Elvira's Movie Macabre: The Satanic Rites of Dracula and The Werewolf of Washington:
Thanks to Elvira for rising from the dead, and looking just as good today as she did 25 years ago. Yes, she's back with a new version of Movie Macabre, all messed up for the 21st Century. She sports a new, souped up intro sequence, and busts out with plenty of topical humor, such as a skewering of Sarah Palin that's pretty spot on, and revealing that she checks email while the movie rolls. Heck, even Breather returns. The format is much the same, with spaces for commercial breaks (I don't know if these have been broadcast on TV, though) and bits where Elvira pops up VH1-style (intrusively) to quip about onscreen action. In other words, everything old is new again: bad movies and big boobs. Enjoy!
The Satanic Rites of Dracula: A man breaks out of an Insane Asylum. Maybe he's a deranged psycho, dangerous to all and sundry. Or maybe he's just someone who Knows Too Much, needing to break free to spread his doom-laden message to the masses. One thing's for sure, the asylum seems to be run by '60s pop-monstrosity The Monkees, so the dude is well right to flee the scene. The mists of time - the ten minutes between switching off this weirdo snoozer and starting in on my review - have clouded my memories of the intricacies involved within Satanic Rites, but let me tell you, a few minutes listening to 'Last Train To Clarksville' sure would go down nice right about now.
So yeah, Elvira picks these movies for a reason, and though Rites sports dour style aplenty, it's a colossal dud, and just the right way to while away 20 minutes while you're trying to fall asleep on the couch. You see, this man has broken free to convince Scotland Yard that Vampires are alive and well and trying to fuck shit up in 1970! (Or something.) Cue 60 minutes of bonny gray-haired men sporting their locks and sideburns at collar length. Oh, the shame! But that's the way they liked it then, so these post-beatnik bureaucrats spend the next hour yakking about how vampirism equals modern-day pestilence; malaria, tainted well-water and prog-rock. One stands in the foreground, gazing dolefully over your right shoulder. The other stands back six feet, looking at a glass of scotch, maybe, and every few seconds a J.C. Penney logo floats by. (I'm kidding about that last part.)
If you're interested in dire talk, dynamically framed, then this is your movie. But note that it feels like a good 60 minutes or so before Dracula finally appears, only from behind a large walnut desk, meaning there's not a ton of scare power here, the blood doesn't really flow until the final time-lapse, corpse rotting sequence, and other than a few sicko-'70s-sluts attacking woefully flaccid Brits, Drac's sexy-fun side isn't enough in flower. Yep, it's an old-guard defensive reflex against the free-love movement, and it's every bit as exciting as that would imply, but ... if you're looking for a larf with your nightly dose of DVD dregs, you'll find much to amuse you while occasionally enjoying the horror tropes you know and love.
The Werewolf of Washington: Proving once and for all that there are boobs behind those boobs ... I mean brains behind those boobs - Elvira (Cassandra Peterson, to those who didn't love her as much as I did in the '80s) has chosen yet ANOTHER bureaucratic bete noir to complete this double feature. (And who would have thought there would be two movies setting classic monsters in corporate/government realm at all?) This time, we get Dean Stockwell fighting off lupine urges while attempting to fight the good fight on Capitol Hill. If you thought Christopher Lee baring his fangs in a boardroom was weird, you ain't seen nothing yet!
Milton Moses Ginsberg, though enjoying a long career in Hollywood in other respects, brings this, his second and final directorial effort; his first being minimalist psychosexual affair Coming Apart. How else would you follow up such a movie? I guess in theory a horror comedy set in DC makes sense - although it doesn't - but this trip through the reels is every bit as odd as vegan barbecue. (Damn it, now I'm hungry.) While laudable for intent and sheer bloody mindedness, Werewolf lacks any form of suspense or dramatic tension, while comedic elements tend toward the obtuse or downright bizarre. It's a compelling watch, but will never be recognized as great anything.
Stockwell's odd presence is the glue that holds these shards together, however if you're not inclined toward his addled alien aura, this might not be much of a selling point. Nonetheless, Stockwell's scenes of lunacy are a weird treat, such as getting stuck in a bowling ball, or being licked by a mad-doctor-midget. I mean, these are the things you look for in a werewolf movie, right? Other things you look for in a werewolf movie - one made in 1943, perhaps - are numerous, lengthy lap-dissolve transformation sequences. Yes, the makeup effects are nice, give that pro some props, but we probably don't need so many opportunities to see them implemented. On the whole, Stockwell's makeup is pretty great, and for some weird reason I'd say this is a movie ripe for a remake, but as it stands the humorous bits are too few and far between, scares are nonexistent, and the ending lacks any kind of impact. In other words, it's a perfect Elvira movie.
All here is presented fullscreen, in that good old 1.33:1 ratio that channel jockeys of old know so well. Elvira's sequences look fine (drool) with a tight image (that smoothes out any wrinkles, wink, wink) and good details. Her color palette tends toward harsh, cold grays, which is odd, but everything looks tight. The movies themselves do not fare so well, of course. They're fullscreen, they have lots of film damage, colors aren't all that special, and details are soft. There are two movies on one disk, so compression is an issue too. Kind of goes with the territory.
Dolby Digital Stereo will remind you of the old days. Elvira's bits are free of defect (nyuk nyuk) but the movies themselves sound off with crackle and hiss, plus a full-on audio drop out at 23-minutes into Satanic Rites. However, I must say that any better a presentation might screw with the ethos. If you need to see and hear these movies in pristine condition, you ought to steer clear.
A one-minute Elvira's "I'm Not A Witch" Promo might be directed at Michelle Bachman. I hope it is. Movie Macabre Behind the Scenes throws out 5 minutes of work footage, so you can scope what Cassandra Peterson looks like in real life. A two-minute Photo Shoot with Christopher Ameruso is of little use but for more ogling. The "Mistress of the Dark" Music Video by Ghoultown presents a fairly catchy rock-a-billy ode to our favorite movie hostess, and gets its own 24-minute Making the Ghoultown Video featurette which is worth a look. Other Previews will finish you off.
Elvira's back, with two cruddy movies in pretty bad shape. Satanic Rites features a stodgy, talky, Christopher Lee assayed Dracula stinking up the boardroom of 1970s corporate Britain. At least he's brought some freaky vampire chicks with him. Werewolf of Washington is plain weird, with weirdy Dean Stockwell goofing around with midgets while killing beltway bureaucrats. Elvira is a sharp and sexy as ever, cramming two lame movies onto one DVD, and if you really need a nostalgia fix, the least you can do is Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com