Whilst the UK had the Carry On films the nearest the US ever really got to that innuendo laden seaside postcard type of humour was Elvira, a bouffant haired, scantily clad, buxom vamp TV presenter created by actress Cassandra Peterson.
Peterson’s career had been mainly as a dancer in Vegas and bit part actress appearing in TV series which went unnoticed. It was only when she joined an improv group, The Groundlings, and came up with the Elvira character that her career really started to take off. Spring 1981 saw her for the first time host, ‘Movie Macabre’ on an LA based TV station providing the links between horror films. The previous host had been Larry Vincent but frankly, after his death and Elvira appeared, he was soon forgotten. It was hardly surprising with Peterson’s pneumatic figure squeezed into a low cut cleavage enhancing, thigh revealing, figure hugging black dress delivering innuendo laden lines and double entendres about her barely concealed breasts in the style of a girl from the Valley, a sort of Essex girl equivalent for UK audiences. Unsurprisingly she was a huge hit almost instantly.
The character began making cameos appearances in all manner of TV shows such as The Fall Guy. But as an aspiring actress she had first and foremost always wanted to make a film and even turned down an Elvira sitcom to make a feature film as the character. At the time NBC television had just formed a film division who stumped up the money for the film and in 1988 Elvira : Mistress of the Dark hit the screens.
Written by Sam Egan, Jon Paragon & Peterson herself the film would follow Elvira’s arrival at a small town having inherited a mansion where she battles an evil Uncle Vinnie (so named as the production was hoping to get Vincent Price who regrettably turned it down). Elvira would also battle the local puritanical townspeople who saw her vampish apparel as the embodiment of evil though frankly we’d suggest Amanda Holden’s appearance in Britain’s Got Talent as being a strong contender. Elvira Mistress of the Dark was directed by James Signorelli who had began to acquire a respectable reputation as a director of comedy despite having helmed Police Academy 2. He was a steady pair of hands for a low budget production which would have its share of problems and went over budget meaning that Elvira’s climatic scene where her real life career went full circle ending with Elvira performing at Vegas could not be shot. It was only when the film was edited that the studio realized they needed the Vegas scene. And so the Vegas song and dance routine with Elvira wearing an outfit that looked like it was from an Ann Summers boutique barely containing Peterson’s breasts, which in fairness had always looked like they were about to spill out anyway, and the film played heavily on with a number of visual jokes which today would probably spark indignant feminist outrage.
Elvira Mistress of the Dark has some enjoyably funny moments with Peterson playing up to the films campy, vampy style to the max with some great lines that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Carry On film. Unfortunately the film didn’t do any business which is a shame because though it’s a guilty pleasure it’s far better than other films that were out that year that included such cinematic atrocities as Ernest saves Christmas, Funny Farm, Police Academy 5, Big Top Pee-Wee and Arthur 2 all of which made more money and all of which were far less funny than Elvira Mistress of the Dark.
The disc is a bit of a hybrid including some of the bonus features from a previous release of the film though several have been recently updated with additional material. There’s two commentaries , one with director Signorelli and another with a judge form a US show that was searching for the next Elvira there’s also a better commentary with Peterson and writer John Paragon with a load of decent anecdotes. ‘Too Macabre’ is a feature length documentary about the making of the film with new interviews with many of the crew including Signorelli who seems to have perhaps the worst set of teeth we’ve ever seen outside of Austen Powers. Peterson appears as herself who looks far younger than her 67 years of age and still looks fantastic and is enjoyably self deprecating.
There’s also a decent featurette about the, albeit bargain basement, effects which is all part of the films charm. Inevitably the disc has the usual trailers. First issues of the disc also have a collectors booklet written by Peterson and other contributors.
Though Elvira has all but retired – there was a 2007 TV series ‘The Search for the Next Elvira’ – and a second film was made in 2001, the suitably double entendre titled ‘Elvira’s Haunted Hills’ ,which never quite attained the levels of Elvira Mistress of the Dark in terms of laughs.
It’s another great release from Arrow whose release of older films are all worthy of a revisit and for UK audiences Elvira Mistress of the Dark has cult kitsch value that would not go amiss with fans of Carry on fans.
Here’s the trailer…….
ELVIRA:MISTRESS OF THE DARK is released on DVD/BLU RAY 10th December 2018