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
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.
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
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:
Supplements: Trailer, Teaser, Cassandra Peterson bio
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 31, 2003
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.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson