but I couldn’t help but wish for more subtlety.
Thankfully, Cassandra Peterson continues to rock as Elvira. While she isn’t as defiant as she was back in 1988, she still gives great lip and has enough sass that she’s an all-around good time. Sure, her one-liners are frequently corny, but she plays it up knowingly, batting a false eyelash at the audience. Peterson is basically having a gas playing Elvira, from her sexy posturing to her show-stopping musical number.
Unfortunately, ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ was seen by all too few. Or, at least, certainly not as many as the filmmakers would have wanted. Since they were going the indie route, they didn’t have a distribution deal and ended up touring the film at AIDS benefits across the US to show it to fans. Its official release was one year later, in Hollywood. It’s not uncommon for this type of production, but it’s a shame because it deserved better.
‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ is by no means a grand masterpiece of cinema, but it never had such lofty aspirations. It was always intended to be good, silly fun, aiming its sights at horror fans, young and old, who knew the value of camp – so, basically, Elvira’s fans. In that sense, this motion picture is a massive success: while its lack of box office presence may have been disappointing to some, it hits all the right notes from start to finish, making it a midnight movie with much replay value.
Fans of Elvira should be pleased. As for me, I know that I’m going to revisit ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ many many times. I already have.
Date of viewing: October 2 + 8, 2013