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  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark It's What's Upfront That Counts
Year: 1988
Director: James Signorelli
Stars: Cassandra Peterson, William Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Jeff Conaway, Edie McClurg, William Duell, Phil Rubenstein, Pat Crawford Brown, Ellen Dunning, Kris Kamm, Scott Morris, Larry Flash Jenkins, Damita Jo Freeman, Tress MacNeille
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) is a television horror hostess, introducing B movies late at night, but it's not the best of operations as they're keener to get the local news and weather onscreen than ensure that her show goes on professionally. Tonight, Elvira finishes her broadcast and there is someone waiting to meet her: the obnoxious new head of the TV station who expects her to go out with him and show him a good time. She is having nothing of this and sticks her stiletto heel into his toe, effectively getting herself sacked. Her agent reassures her that her upcoming show in Las Vegas is going ahead, or it would if there was enough money... so what can Elvira do?

Considering there wouldn't be much of a plot if our heroine didn't, say, speedily receive a telegram before the end of the pre-credits sequence, it's lucky that this is exactly what happens. Elvira was a genuine horror hostess both on television and video, so it was only right that she should win her own shot at movie stardom after criticising others' efforts for the duration of her career. The result didn't set the box office alight, and the reviews were not kind, but over the years there has been a cult growing of those who might have caught the film on TV or video and found it quite amusing.

Although she takes her look from Vampira, best known for Plan 9 from Outer Space and a horror hostess in her own right during the fifties, Elvira's demeanour is more Mae West as she fires off saucy quips and looks out for the nearest hunk to sidle up to. Although this is supposedly a horror movie, judging by the effects-filled finale that is, for most of the running time it's a comedy which works by placing her in the conservative New England small town for the reading of her great-aunt's will and having her play off the locals there with her general sass.

It turns out that Elvira has another relative she wasn't aware of, and he's her evil great-uncle Vincent (William Morgan Sheppard). When he realises that his niece now owns the house, the pet poodle and most importantly the recipe book of Great Aunt Morgana, he is fuming, but persuades Elvira to hand over the book for a small sum as she isn't interested in it. However, the poodle knows more than it lets on and hides the tome, foiling Vincent's plans. Meanwhile, the heiress demonstrates herself to be a symbol of empowerment by encouraging the local kids to help her out and never mind those stuffy adults.

Really, this film stands or falls on the personality of its lead character, and fortunately she's easy to warm to with her self-deprecating charm and way with a one-liner. Enough of her dialogue is exuberantly witty - "Nice jacket! Who shot the couch?!" - or double entendre-filled - "Here's to my big opening!" to raise a good few laughs, and co-writer Peterson carries it off with aplomb. By the time the townsfolk are preparing to burn Elvira at the stake the supernatural element takes over, and you can tell it's the eighties because there's a disembodied hand crawling about. And there's a rap at the end, too. If it doesn't especially head anywhere groundbreaking, content to indulge its heroine in her cartoonish frippery, there's at least a message of tolerance and humour to take away. Music by James B. Campbell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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