Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Y'know how I keep bringing up that my parents wouldn't let me watch scary movies when I was a kid?

I wasn't allowed to watch Elvira's Movie Macabre, either. In my parents' defense, I was maybe five or six years old when I decided that I wanted to watch Elvira, and I probably would not have handled it well. I never did get to watch Elvia, and by the time I was old enough for that sort of thing, we had Svengoolie and Mystery Science Theater 3000 which were covering the same sort of ground with less cleavage and better jokes.

Anyway, this evening my wife and I were looking for something she wouldn't mind sitting through, and Netflix suggested Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Neither of us had seen it before, and she was game--that'll teach her.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark wasn't hard to get into, but one assumes that it's better if you're already familiar with the character. As the movie begins, Elvira is finishing up an episode of her weekly show. The horrorshow set is moved out of shot, and the studio begins setting up for the evening newscast. Elvira is introduced to the new station manager who speaks only in single entendres and can't keep his hands to himself. He touches her and she touches him back hard enough to disrupt the newscast. Elvira's hosting gig is over.

It's fine, though--she's working on a live show that will run in Las Vegas. The only problem is that the theater wants $50k upfront--money she doesn't have. The solution--probably--comes when she receives a telegram informing her of her aunt Morgana's untimely death; Elvira is required at the reading of the will.

The next 40 minutes or so of the movie are essentially To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, but without drag queens. Elvira travels to Morgana's mansion in Fallwell, Massachusetts, and her um, double entendres attract the attention of some of the townspeople, especially teenagers, and Bob, the local theater manager. Unfortunately, Fallwell is a town of staunch puritans, proud of their social conservatism ("I only run movies that are rated G," laments Bob), and the PTA and city council are scandalized by her slinky dresses and almost-but-not-quite dirty jokes. Something must be done about this woman!

Meanwhile, Elvira's uncle, Vincent Talbot, is after Morgana's recipe book. Elvira doesn't exactly withhold it from him, but it's just a recipe book, so she takes her time about finding it, and by the time it does turn up, we've learned that the recipes are actually spells, and that Morgana was a powerful witch. Elvira and Bob aren't as clever as the audience watching them, and don't catch on.

Vincent, taking drastic measures, interrupts a town meeting and recommends a Good Ol' New England Barbecue! "Our ancestors knew what to do with witches," he says, "and I think it's time we cleaned house."

Up to this point, the Elvira doesn't really count as a horror movie, but once the angry mob descends on her, it changes direction. The mob plans to burn her at the stake, and she escapes with a little actual witchcraft, just in time to clash with Vincent, who is revealed to be a powerful warlock. Flames, monsters, and spooky, dry-ice graveyard sets abound.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, isn't much of a horror movie; it's a comedy whose horrific elements are crowded into the eleventh hour. And it's really not scary, but it's a hell of a lot of fun--or at least it tries to be. This movie belongs to the no longer popular tradition of Mel Brooks and Jerry Lewis and Marx Brothers, which favors the quantity of the jokes over their quality. Sometimes this approach works, sometimes you get... this movie.

The jokes are dense, both in quality and number. It's hard to say who the filmmakers were aiming at, since the jokes are (way, way) too risque for children, but too corny for teenagers and adults. Dumb jokes are the bread and butter of TV horror hosts, but this movie has a difficult time hitting the right notes the way that, say, Tales from the Crypt does. Elvira got a Razzie nomination, which seems almost chiding; Razzies are usually reserved for unintentionally bad movies, and the filmmakers here must have known what kind of movie they were making.

On the other hand, it's weird and it's silly, and you get to see a lot of things you wouldn't see anywhere else (the ol' mustard-on-the-ear-as-an-aphrodisiac scene, f'r instance), and there's a lot of legitimate talent on display: Edie McClurgh (look her up--you'll recognize her) and Kurt Fuller are fantastically slimy as prudish townspeople, and W. Morgan Sheppard is fantastic as uncle Vincent, and looks about 700 years old which is impressive since he was in his mid-50s at the time. The movie was written by Elvira herself (Cassandra Peterson), some guy named Sam Egan and the stunningly weird John Paragon.

Is it a good movie? Uh, probably not. But everybody involved appears to have had a good time, oblivious to the fact that their names will be prominently displayed in the credits. I wouldn't steer you away from watching it, but do it alone or you'll spend the whole movie apologizing to your companions and offering to turn it off.

Here's the trailer.
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