Synopsis: When her great aunt dies, famous horror hostess Elvira heads for the uptight New England town 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.
Stars: Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, William Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, Jeff Conaway, Pat Crawford Brown, William Duell
Director: James Signorelli
Running Length 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Along with the classic horror films and modern shockers, it’s nice to have a few scary-adjacent films in your back pocket on the off chance you find yourself in the company of someone who’d rather not feel the fright. There are plenty of these types of films, with family fare like Hocus Pocus finding a wider audience outside of the PG crowd throughout the years. I’d also add Elvira, Mistress of the Dark to the pile of alternative titles that can be a fun substitute when gore just won’t do.
Originally introduced in 1981 as a midnight movie hostess on a local cable access station, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) soon gained wider popularity thanks to her revealing attire and tongue in cheek snarky comments about the low-budget horror films she was showcasing. People started to tune in just to see Elvira and treated the movies like commercial breaks. With multiple products bearing her likeness and licensing deals for promotions on a global scale, what better way to capitalize on that fame then to have Elvira star in her very own movie, right? A total no-brainer. And that’s what you get.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is pretty silly and downright stupid at times but watching it again recently I was amazed at how brisk it moved and how much energy Peterson brings to the character. When Elvira gets sacked from her late night gig and owing money to producers of her upcoming Las Vegas show, her future looks grim. Then, out of the blue, she’s informed she’s the beneficiary of an inheritance just waiting for her to claim in a conservative New England township.
She’s not in town long before she’s alienated the local goody-goody (Edie McClurg, Frozen), run afoul of a trio of no goodniks (Susan Kellerman, Frank Collison, & Jeff Conaway), and thrown a wrench into the plans of her uncle (William Morgan Sheppard, Star Trek) who has sinister inclinations involving witchcraft. She also catches the eye of the town hunk (Daniel Greene) and rouses the town’s teenagers from their fun-free, repressed comas. There’s plenty of boob jokes and bad puns, all delivered by Peterson with zany charm and a totally wacky musical number at the film’s conclusion.
Look, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is no shining example of cutting-edge writing or overly competent filmmaking but it’s quite funny and self-aware. Co-written by Peterson, the movie is tailor-made to fit into the Elvira brand and while not a critical or box office hit, it gained enough notoriety through video rentals to keep Elvira alive and kickin’. Even today, Peterson looks like a million bucks in her Elvira get-up and keeps her fans happy with each appearance. Though a sequel, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, appeared over a decade later it couldn’t quite match the fun of her original outing which has aged well…much like its star.