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...
The Brain That Wouldn't Die:
This 1962 Joseph Green film, long a staple of public domain and budget releases, follows the exploits of a doctor named Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) who is horrified when his girlfriend, Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) gets into a car accident and dies, her head severed from her body. Being a man of medical know how, Cortner decides to take her head and keep it alive while he looks for a new body for her. See, what a lot of people don't know about Bill is that he's been experimenting illegally on people for some time now , so he's got a bit of a head start on everyone here.
At any rate, eventually Bill learns of a woman named Peggy (Marilyn Hanold) who is in perfect shape save for her face which has been rather nastily disfigured. Jan, however, isn't really so stoked on Bill's ideas and so she decides to enlist the help of one of his failed experiments to break her free from the devices keeping her alive and to end her misery.
As hokey as they come, this one has gone on to become widely regarded as a camp classic and for good reason. While it's a bit talky in spots, the fact that it takes everything so, so seriously means it's loaded with unintentional hilarity - the lines are all delivered with the utmost wooden sincerity and the effects, most of which consist of a talking head sitting on a pan on a table hooked up to some stuff, don't really impress at all. It's all very poorly done but performed with such conviction that you can't help but love it. There's a lot of cool old mad scientist action here, plenty of scenes that take place in the sparsely decorated lab and lots of gadgets and wires and things to go along with the melodrama, the strippers (yes, strippers! They keep their clothes on though) and even a monster and some fire at the big finish - you really can't go wrong here.
One of the better 'man with two heads' films to emerge out of the golden age of drive-in cinema, 'The Manster' is the story of Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley best known as the voice of Jeff Tracy in the 'Thunderbirds' TV series), an American reporter who arrives in Japan to interview a mad scientist who has been working on some rather unorthodox creations as of late in his secluded mountain laboratory. He also happens to keep his wife, and unfortunate victim of one of his mistaken experiments, locked up in a basement dungeon.
The scientist, Dr. Robert Suzuki (played by a stalwart of Japanese sci-fi films, Tetsu Nakamura) gets Larry wasted and hooked on Geisha girls one night, and injects him with a secret serum that causes him to cheat on his wife, turn into a jerk, and grow a second evil head out of his shoulder and go on a killing spree.
Best known as a staple of late night horror television, this movie scared the Hell out of me the first time I saw it when I was a kid. Seeing again it for the first time in probably twenty years, the film isn't really scary at all, but that doesn't take away from its entertainment value. A genuinely bizarre piece of movie making, there are some classic moments here, highlighted by the climactic transformation scene where Larry and his evil head split into two separate beings - one a normal Larry, and the second a kind of sasquatch like ape man thing that runs amuck for a few minutes towards the end of the movie.
There are also some interesting cast members in the film, most notably Jerry Ito of Mothra and Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon fame as Police Superintendent Aida and Jane Hylton from Circus of Horrors as Linda Stanford, Larry's estranged wife.
As to the Elvira segments on these two discs, well, she's got plenty to work with on both features and while her quips don't come as quickly as, say, MST3K, she'll keep you laughing at the movies on a pretty regular basis. And if the occasional joke falls flat? Well, her cleavage makes up for that, right? Peterson is a charmer, and plenty amusing and arousing on this disc. She's funny, she's sexy and she's campy in her own right and so she's right at home hosting pictures like this. Her fans will enjoy this double feature, it's a lot of fun.
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 provided for this disc but there are English subtitles provided.
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.
This installment of Elvira's Movie Macabre is a winner. It may not earn many points in terms of amazing video quality and it recycles the extra features we've seen on other releases, but the pairing of The Manster and The Brain That Wouldn't Die is tough to beat and gives her plenty of material to work with. Recommended.
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.