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Bob Redding: I, ah... I can only play G-rated movies.
DVD ReviewElvira is probably the most well-known female cult figure in popular culture. With her all-black wardrobe, dolled-up hair, and enormous...jokes, Elvira has carved herself a wonderful little niche that will sustain her creator, Cassandra Peterson, for as long as she's willing to put on the makeup. Elvira started life as the host of a TV show called Movie Macabre, and she became so popular that she soon got her own movie, which premiered in 1988 and promptly flopped. Undaunted, Peterson still dresses up as Elvira to this day, hosting annual Halloween festivals at Knott's Berry Farm, and writing, financing and starring in the newest Elvira film, Elvira's Haunted Hills. Despite its poor box office showing, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark found its true calling in the home video market, and since its release has become a great cult classic.
The movie opens with Elvira doing what she does best: hosting a TV show. After she signs off with her trademark "Unpleasant dreams," the new owner of the station comes on to her, and she tells him off and quits. Turns out she was willing to quit because the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas is going to give her a headlining spot, but she finds out that because of the expense of putting together her set, she has to give the Flamingo fifty-thousand dollars. As soon as she learns about the money, she gets a telegram saying her great aunt Morgana Talbot has died, and that she is going to get some of her inheritance. All she has to do is go to Massachusetts to hear the reading of the will, and it will be hers. Once there, she finds out she's inherited a dingy old house, a poodle, and a cookbook. With her car broken down, Elvira is stuck in a small town whose leaders try to push moral values that would have seemed outdated in the 1950s. To make matters worse, her great uncle Vincent Talbot (William Morgan Sheppard) is trying to get the cookbook, although she has no idea why.
Of course, the premise of "voluptuous vixen meets small-town America" is bound to be funny, but what really makes this movie work is Peterson's exquisite comic timing and her ability to say lines that would make other comedians cringe, and actually pull them off. An alumnus of the innovative Groundlings comedy troupe, Peterson knows how to get the most mileage out of just about any sexually-related joke she can come up with. Of course, her own curvaceous figure lends itself to such jokes, and she's smart enough to exploit that to her advantage (she herself says she's the girl who put "boob" back into "boob tube"). Of course, Peterson uses more than just sex jokes; she comes up with quick retorts to just about any comment, and isn't afraid to embarrass herself to get a good laugh.
And embarrassing is a good way to describe a few scenes of this movie. While I truly love it as a whole, I have to cringe when I see her doing a dance routine inspired by Flashdance. That movie is bad enough that any parody of it just comes off as bad, too. It's like Enid from Ghost World would say, "This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again." And even worse is when she raps at the end. Luckily, that's saved by a funny sight gag, but not before the audience does a little gagging of its own. On the whole, Elvira steers clear of such obvious missteps, but when she does fall, she falls far.
The movie is populated with an interesting cast of characters. Elvira's great uncle Vincent Talbot, played by William Morgan Sheppard, is very good in this role as the villian, playing the straight man not just to Elvira, but to his own flunkies, as well. Another standout is Edie McClurge as Chastity Pariah, purveyor of the town's morals. Edie is already something of a cult figure herself, thanks to her stints on such TV shows as Small Wonder, The Hogan Family, and others, and she plays Chastity with just the right amount of prudishness. The one truly bad actor in the whole cast is Daniel Greene, who is unfortunately cast as Bob Redding, Elvira's love interest. Daniel reads his lines as if English were a foreign language. In fact, he reads his lines as if language was foreign to him. While the purpose might have been to show how stilted things are in small-town America, casting Mr. Greene in a main role doesn't help. If you really need to show what is wrong with Middle America, call David Lynch, he'll show you how to do it (hint: it involves dead people and women who can tie cherry stems into knots with their tongues).
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: This is a mostly pleasing transfer, with all the bright and dark colors intact. Blacks are very deep, yet there is a high level of detail present. When Elvira is tarred and feathered, which is black on black, you can still notice the tiniest details on her face. Certain scenes look grainer than others, and a few scenes seem a tad too washed out, but these are very subtle differences, and, for the most part, the transfer is solid.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 mix on this disc is a big disappointment. The rears are hardly used, even for the score, and there is almost no low end. The up-front action sounds like it was recorded in a large hall, with a fair amount of echo; I thought there would be a more substantial, or at least imaginative, mix than this.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: n/a
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsWhile dated at points, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark still delivers the goods: the breasts, the jokes, the legs, and the breasts again. If you like campy humor, I urge you to let Elvira into your heart; the worst she can do is wander around and clog an artery. But in all seriousness, Elvira is a classic B movie that wants to have fun and give the audience a few cheap thrills, and it succeeds on both counts.
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