Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Directed by James Signorelli
Starring Cassandra Peterson, her boobs, and her poodle.
Rated PG-13

"There's nothing wrong with G-rated movies, as long as there's lots of sex and violence." 

Cassandra Peterson was a flame-haired go-go dancer from Kansas who invented a valley girl character as a member of The Groundlings improv comedy troupe. In 1981, she was up for an audition for a horror host at a local LA TV station. She decided to mix the wisecracking valley girl character with a vampy seductress for the audition, and Shazam! Elvira was born. She rocketed to fame soon after, thanks to her quick wit and her tight, black, cleavage-heaving dress. She soon became one of the most recognizable pop culture icons of the 80's. Aside from her horror hosting duties, Elvira's image helped sell everything from her own posters to comic books, video games, video tapes, and even cases of beer. It was inevitable that she would get her own film, and thusly, Elvira Mistress of the Dark was unloosed in theaters in the fall of 1988. Written by Pee Wee's Playhouse veteran John Paragon and directed by SNL producer James Signorelli, Elvira-the-movie poses an intriguing question: can you really get away with boob jokes for 90 minutes straight?

Let's find out!

It's another thankless day for TV horror-hostess Elvira. She barely spits out her good-evenings on her show when she's whisked off the chintzy soundstage to make way for the news team. Worse yet, before she can make her ecsape, she's accosted by the TV station's new manager, a porky, grabby cowpoke named Earl. Their impromptu meeting goes sour quickly. Earl grabs Elvira's boob, she shoves him into the newssdesk, and in the blink of an eye, her career is over.

She's not too worried, though, because she's got a show in Vegas opening soon. Or does she? While furiously changing in her dressing room (into the same slinky black dress she was already wearing, naturally), she has a discussion with her balding, gold-medallion sporting agent, Manny, who tells her the club in Vegas wants $50,000 seed money to do the show. And she just got fired. Ouch!

But then she gets a telegram!

Turns out she's got a great Aunt that just died, and she left her something in her will. Fantasizing that she's about to inherit enough dough to cover the show and anything else she wants, Elvira jumps into her souped-up, all-black convertible and zooms her way to Falwell, Massachusetts, for the reading of the will, terrifying hitchhikers, dropping hot dogs on her boobs, cleaning the windshield with her boobs, and blowing up gas stations along the way.

Eventually she makes it to the sleepy town of Falwell. She meets local gossip Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg), who hates her, as well as Patty (Susan Kellerman), the busty proprieter of Patty's Tide Bowl bowling alley. She hates her, too. There's plenty of drooling men-folk around as well, including Travis, the town creep (Jeff Conaway), and small-town jock Bob (Daniel Greene), who saves her from getting mashed – or worse – by Travis and his buddy. Turns out Bob owns the local movie theater, so Elvira tries to bond with him by professing her love for satanic horror flicks and suddenly, weird romance blooms. Sorta.

And so, Elvira attends the reading of the will. The only other living relative is Morgana's sinister brother, Vincent (W Morgan Shepard). Both of them assume they're going to get all of great Aunt Morgana's dough. Both are sadly disappointed by the reading.

Elvira gets the house, her aunt's poodle, and a recipe book. Vince gets nothing. Elvira's bummed out that there's no money involved, but Vince is even more upset that he did not get the book – turns out the “recipes” are actually powerful witchcraft spells! Vince calls Travis and his idiot friend, and the three of them scheme about how to get the book from Elvira's clutches. It doesn't take much effort – Vince just asks for her for it, and she agrees to let him have it for $50. The end.

No, that's not the end. First she has to check out her new house – as you might guess, it looks like a dilapidated, haunted mansion. Also, she gets her aunt's poodle, which she proceeds to shave and dye pink. The dog's not thrilled about it, but he's also kind of a magical dog, so right before Vince shows up, he hides the book so Elvira won't sell it. Vinnie's pissed, but what can he do?

That night, a storm brews. While Elvira's inside, changing into something less comfortable, a trio of horny local teens show up with a ladder and attempt a little peeping, Animal House-style. She catches them and chases them off, but not before one of 'em get's a racy Polarioid out of the deal.

