Release List Reviews Price Search Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Adult
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk TV
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
XCritic.com
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

Columns



DVD SAVANT

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark


Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Anchor Bay
1988 / color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 96 min. / Street Date September 9, 2003 (reissue - double bill with Translyvania 6-5000)
Starring Cassandra Peterson, William Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Jeff Conaway, Edie McClurg, William Duell
Cinematography Hanania Baer
Production Designer John DeCuir Jr.
Film Editor Battle Davis
Original Music James B. Campbell
Written by Sam Egan, John Paragon and Cassandra Peterson
Produced by Eric Gardner, Mark Pierson, Michael I. Rachmil, Joel Thurm
Directed by James Signorelli

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Local television horror hosts are generally a sad lot; about the only ones to really get national attention were Zacherly and Vampira. Her short stint on LA television netted her little more than a role in an Ed Wood movie. His claim to fame were a few Halloween appearances on The Today Show.

In the late 70s, ex-groundling actress Cassandra Peterson nabbed the horror host role to replace LA's Seeey-mour. She altered Maila Nurmi's vampish getup (itself later part of a suit by the Charles Addams estate) with bigger hair, and a sexier dress that highlighted an incredibly exaggerated bust. Of such things are legends made, and Elvira became a hit sensation. Carrying on Seey-mour's habit of breaking into movies with smart remarks, corny jokes, and puerile sex innuendo (courtesy of her director-writer husband Mark Pierson), Elvira had an engaging personality of her own that went beyond the oversexed costume: she was both smart and clever.  1

After an early 80s stint supplying more laugh tracks for films on videotape, Elvira made this silly but respectable comedy, which assembles a number of skits and sitcom-style gags into a format that allows the Mistress of the Dark to be even bawdier. But Ms. Peterson's fun personality has a way of defusing even the tackiest jokes: a kneeling Elvira, looking back past her derriere at a potential construction helper: "Hi! Grab a tool and just start bangin'!"

Anchor Bay released Elvira, Mistress of the Dark in 2001, but will be reissuing it again as a double-bill with Transylvania 6-5000.

Synopsis:

After losing her TV show, Elvira (Elvira ... Cassandra Peterson) goes to the small New England town of Fallwell to collect an inheritance. She receives only a dilapidated house, but relative Vincent Talbot (William Morgan Sheppard) expresses an unseemly interest in an old book included in the will ... which of course, is a necromancer's book of spells. Will Elvira learn its secret before the uptight neighbors run her out of town for being a bad influence on their children? Will her low-cut dress stay in place?

Produced by New World and NBC ...?, but happily flying Elvira's own Queen 'B' Productions banner, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a middlebrow comedy that knows its own limits and fulfils them well. Enthusiastically cast and played, the film's goodwill is such that the clunker jokes and lewd material tend to disappear in a general atmosphere of fun.

Cassandra Peterson is of course the key to everything. Her horror-hostess persona just called for putting a Valley Girl twist onto gross, 'boob tube' jokes while displaying her chest for all the yahoos in the TV audience. Here she extends the character into a cross between Mae West and Morticia Addams. Elvira definitely has her own lusts to follow, as she pursues a career in showbiz - and the tight Levi'd rear of the heartthrob theater guy, Bob Redding (Daniel Greene). Like a cartoon character, she wears her slinky getup night and day, but is gamely aloof to the snooty persecution of the locals in the aptly-named Fallwell, Massachusetts.

There are a few spoofs of movie scenes and TV game shows. Elvira appears poised like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, giant gun in tow. An opening uses the conclusion of It Conquered the World as a film on Elvira's show, but replaces all the dialogue, probably because rights to the underlying music were too costly. It's too bad, for Beverly Garland's original voice track would have made the gag much funnier. Later on, Elvira does a parody of Flashdance's overhead bucket gag, only this time she's doused with tar and feathers.

The basic model for the comedy is the average Rock'n Roll musical from the '56-'59, the kind where local blue-noses try to suppress the 'jungle music' but lose out to the enthusiasm of the teens. Since this is the kind of campy free-for-all where logic doesn't matter, Elvira is somehow both a sexpot and a natural pal to Fallwell's repressed kiddies. They rally to her defense when the adults decide to start up the old Salem habit of burning undesirable exotic females.

There are some clever and judiciously-used special effects (the budget here is very modest) when Elvira tangles with a local warlock eager to steal her magic book. William Morgan Sheppard (The Duellists) makes a good cardboard villain, giving his lines a healthy sneer while keeping things moving. The bolts of lightning that jump from his fingers in the Raven-inspired duel of the wizards aren't too memorable, but there are some nice bits with Elvira's newfound dog transforming into a giant doberman and a even a little rat with a green-dyed Mohawk haircut. Best of all is a hand-puppet casserole-monster concocted by noted monster-maker Doug Beswick, that makes a messy exit via a handy garbage disposal.

Other casting makes good use of familiar faces. Henpecked husband William Duell is instantly recognizable from his first film 1776. Whining pro-decency harpy Edie McClurg has to be one of the busiest actresses around. Likewise sallow-faced Kurt Fuller (Miracle Mile) as another repressed town council member.

Nothing's ever allowed to get too serious, Elvira maintains her saucy bouyancy as she dishes out enough dirty humor to make the show unsuitable for mom. The ending is Elvira's Vegas debut stage number. The film has no outright nudity, but Peterson does a genuine Burlesque tassel twirl (similar to the one in The Graduate) that's as tacky as Hell and reminds us we're watching semi-adult material. The show has almost achieved cult status and has remained a high school favorite, at least among Cassandra's legion of fans.


Anchor Bay's DVD of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is very clean in both the picture and sound departments, with a punchy, colorful picture and good sound for the star's clever, off-color songs, and the playful soundtrack. A cover of Town Without Pity accompanies Elvira's fruitless search for work.

An intriguing Cassandra Peterson bio has some rather unreconcilable details - a scalding as a child left her with horrendous body scars, yet was later able to become a Vegas dancer? - but otherwise paints a picture of a fairly happy pro entertainer. The trailer is good, but the original teaser, using Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You is excellent.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer, Teaser, Cassandra Peterson bio
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 31, 2003


Footnote:

1. Savant has the distinction of having a film he edited, Kiss Daddy Goodbye, lampooned on the Elvira TV show in 1983. It was a gruelling experience, as she not only called it the worst movie she ever showed, but constantly interrupted to make snide comments about the director, actors, art direction, etc. (but thankfully not the editor). Then, at the end, she declared that the film lacked an ending, and suddenly appeared with Fabian Forte (the actual star in the movie) and acted out a new ending, with her playing the female lead. It was very humiliating and funny. I kept a VHS of the show but haven't watched it in 20 years.
Return




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © DVDTalk.com All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Release List Reviews Price Search Shop SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise