Elvira’s Haunted Hills, 2001 – ★★★½

‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ sees the return of Cassandra Petersons infamous Macarbre Horror host to the big screen 13 years after ‘Elvira, Mistress of the dark’ offered her her first outing.

I had problems with the first Elvira movie, It felt a bit one note all thr way through and while the plot itself was fine and technically it was proficient enough for a studio picture. it was all a bit flat to me. There was nothing hideously wrong with it, it’s just that it came out at a time when a lot of alternative comedy stars were getting pictures and Elvira’s…well, to me it just didnt quite cut the mustard in the same way as say ‘UHF’ or ‘Pee wee’s Big Adventure’.

But im delighted to say that it seems that quite a few lessons were learnt from that first outing, as ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ isnt connected to the first film in any way and goes off in a COMPLETELY different direction than the first film.

This, is a loving and affectionate homage and parody of a two very specific parts of horror history, the Roger Corman/Poe movies of the 1960’s and the ‘Gothic Horror’ reinvigoration that started with Hammer Horror in the late 50s and apex’d in the early 70’s with the likes of Amacus studios and titles such as ‘Blood on Satans Claw’ and ‘The Witchfinder General’

The films set in the 19th century and follows Elvira and her assistant/servent/buddy Zou Zou as they make their way to paris ahead of Elvira’s world famous cabaret show. Things get off to a bumpy start when they’re unable to pay their tab at the lodge they’re stopping at and have to flee the premesis via window. Luckily; they’re picked up by a passing stage coach and a physitian who’s on his way to castle Hellsubus to tend to the inhabitents therein. All of whome have succumb to a mysterious family curse.

Hilarity and hyjinks ensue as it transpires that Elvira bears a STRIKING resemblance to the owner of the castles long deceased wife ‘Elura’. who may not be *quite* as deceased as the death cirtificate would have you believe.

And as mentioned, it feels like with this film, they fixed a LOT of the issues that I had with the first movie. for a starters theres a lot more diversity in the type of humour being used throughout, we have slapstick, genuine wit and charismatic oneliners, double entendres and innuendos. There’s ACTUAL gags in this thing and they really go out of their way to try and cycle the different types of comedy in and out of this thing as much as possible. Which REALLY helps to hold your interest and keep things chugging along at a decent pace.

The script is essentially one big melting pot of Poe/Corman and Hammer plotlines all blended into a film that seems predominently led by Cormans take on ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ but does diversify enough across the runtime to not feel lazy or hashed out to me. it keeps a consistent tone, the dialogue is pretty rousing and acidic. I wont say this is a particularly ‘outstanding’ film because it DOES borrow a lot of its key beats from other movies. But as a parody and outright lampooning of that era.

To me? it absolutely has the vibe of a passion project, of something that the cast and crew sincerely believed in and ACTUALLY WANTED to do. and that sincerity and heart really shines through on this thing and stops it from becoming a rather lacklustre affair.

The directions pretty solid, it’s a styalised picture that manages to hit the beats of that old style of 60s gothic horror film making pretty solidly, and its clear Sam Irvin wasnt just a fairweather Corman fan in that regard as some of the gags running in the background of this thing are a little *too* deep cut to just be accidental or from someone who chugged half a dozen Price/Corman features over a long weekend.

Direction of the cast also seems pretty solid, everyone seems to get the tone of this thing, and the core cast all seem to have been fans of these kinds of movies too as they again, know exactly how to play their lines, exactly how hammy and over the top, or muted, to play there parts and everyone most importantly just seems to be having a really fun time in this thing.

The cines decent, its technically competent, but if I was being picky it does look a little cheap. I understand with a production like this the budget is basically transluscent its being stretched that thin. But a lot of the castle interior sets are clearly wood and styrophome, everything has a ‘painted’ look to it, which is great if your in a plastered bedroom or corridor. it’s terrible when your stone walls look painted on. Being kind, you could say it was ‘part of the homage’ but there were points where it became impossible to not notice it honestly.

Outside of that though, this things decent! Shots are largely composed well, with only a couple of ‘iffy’ moments throughout, theres a bit of experimentation on the composition and blocking fronts which is always nice to see. LOTS of moments where moody lighting and chiascuro can AND IS used to decent effect. There are moments this feels a little bit ‘Full Moon Features-ey’ which…isnt a compliment here. But for the most part? Im actually kind of impressed what they’ve managed to achieve with the budget.

The peformances are all fun as well! Cassandra Peterson doesnt need ANY advice on how to suck eggs here. Shes the same Elvira she’s always been, but I feel with this film she does get to break out of the ‘Cheeky one liners’ mould and grow a little as a character piece. She doesnt push things TOO far. but it feels like naturalistic growth for the character and I was really happy to see her really giving it her all and seemingly loving every minute of it!

The same could be said for Richard O’Brien who…just…seemingly materialised out of nowhere after 20ish years of just doing bit parts and TV stuff into playing a leading roll in this thing. and he’s goofy and eccentric and perfect for this kind of production. I dont know WHAT accent he was trying to do in this thing. But god bless him for trying all the same!

Mary Jo Smith also delights as Elviras Assistant Zou-Zou…yes shes basically a comedy French stereotype. But its a performance played with gusto and she gets some real moments to shine in this and some genuinely funny lines across the runtime. I thought she was a really solid match up for Peterson and the two played off each other across the runtime really well.

The majority of the supporting cast also really get into this thing and deliver performances that at best are delightful and at worst are still at least passable. they’re all lively, noones really a weak chain here and It was nice to be able to sink into a movie and not have to constantly vibe check to make sure things wernt going off the rails.

All in all? I wont say this is faultless, but I feel theres a lot to love in ‘Haunted Hills’ and, to me? It really feels like Peterson and Paragon learnt from their experiences with ‘Mistress’ and improved on the formula. My feelings on this are that, I think if your aware of the Corman/Poe movies or the Hammer films. You’ll probably get a LOT more out of this humour wise than if you’ve never seen that style of film making before.

I think you’ll still enjoy it if you HAVENT seen any gothic horror flicks. But a lot of what makes this so enjoyable is the riffing on the old tropes and styles from those films, and while im not normally a fan of films that basically spend most of their runtimes making me remember older, better movies. I feel this one here strikes the balance just about right in terms of referencing to new material.

As such, I could easily see myself popping this thing on while im mooching about the place in future, I preferred this movie over ‘Mistress’ and I think it’d be the one i’d recommend you check out if you’re curious to check the ‘Elvira’ movies in future.

source https://letterboxd.com/tytdreviews/film/elviras-haunted-hills/

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