Thursday, April 21, 2011

Film Review: ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK (1988, James Signorelli)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson– of MOVIE MACABRE and ELVIRA'S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL), William Morgan Sheppard (HAWK THE SLAYER, THE KEEP, MAX HEADROOM), Edie McClurg (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, NATURAL BORN KILLERS), Susan Kellerman (BEETLEJUICE, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE), Jeff Conaway (GREASE, TAXI), Daniel Greene (FALCON CREST, HANDS OF STEEL), William Duell (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE HAPPY HOOKER), Joey Arias (BIG TOP PEE-WEE, DRUNKS), Kurt Fuller (WAYNE'S WORLD, THE RUNNING MAN).
Tag-line: "Here comes Elvira... There goes the neighborhood!"
Best one-liner: "Hey, nice jacket. Who shot the couch?"

ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK dares to ask the question– "Can a movie be assembled entirely out of one-liners?"– and boldly answers with a resounding... YES!

For the uninitiated, Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson) hosted the Vampira-esque horrorshow MOVIE MACABRE for local L.A. station KHJ in the early 80's, wowing audiences with valley-girl aphorisms and ludicrous sexual innuendos.

The character of Elvira is a likable, delightfully self-centered cultural artifact not unlike the 'Pee-Wee Herman' persona of (her close friend and fellow-Groundling) Paul Reubens. In fact, in tone, ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK often closely resembles PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (but with heavy doses of PG-13 ribaldry), and in my mind, that's a good thing.

Both concern themselves with a weirdo-fishes-out-of-water roaming a cartoonish Americana, both were created and performed by kitsch-luvin' virtuosos, and both employ zany non-sequitur humor in a rare, non-irritating manner. [And as an added bonus, you can see Cassandra Peterson in PEE-WEE as the zany biker mama.]

ELVIRA is also a 1980's New World property (a Roger Corman stomping ground), which furthermore means it will be charmingly low-rent, but with the same manic energy which brought us such latter-day classics as HOUSE, DEAD HEAT, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, and HEATHERS. Basically, New World and Golan-Globus had a stranglehold on the finest 1980's party movies this side of the Atlantic. So fasten your seat-belts and grab your beers– here's ten things to love about ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK:

#1. Elvira's Macabre-Mobile.




Oh yeah! Almost as good as Pee-Wee's bike. And everybody in the 80's had to have a vanity plate. Not quite as good as Stallone's AWESOM50 in COBRA, but still a fine showing. Supposedly Elvira has hung onto the Macabre-Mobile and drives it around for special appearances to this day.

#2. The town of Fallwell, Massachusetts, whose moralistic elements... DECLARE WAR ON ELVIRA!

You see, upon inheriting a home (and a book of 'recipes') from her Great-Aunt, Elvira moseys into Falwell (Jerry, anyone?), where her brazen and zany behavior turns the town... upside-down! Town leaders, including FERRIS BUELLER's Edie McClurg and WAYNE'S WORLD's Kurt Fuller, initiate a crusade against the 'salacious' Elvira,


who, through incendiary behavior and inadvertant misadventure alike


has offended and incensed the community at large. The persecution of Elvira reaches a logical end point worthy of Maria Falconetti. (Well, not really).


Dreyer didn't need no marshmallows

#3. All of this, of course, may or may not culminate in a geriatric orgy whereupon viewers will never be able to cleanse themselves of the image of Edie McClurg mounting an elderly gentleman, or William Duell (from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S nest) having mustard licked out of his ear by a voracious Pat Crawford Brown.


#4. The obligatory fix-em-up montage. As I've written before, in the 1980's, if the conditions for a "makeover" or a "shopping" montage do not exist, a "fix-em-up" montage must take their place. First off, Elvira is already Elvira. So we don't need a makeover. Second, the majority of the film takes place in Fallwell, Massachusetts; I'm not sure what Elvira would want to buy there. Thirdly, a fix-em-up montage provides ample opportunity for Castellari-worthy asscrack.


#5. Baby Elvira. I don't feel the need to elaborate.


#6. Elvira's FLASHDANCE.


Black leg warmers, a stunt double-Elvira doing backflips, and a finale which channels CARRIE: what more could you want out of life?

#7. Elvira and her new beau's predilection for generic "Beer"-brand beer.

You can sorta tell from this picture.

I'm guessing it had to do with some kind of exclusivity agreement Elvira had with Coors, a brand which she'd been hawking most magnificently. I hope one day to tackle some scintillating commercial reviews based on the relationship between Elvira and "the Silver Bullet."

#8. Punk Poodle makeover.

Okay, I lied: there was a makeover montage. But it was a dog, so maybe it's kind of a gray area.

#9. David Lynch is a fan. Er, well, I have deduced that David Lynch must be a fan. I have three Exhibits aside from the fact that it's a colorful, episodic, Americana-luvin', bizarre tract somewhat in the vein of WILD AT HEART (1990). Exhibit A: the villain is the wondrous, Shakespearian William Morgan Sheppard, later cast by Lynch as the ultimate string-puller, 'Mr. Reindeer,' in WILD AT HEART.

WILLIAM MORGAN SHEPPARD WILL WEAR A VEST-ROBE THING

Exhibit B. One of William Morgan Sheppard's sidekicks (pictured on the left, having a beer poured into his lap by Elvira) is played by Frank Collison,

who Lynch also later cast in WILD AT HEART as 'Timmy Thompson' (seen at the weirdo motel campsite with Dafoe, John Lurie, Jack Nance, & Pruitt Taylor Vince).

Exhibit C. David Lynch chose ELVIRA's director, James Signorelli, to helm the only non-Lynch-directed episode of HOTEL ROOM, a post-TWIN PEAKS prime-time effort.

So maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but I think that when ELVIRA hit theaters, David Lynch took note.

#10. The finale. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK ends with a little song n' dance.

Upon a cavernous Las Vegas stage, Elvira wows the audience with her sheer showmanship, twirling a flowing, batwing-shaped cape and surrounded by pillar-vases. Go-go boys dressed as derby-wearing devils drape themselves across an enormous spiderweb and leap about to accentuate the lyrical beauty of Elvira's generic pop song, which goes something like "Heeeeeere...Iiiiii...Ammmmmm!"

Elvira holds a tarantula toward the camera's fish-eye lens and kisses it,

and the song segues into "The Elvira Rap," which sounds a lot like that rap-break in Blondie's "Rapture." Some random, non-devilish back-up dancers emerge from the trunk of a car and

the devil-men whirl in unison

and the trunk guys' eyes leap out of their sockets due to the sheer Elvira-tude on display.

Finally, the pièce de résistance: Elvira's loopy, childish grin betrays her genuine excitement as we build to a nipple-tassle-twirling finale set to a surge of notes from an uplifting 1980's rendition of a Bach fugue.

It ascends (or is that 'shimmies up?') such a fully-committed summit of ludicrosity and PG-13 depravity, that I (and the gods of kitsch) are forced to bow down and award nearly five stars.

-Sean Gill

2 comments:

J.D. said...

Awesome tribute to this cult film. Love Elvira and am so thrilled that she's back on the air doing what she does best: take the piss out of B and C movies.

So, does this mean you're going to pay tribute to ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS in the future?

Sean Gill said...

Thanks, J.D.! I didn't think I'd find myself so taken with Elvira's movie, often being opposed to 'wink and nod' self-aware comedy, but Peterson does it right with across-the-board charm and virtuosic line delivery. I've yet to see ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS, but I think a forthcoming review may be in order!