Having grown up of the slightly goth-y persuasion, I did like a girl in black with eye glue. In 1988, when Elvira: Mistress of the Dark came out, I was – well, let’s say quite a bit younger than I am now. Old enough, indeed, to find a raven-haired beauty with assets large enough for her to not require an airbag in the car somewhat alluring. I put out of my mind the fact that she was the very carefully constructed alter-ego of a really quite attractive redhead called Cassandra Peterson. Peterson had what you might call a varied career, from bit part acting in various movies (including Fellini’s Roma (1972)), touring with Italian rock band I Latins 80 as the singer and being a go-go dancer in a gay bar. The perfect pedigree for joining an improvisational comedy troupe, right? Maybe not, but she did and from there she landed the part of ‘horror host’ for a local LA TV station. The show was Movie Macabre, the host was Elvira and the rest is history.
Why the huge preamble to the review? Mainly because I can – but also to illustrate that she’s paid her dues and that I have the utmost respect for her huge…work ethic. Elvira is basically an extension of Peterson’s larger-than-death persona stretched out into a film. Think Carry On Screaming (1966) and you won’t be far wrong. The difference between Elvira and Carry On… is that, surprisingly, Elvira ups the ante for innuendo and cheap gags about tits and sex. Her brand is stamped all across the piece and her character is how it always is – somewhat twittery, pouty, lewd and not ashamed to use the assets she has to her advantage. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?
Wrong. The comedy here comes from knowing. It never takes itself seriously; burning witches at the stake, a genuinely impressive use of tassels (you’ll see), a dream-like Flashdance (1983) sequence or what seems to be the 167th boob gag are all played as camp as Christmas and all the better for it. The fact you can see the gags coming from space matters not a jot – as far as comedy this cheesy goes, it’s often far better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
Surprisingly, there’s also a coherent, if simple, plot. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, should you wish to purchase this fine work on DVD but if you don’t see it coming, you really need to see more films. That’s not really what it’s all about, anyway. I assume you’d gathered as much. Anyhow, following the demise of her great aunt, Elvira (playing the horror show host, Elvira) arrives in a small American town to collect the inheritance. The town in question is populated by stuff, middle-class prigs and prudes, none more expertly played than by Edie McClurg of Ferris Bueller fame, cast wonderfully as Chastity Pariah. Her inheritance amounts to a recipe book and a rather weird looking Bichon Frise called Algonquin. Her uncle has no interest in the dog but a more-than-healthy interest in the book. Bet you can’t guess where it’s going. For me, the only scratch in the black nail varnish is the ‘Hey! The kids are OK’ end of the story. Maybe I’ve just seen too many and I’m jaded, maybe it’s part of the kitsch. I suspect the latter and I blame myself.
If you’re a fan of cheap gags, outrageous costumes and a totally undemanding story, of trashy goth girls and boob jokes, or of slapstick comedy, give Elvira a spin. If not – what’s wrong with you?