By Caroline Meuser
When a Saturday Night Live director decides to make a horror film, the finished product is bound to be one-of-a-kind. Now having learned this detail of James Signorelli’s background, I can certainly understand what drove the creation of his ridiculous film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. How a videotape copy wound up in my living room as a child, however, remains a mystery. I remember forcing my friends to watch it when they came over for slumber parties, and they left the next morning mildly horrified that their friend was a psycho. As I quoted every other line while watching it last weekend, their assumptions were confirmed.
Elvira is the hostess of television show that features B-rated horror movies. During the opening scene, she lounges on a red, Victorian couch in a skin-tight black dress, showcasing her womanly curves and provides snarky commentary during the feature film. After the screening, Elvira quits her job and in a raging fit asks her agent about a pending show deal in Las Vegas. After being informed that the show requires her to pay a hefty sum of cash, she conveniently learns of her great aunt Morgana’s passing and a potential inheritance. Elvira hightails it out of Los Angeles to Fallwell, Massachusetts, where she learns her inheritance consists of her aunt’s mansion, a dog, and a family cookbook. Little does she know, these items possess power that her borderline demonic Uncle Vincent is also pursuing, and would be willing to kill her to steal.
Not surprisingly, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) received much recognition for this part. Before becoming the star of the feature film, the character emerged as the hostess of the real horror television show, “Elvira’s Movie Macabre,” in 1981. As the character evolved from cult figure to recognized horror personality, producers decided Elvira deserved her own film. After the release in 1988, Peterson won a wide range of awards for the role: in 1988, she won Best Actress at the Saturn Awards and Worst Actress at the Raspberry Awards. These mixed reviews are not surprising, since one’s reception of the character really depends on one’s tolerance for absurdity. Since the film’s release in 1988, Peterson has said she didn’t expect Elvira to generate so much buzz, but the character has actually become an iconic Halloween figure – appearing in a sequel, Elvira’s Haunted Hills and in a Fox Reality show, The Search for the Next Elvira.
The film is chalk-full of sexual puns, phallic references, etc. and, as insubstantial as these jokes are, they are part of what makes the film so fun to watch. Because the sex isn’t blatant, however, it must not have been the suggestive puns that fascinated me as a kid. Evidently, there is something more to this hilariously horrific film. Perhaps the poor visual effects attracted me; or maybe it was the over-the-top acting; it may have even been the element of witchcraft and supernatural mystique. There must have been some aspect that led my parents to believe it was acceptable to let me watch it repeatedly. Or perhaps they have questionable parenting skills. Either way, I feel more enlightened as a person having been exposed to this piece of art. What’s more, Elvira’s cryptic charm lingered when I watched it just recently. For those with even the slightest, twisted bone in their body, I believe this is a must-see.
About Caroline: Greetings! I’m a junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Communication and minoring in Cinema Studies. Although I have a wide range of hobbies – from tennis and running to reading and travelling – film never fails to peak my interest. Whether you share my enthusiasm or not, I hope you enjoy my posts!
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