I was talking to Will over the weekend and he mentioned that when he was a teenager, he had a standee of Vampira. I corrected him. It was a standee of Elvira. Now, remembering things is not something I’m particularly good at. But I know about this. Seeing that standee was my first introduction to Elvira. And I did not learn who Vampira was for some time after that. Also, it was in color.
Just try to find a color picture of Vampira! The Vampira Show ran for just under a year, starting in 1954. The first coast-to-coast color television broadcast was done on 1 January 1954. And color only became widespread in the 1960s. In 1965, CBS was making a big deal out of the fact that Hogan’s Heroes was presented in color. But I digress.
This conversation got me thinking of a fun little film, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, released in 1988. And since I’m thinking a lot about psychotronic films these days, it seemed reasonable that I watch it. It’s available on YouTube, with a pretty good print (although it does repeat about two seconds of material every 15 or 20 minutes). I’ve embedded it below.
The Plot of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
The film starts with Elvira quitting her job as the host of something like her own Fright Night show where she presented low-budget horror films. She’s on her way to do a live show in Las Vegas but learns from her manager that the producers want $50,000 to produce the show. Luckily, this information comes with the news that her great-aunt has died and left her something. So she’s off to Massachusetts.
Once there, she faces a very conservative town that doesn’t much like big-busted goth chicks. But more important, she faces her great-uncle. It turns out that Elvira is from a family of witches. The great-uncle killed her mother and now wants the great-aunt’s “cookbook” so that he can rule the universe or something.
All of this is accompanied by the support of the young people of the town and the dimwitted hunk who owns the local movie theater, the townspeople trying to burn her to death, and a charming terrier who is a familiar. You should not be surprised to learn that the town eventually accepts Elvira, she and the hunk make it, and she manages to get the fifty grand to do her Vegas show, after getting the inheritance of her great-uncle when his evil plan ends in his death.
It’s Silly, but Is It Fun?
It is a silly film — filled with bad jokes very much intended to be bad jokes. As such, it’s easy to go either way with it. Cassandra Peterson is charming as the most unthreatening sexpot to hit the screen since Pepé Le Pew. On the other hand, the film’s unrelenting inoffensiveness can be hard to take. And given that the film wouldn’t dare to offend, even the excessive breast jokes come off as tired despite their nominally being funny because they are tired.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark expects a great deal of goodwill on the part of the viewer. In this way, it is very similar to a good many Bruce Campbell films. And I think that’s how the film needs to be judged. Do you find Elvira’s act compelling? If you do, you’ll have fun watching her pretend to offend the squares who seem straight out of the 1950s. If not, you’ll probably find it tiresome.
It’s All About Elvira
The film manages to do something that is remarkable: not have a single memorable character other than the lead herself. Even the evil great-uncle disappears beneath the thinness of the plot. And he’s played by an excellent character actor, W Morgan Sheppard. In fact, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is filled with fine and fun performances, most notably by Edie McClurg as the busybody town council chairperson, William Duell as the henpecked motel owner, and Jack Fletcher as the nervous lawyer.
There is more than enough to thoroughly enjoy this film. But it isn’t going to win you over if you’re skeptical. And it might well be a slog even for Elvira fans if they just aren’t in the right mood. But it succeeds in doing what it intends. And all things considered, that’s not bad.
Server: No hard liquor’s served past eight o’clock. Do you want a virgin?
Elvira: Maybe… But I’ll have a couple of drinks first.