Proving you can never have too much of a good thing, Elvira made a comeback in 2010 when Movie Macabre was resurrected from the dead. With Cassandra Peterson once again reprising her role as the world's most famous horror hostess, Elvira, and a slew of public domain films under their belt, the brains behind this decision knew not to mess with a good thing. The result? A pretty great throwback to the classic Elvira bits that made us all fans in the first place. The same goofy humor, corny puns and cleavage enhancing wardrobe that made the 'Mistress of the Dark' a cult heroine are in place, as they should be, and as you'd expect Elvira pops up periodically throughout the movie to make a clever joke, offer some commentary, and poke fun at the various shortcomings of the movies that she shows.
Here's a look at the two movies Elvira hosts on this DVD...
Night Of The Living Dead:
For the one or two people out there who haven't seen the movie, it begins when a woman named Barbara (Judith O'Dea) and her brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) head to the local cemetery to pay their respects to their dear, departed grandfather. When they arrive, a sickly looking man (Bill Hinzman) attacks Barbara. When Johnny tries to help, he falls and hits his head on a tombstone. Barbara runs to the car but crashes it into a tree. She runs to a farmhouse to hide and soon realizes that the ghoul at the cemetery was only one of the countless re-animated corpses that have, for reasons unknown, risen from the grave to feast on the flesh of the living!
Barbara tries to leave the house but is stopped by a man named Ben (Duane Jones) who convinces her to stay in the house with him. He starts to board up the windows and the doors to keep the zombies at bay while Barbara zones out on the touch. Neither realize that a couple named Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman) have been hiding in the basement with their daughter, Karen (Kyran Schon), and two teenagers named Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Riley). The radio alerts the group that all across the eastern seaboard zombies are attacking the living and the group reluctantly works together to survive in hopes that the military will soon show up and save them.
Aside from kick-starting the whole (modern) zombie film sub-genre, Night Of The Living Dead also represented a remarkably bleak take on the horror film. Sure there had been darker horror pictures before this one but none as nihilistic or grisly. Throw in some very clever political sub-text (a staple of Romero's work) and one of the freakiest scenes of matricide ever committed to celluloid and you're left a film but fascinating and frightening. Keeping in mind that in the America of 1968 civil rights weren't even close to where they should have been, it's also remarkable how Romero and company made the strongest and smartest of their cast a black man - something that was quite rare in that era.
Carefully shot and incredibly claustrophobic at times, Night Of The Living Dead made the most of its small budget by using stock library music, shooting in black and white and having various crew members double as cast members. In many ways the film is simple, almost primitive, but on the other hand it's quite relentless, incredibly rich with atmosphere, and very, very effective. The picture is very well shot, tightly paced, and finely acted. As such, the movie still holds the power to scare audiences and it remains one of the finest examples of the American horror film ever made.
I Eat Your Skin:
A low budget cheapie from the early sixties, this film notoriously sat on a shelf in a film lab for a few years after it was finished until exploitation distributor extraordinaire Jerry Gross double billed it with the killer hippy movie, I Drink Your Blood, at which point it did quite well for him. The movie itself is pretty goofy, however.
The movie tells the tale of one Tom Harris (William Joyce), a hunky young man who makes his living as a writer and who is talked into taking a trip to Voodoo Island where he figures he can get in some quality time behind the typewriter and hammer out his next best seller. He and a few other travelers arrive and are promptly greeted by a machete wielding zombie, though none of them know why. Eventually it comes to pass that the zombies need a virgin, and since there's one in their midst in the form of sexy Jeannie Biladeau (Heather Hewitt), they're basically going to be a pain in the vacationers' collective asses for the duration of the trip.
Directed by Del Tenney, this film, as clunky and goofy as it is, does feature some pretty cool zombie make up effects pieces and actually does manage to occasionally conjure up some eerie atmosphere. The black and white cinematography does a moderately good job of capturing the warm, swampy locations and it has its own quirky charm. Most of this is completely undone by characters who do things for no reason, a hero who won't bother to keep his shirt on, and some distinctly non-frightening zombie attacks.
Long time fans of Elvira will be glad to see her back in action even if these aren't the funniest entries in her long career. While the second feature is a good choice for some serious lampooning, Night Of The Living Dead works a bit too well as a serious horror film for the camp commentary to work. To Peterson's credit she does her best and still manages to get some good jabs in, but her work on I Eat Your Skin is definitely funnier simply because she has more to work with. Her schtick holds up well, more than thirty years since Elvira first appeared, and while generally progress is a good thing it's actually refreshing to see that she hasn't changed at all. Here's hoping the series continues and that Peterson's reign lasts as long as she wants it to.
Both features are presented in their original fullframe black and white aspect ratios, with the Elvira bits that take place around 'commercial breaks' and which pop up once in a while throughout the movie in the lower right hander corner of the screen are in color. The movies look to be taken from older existing tape masters, not nicely restored versions or anything like that - but you probably expected that going in as these are both older public domain picture that have made the rounds plenty of times before this disc was even considered. Regardless, both movies are watchable enough, just expect some print damage and maybe a few minor compression artifacts in some of the darker scenes.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is fine. Though you'll notice some hiss here and there during the movie playback portions, Elvira's comments come through with good clarity and the levels are generally well balanced throughout both features. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided for this disc.
There aren't a ton of extras here but there are a few starting with a brief Movie Macabre Behind The Scenes featurette that provides a few minutes worth of footage detailing the set being put together and Elvira getting ready to perform. Aside from that, there's a few minutes worth of footage from a photo shoot, a video for the song Mistress Of The Dark by the band Ghoultown, a behind the scenes look at the making of that video, and previews for a few other Elvira's Movie Macabre titles. Menus and chapter stops are provided for both features.
Elvira's fan-base will be happy to see America's foremost horror hostess back in action and it's a pretty safe bet to say that if you dug her older shows, you'll enjoy the new Movie Macabre stuff just as much. The jokes are still corny, the hostess is still sexy and the concept is still fun. Recommended for Elvira fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.