The next day, the fellas show up again, this time with a bunch of tools and whatnots to help Elvira fix the join up. An authentically 80's style fixin' up montage, complete with many grautuitous tits n' ass shots, ensues.

Since they had limited funds, the kids painted her house 17 different colors. Luckily, she digs it. Lemonade all around!

Ok, so the kids in town love her, but the adults? Well, that's a different story. The town council – lead by Chastity Pariah, naturally – are tired of Elvira's wanton wickedness, and they unanimously decide to run her out of town. Of course, no one's more desperate to get Elvira out of Falwell than Elvira herself. She has an open house to sell her creaky old mansion, but nobody wants it.

Desperate for cash, she tries to get a job in town, but is turned away wherever she goes. She runs into Bob in front of his theater. Unintentionally dirty marquee sign antics ensue, and then he clues her in to why she's not having any luck. She's been blackballed!

Suddenly, she has a brainstorm. Bob's not making any dough showing his nature films, and she knows how to fill, so she makes a deal with him to have a midnight horror show! Even though all the kids in town are banned from hanging out with her, she goes to the bowling alley and guilts them all into going. They all make plans to sneak out of the house. Many shots of bungling teenagers falling out of bedroom windows ensues.

Also Patty, who overheard the plans, is skulking around in the shadows herself, looking for a way to sabotage her rival.

Showtime! Elvira shows Attack of the Killer Tomatoes with her own live commentary. The kids love it! There's even some adolescent groping going on. What a night!

After the movie's over, Elvira does a Flashdance routine, but instead of a bucket of gold glitter getting dumped on her, she gets tarred and feathered courtesy Patty. Surely she must know, this means war. While Elvira soaks in the bath tub, scraping off chunks of tar, she plans her revenge.

First though, she wants to seduce Bob. Sure, he rejects all of her advances, but he's the only viable sexual candidate in town. Assuming that the easiest way to a man's penis is through his stomach (true!), she decides to whip him up some vittles using her aunt's recipe book. You know, the spellbook. This should go well.

Spoiler alert: it's not a casserole, it's a monster. But this doomed foray into the kitchen causes Elvira to discover her true nature: she's the daughter of a powerful witch, and the book is her key to becoming the Mistress of the Dark. In fact it's already working, because she finally gets to bang Bob.

The next day is the annual Fallwell Morality Picnic. Elvira attempts to ger her revenge by bringing the monster casserole, but she screws up the recipe and turns into some kind of sex stew. An elderly sex orgy breaks out. Edie McClurg says, “Is this face taken?” before sitting on the high school principal's head. It's craziness.

The next morning there's an emergency town council meeting held to discuss what just happened. Uncle Vince saunters in and blames it all on Elvira. Which is correct. And he's got a plan to get rid of her once and for all. He wants to arrest her, put her on trial for witchcraft, and if at all possible, burn her at the stake.

Elvira gets tossed into the slammer while the townsfolk prepare their horror-hostess flambe. The kids try to brerak her out by busting a hole through the roof of the jail, but they screw it up and end up in the next cell over. Bob and Gunk-the-poodle are also working furiously to save her, but Vince and his goons have the book. Things look bleak as the cops march Elvira outside to the blazing bonfire.

Bob never gets there in time. Elvira is burned at the stake, her flesh bubbling away as she screams into the night. The end.

No, that's not what happens. There were no sad endings in the 80's. But there were a lot of white-people-rapping endings, and this is no exception.

Elvira Mistress of the Dark is absolutely a product of it's time – thete is no doubt this is a late 80's confection, and it will never transcend the era that spawned it. The syrupy optimism, the clanging heavy metal riffs, the oversized glasses, puffy hair and sweater vests, the fixin' stuff up montage: 1988 is represented perfectly here, in all its noisy, cheeseball, acid-washed glory. As for the actual content of the film – well, it's essentially 90 minutes of a boob jokes with a Full Moon productions-style backdrop, so who can really argue with it? Cassandra Peterson's heaving cleavage is prominently displayed in almost every scene, Edie McClurg indulges in public fornication, Jeff Conaway stumbles around in it, there's a pretty sweet monster, and it ends with a a glitzy showgirl number. I have no complaints or regrets.

- Ken McIntyre 

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie. I used to watch it all the time when I was a kid! Must have seen it about a hundred times by age eight.


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