Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Monster movie hosts are hard to come by, but their legacy lives on. The tradition of late night television were a ghoulish figure would riff on the absurdity being seen is a dying art on the small screen. In my opinion, there are three recognizable figures that have kept this tradition alive. There’s Joe Bob Briggs of TNT MonsterVision and Joe Bob’s Drive In, Svengoolie (who is still active as of this article) and lastly you have Elvira.
Cassandra Peterson’s TV persona which consists of a low-cut dress, tall beehive hairdo and Valley girl style talk was no doubt a runaway hit. No one could expect this horror host to skyrocket from obscure figure to a brand name every household knows. Her face and big…uhhh, popularity dominated the 1980s and well throughout the 1990s. There were trading cards, comic books, action figures, dolls and even a pinball machine, too. The last thing one would expect from all this is a cinematic adaptation based on the character. And as expected, there is.
1988’s Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is something that’s worth seeing, than actually reading a review about. To describe this feature, I would have to talk about every scene and what happens. There is a plot…well, many to be exact, as the story bounces between a loose thread of scenes tied to a “fish out of water” story-line. But is it enough to hold a character that says one-liners and ghoulish puns? For what it’s worth, I actually think so.
After quitting her job due to a perv boss, the hostess is at least delighted to learn one of her relatives died and left a great inheritance in Massachusetts. She travels far, but disappointed to find all she gets is an old home, and pet poodle that can shape shift and a spell book mistaken as a cookbook. The reason for her disappointment is that Elvira hoped to create her own stage show in Las Vegas, but doesn’t have enough funds. Instead of fulfilling the dream, she is stuck with some ancient artifacts with not much use, expect living in the old house.
From there, the rest of the plot is very loose and kind of all over the map. One minute, she is trying to fit in with the locals, gets better accepted by the teenagers of the town, is the envy of a town moral goodie (played by Edie McClurg of John Hughes movie cameo fame), a warlock (W. Morgan Sheppard) who is after her inheritance and that’s just scraping the surface. There’s so many loose threads that I’m tempted to say this works against the film’s favor. However, while it doesn’t get too complex, you do wonder how a movie can juggle so much weight and still feel simplistic.
In all honesty, I’m fine with movies like this. As long as there are some things anchoring the plot together, I can at least say there is some form of a story going on. Many big screen adaptations like Coneheads or The Flintstones have used this method of story telling which gives a laid back feel or ends up running all over the map. With Mistress of the Dark, I don’t think the movie is that chaotic as those two examples. I’d really compare it more to Wayne’s World. You have a one-note sketch that is well-done and entertaining, but the universe around the character(s) is explored more. They feel less like a couch potato, and it’s interesting to see how they would act in the real world.
The idea of Elvira trying to fit in a small Massachusetts town works in its own way. I’m not saying this because I live near Boston or anything. But for a state that is “head over heels” with things like witchcraft and local legends, it does make sense for this kind of character to enter in a town still stuck on old-fashioned beliefs. The concept of a character out of place with a bright and vibrant town is cliche, but it works in the movie’s favor. You do get to see Elvira try and connect with the locals, despite being turned a blind eye for …well, mostly her looks…which is weird, because why would someone- then again, it was the 1980s and some parents were uptight about sex appeal, so I can let it pass by a hair.
For 90 minutes of your time, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark packs a lot to keep you entertained. There’s some hilarious set pieces like a sabotaged stage-show, cheap monster effects, an origin story of Elvira that is interesting, a climatic duel with an evil warlock, a grand Las Vegas finale and that’s just scraping the surface. I think the reason this movie didn’t do well at the box office (and with certain critics) was how loose the story was. It’s the only element I can see being a problem with some viewers, but certain comedies like Caddyshack and Anchorman have used this way of story-telling before. There are elements that do keep the plot tied together like a hilarious performance by Edie McClurg as the “town moral” who schemes to run Elvira out of town. If you go in with an open mind and leave your brain at the door (surgically), you will be in for a good time.
Also, for a movie based on a famous monster movie host, who knew it could work? At this day in age, how come we don’t see more like this? Heck, I propose an Avengers-style that crosses many horrors hosts together. Wouldn’t that be a box office treat? You could have a league where Joe Bob Briggs is the Nick Fury, Elvira pulling off some “killer moves,” Svengoolie with a bow that shoots flaming rubber chickens and perhaps a “Son of” Zacherley, The Cool Ghoul. Sounds absurd, but I’d pay good money to see it.
Posted on October 22, 2017, in Horror-Wood 2017, Rental Corner, Uncategorized and tagged Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, Elvira, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Halloween, Horror, Horror Comedy, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Joe Bob Briggs, Monster Movie Host, MonsterVision, Svengoolie, TV adaption, W. Morgan Sheppard, witchcraft, Witches. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.