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ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Cassandra Peterson, W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellermann, Edie McClurg
Director:  James Signorelli
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  2 Trailers, Cassandra Peterson Bio
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date:  August 28, 2001

“Well…here’s to my big opening.”

Film  *1/2

I can still remember the first time I laid eyes on Elvira…she was hosting her weekly program of bad movies, which she spiced up with her droll intros and outros, quirky costumes, and shapely physique.  It was a great gimmick:  she was instantly unforgettable.

In the months that followed, the so-named Mistress of the Dark garnered something of a cult following, as she began to make cameo appearances in commercials, TV shows and movies.  The next logical step was, of course to give her a motion picture of her own.

But somewhere between the initial idea and the beginning of the shoot, somebody should have put up their hand and said out loud, “We don’t have enough for a feature here.”  Elvira was a one-gimmick gal…enough for her weekly foray into the world of bad B movies, to be sure, but how do you stretch it into something 90 minutes long?  You can’t…and Cassandra Peterson, who both played Elvira and co-authored the script, is left trying to make a single joke work over and over again.

Elvira’s asset, of course, is her bosom, which director James Signorelli films as lovingly as one would the black monoliths in 2001.  I’ll admit, I enjoy ogling it as much as any normal guy would…but for a full length movie, it’s not enough to just engage the libido…the brain has to be stimulated sooner or later.

Just how pressed for ideas is Elvira, Mistress of the Dark?  Well, Elvira originated as a host of bad movies, right?  In this film, we are introduced to Elvira as…the host of bad movies.  Later, when getting wind of an inheritance that goes bust (no pun intended), she ends up in another town as…a host of bad movies.  As a matter of fact, she’s even showing the very first one I saw her host on TV, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.  But you get the idea.  Somebody should have thrown in the towel right then.

The fish out of water tale is played by the numbers (though one wonders exactly what water would fit a fish like Elvira) when she heads for a conservative small town in Massachusetts actually called Falwell.  She’s hoping to get the money she needs for a Las Vegas show from her deceased aunt (“What did she die of?  I hope it was nothing serious.”) and get back out.

As fate would have it, all that was left to her was a house and a recipe book.  She tries to make a go of it in the small town, but naturally, the conservative adults fear her, and the horny teenage boys love her.  She makes two enemies: the luscious Patty (Kellermann), who used to be the town’s most voluptuous woman, but now probably feels like the Empire State Building after the Sears Tower went up, and local self-righteous busybody Chastity Pariah (McClurg), who declares Elvira a “one-woman Sodom and Gomorrah”.

Things get weird when it turns out her recipe book is actually a book of spells, and her creepy uncle (Sheppard) is plotting to relieve her of it for his own dire purposes.  That’s the story in the nutshell, but the script plods along from one lame double-entendre to another until it ends up with the most gratuitously pointless finale of recent memory…and probably the sole reason for the PG 13 rating.

Cassandra Peterson has charm and a great sense of humor, but she can’t carry the film…frankly, I don’t have much hopes for her latest opus, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, either.  For a campy television host, Elvira is everything you could ask for.  As a movie heroine, she falls flat.  She doesn’t even have the benefit of being a genuinely weird character, like the Addams Family members were.  They were odd, but didn’t seem to know it.  Elvira is just revealing black dresses, makeup and a fright wig…she’s more the character who strives not to fit in as opposed to the ones who just naturally don’t.

The film itself doesn’t work as a spoof, or as satire…it has nothing to say, so it doesn’t really target anything.  The result is a screenplay of loose jokes that don’t tie down to anything, and are mostly not that funny.  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark therefore exists solely as a one-woman showcase, and the entertainment value only stretches as far as you don’t grow weary of her.  For me, it was quite soon.

Video ***

Anchor Bay, as always, delivers a quality anamorphic transfer for a cult favorite film.  For the most part, images are sharply rendered and detailed, with good coloring and shading throughout.  One or two very dark scenes lose some definition, and cause Elvira’s wig and dress to be a bit more blotchy and grainy looking, but those aren’t really distractions.  This is probably as good as this film is going to look, and it should be more than satisfying to fans of the Macabre One.

Audio ***

Anchor Bay is also famous for bold new 5.1 mixes for older films.  Elvira doesn’t have many scenes that beg to be opened up, but still, there are a few effects that call the rear stage into action and make the overall listening experience a little more engrossing than the simple stereo mix (also included).  There’s not much bass and only a fair amount of dynamic range, but a few lively scenes make this a better than average presentation.

Features **

There are a theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer, plus a bio on Cassandra Peterson, which is actually quite interesting.  I never knew, for example, that she got her start in the same troupe that launched Paul Rubens as Pee-Wee Herman!

Summary:

It may have been billed as “the biggest double feature of the summer”, but Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a one-joke premise that goes nowhere.  The sexy Peterson is certainly charming, but charm rarely carries a picture out of the first half hour when it’s a film’s sole asset.  Fans will be pleased with this offering from Anchor Bay, but casual lookers might want to seek out a more worthwhile comedy for their money.