January 19, 2014

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Maybe it's too pretentious or clich├ęd to describe Elvira as a force of nature, but as I was watching her feature debut, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), I was struck by how joyously she schleps through this high-cheese vehicle. The artist also known as Cassandra Peterson manages to perk up a movie that has more gratuitous butt and boob shots than I could count. All those cheap zooms into Elvira's formidable cleavage left me feeling very conflicted, because it's so insulting to exhibit her body for this strange mixture of comic relief and titillation (no pun intended); but in some ways Elvira is a really fun example of an empowered woman. Elvira is confident and independent. Granted, she dresses in an outlandishly sexualized way, but she makes fun of herself, and despite all the dumb jokes about being a loose woman, never comes off as a bimbo. The Elvira schtick is just that: schtick. She's constantly winking at the audience. It's nice to feel in on the joke, especially when the movie itself often seems at odds with this more clever brand of humor.

The plot has Elvira quitting her job as late-night horror movie hostess for a local L.A. station (because the scummy new owner propositions her). Elvira has her heart set on a live show in Vegas, but she's expected to come up with 50,000 dollars to help back the show.
Conveniently, Elvira's great aunt from Massachusetts drops dead, so our plucky heroine journeys to New England to claim her inheritance, only to be accosted by the local Pharisees. They're headed by Edie McClurg, (she played the secretary in Ferris Bueller) whose character in this is named Chastity Pariah, and who is a pure pleasure to watch as she works herself into a moralistic frenzy at the sight of the bosomy Elvira.

There's a less desirable storyline about Elvira's greedy uncle (W. Morgan Sheppard), who's some kind of warlock looking to get his hands on Elvira's spell book, which gives the film its supernatural angles (and allows the production to show off its mostly laughable effects). Meanwhile, Elvira makes quite an impression on the local youths, who've been kept under tight reigns by the repressed, ultra-conservative town council.

Yes, Elvira makes a lot of cheap boob jokes, and yes the movie doesn't always score points for imagination, but somehow Cassandra Peterson carries the thing with her corny jokes and her faux-camp persona. It's a dumb but enjoyable comedy. There is also a sequel, with even worse production values and much flatter (sorry) humor, called Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001). With Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Pat Crawford Brown, and Susan Kellerman. ½

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