Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, 1988 – ★★★

When it comes to Horror hosts, Elvira is almost certainly the gold standard. witty, quick and charming; Cassandra Petersons creation has held up for over 42 years at this point and is still more than going strong. And, inevitably in the late 80s when the likes of ‘Weird Al’ and ‘Pee Wee Herman’ all getting big budget ‘alternative comedy’ outings on the big screen, it was only a matter of time before Elvira got to strut her stuff.

Given that Elvira prior to this film was quite literally just ‘Macarbe Vally Girl on sofa periodically riffs terrible monster movies’ building a world for her to have an adventure in was always going to be an interesting development, how do you play it? What do you have her do?, do you go big or micro? theres infinite scope with a blank canvas, and while I think they could have played this thing a *bit* better than it turned out, it absolutely could have been worse.

The main plot revolves aroun Elviras late night hosting show facing the axe unless she can come up with some serious money, at exactly the same time her great aunt passes and leaves her something in her will, forcing Elvira to travel to a far flung town with incredibly modist and puritan values. It turns out that her aunt was the town parriah and as soon as Elvira rolls into town the townsfolk (led by the wonderful Edie McClurg as ‘Chastity Pariah’) almost immediately take a disliking to her.

It turns out that Elviras Aunt only has 2 relatives left alive, her and an elderly uncle. At the reading the uncle gets almost nothing and Elvira (who’s dreaming of big bucks and speedboats) is gifted her late aunts house, a delapodated wreck of a place that makes the psycho house look like graceland.

Her uncle is furious to be snubbed in the will, not because he wanted any riches, but rather because hes secretly a wizard/warlock and Elviras Aunt was a great witch who had an incredibly powerful spellbook he was hoping to pilfer. As such he immediately tries to smooth talk Elvira into selling him the book, and when that falls through he begins to plot to take it.

From there the film splits into 3 seperate stories, The Town VS Elvira, Elviras Uncle trying to take the book, and a blossoming romance between Elvira and a local townie who runs a theater by the name of Bob.

And, I like the plot of this thing, its very tonally fitting for Elvira a a character, but what drags this thing down like a stone for me is a mixture of the humour and the pacing. This things INCREDIBLY one note. it’s literally just double entendres and rude puns from start to finish intercut with boob and butt shots. You may ask how thats a problem particularly. and I agree that that type of humour IS really funny when its used appropriately and timed well. In my opinion, that isnt the case here. Instead we’re effectively blugeoned with this one type of humour and nothing else for the full runtime and after about 25 minutes it gets tiring, by 50 minutes im groaning and by the 3rd act, im waiting to get off the ride frankly.

Its the one thing thats against Elvira as a character really, cheeky jokes in 5-10 minute bursts interspersed every 15-20 minutes across a movies runtime works fabulously. But here, its like a vaccume. Films like ‘UHF’ and ‘Pee Wees Big Adventure’ had characters behind them who are layered, who do have the range to work multiple different types of comedy and can afford to give the film some breathing space. This films just the one type of comedy over and over again. and its painful.

Outside of that, this is just pretty fair studio grade fodder across the board, the pacings a little bit slower than i’d have liked. I’d have REALLY tightened up the 2nd act as, once it’s established its ‘The Town vs Elvira’ they spend most of the 2nd act just pulling pranks on each other and bitching about how the other sides terrible. It would have maybe been nice to actually put them all together more often, either that or chop some of it out to help speed things up a bit. The dialogues good and solid throughout, though it does have a bit of a TV movie quality to it. Its an okay script, technically, it’s just the execution and lack of variety that lets it down.

As for all other aspects, I dont really have a lot to say. The direction and cine are pretty standard fodder for studio movies of this time. Its not particularly standout, but its not awful either. It has the odd flourish that helps give it a sense of identity and theres a couple of nice visual gags. But nothing showstopping. Compositions solid, its got a decent stab at stylisation. its easy on the eyes…but nothing remarkable.

The perforamances are all a bit awkward as well, I think there was a bit of a debate as to *HOW* melodramatic to play this thing. With some of the cast going absolutely up to 11 on the campness, and some kind of awkwardly, half heartedly trying to be a bit campy. Which did let things down a bit for me. Cassandra Peterson is fabulous as ever as Elvira and the creaking sound you can hear throughout the movie is clealy of her and Edie McClurg carrying this thing. Because they’re both easily the best parts of this movie and do help kick things up a notch. Though, it comes to something when this isnt even the best movie Cassandra Peterson OR Edie McClurg has starred in.

I will say a lot of the cast do bring a strong character to the physical side of their performances, and it IS nice to see them really muck in to help sell this thing. I figure whether you like a good lively performance will largely dictate if you can make it through this thing, I feel it was enough to keep me seated though.

The soundtracks arguably one of the best parts of this thing, its a mix of rocky, new wave entries and some pop and rock and roll classics combining to create a soundtrack that really helps give this film a sense of identity, right out of the box. I loved it and I hope it gets a vinyl release some day.

All in all? Meh. Not one i’d go out of my way for, ‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’ DOES have some nice moments, some of the gags are fun and its absolutley of a standard technically. But its a very repetative experience to sit through for the most part and even some half decent performances cant fully save it from that. Its inoffensive, one i’d probably have on in the background for a lark, but its not a favourite of mine.

source https://letterboxd.com/tytdreviews/film/elvira-mistress-of-the-dark/

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