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"Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" (1988) Film Review

Kyle Atwood is a published horror author who plays too many video games and watches too many horror movies to be of sound mind.

"She's everything you've ever wanted in a movie! A woman and a casserole!"

"She's everything you've ever wanted in a movie! A woman and a casserole!"

Plot Summary

Horror hostess Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, quits her job after the station's new owner sexually harasses her. She plans to open an act in Las Vegas, but needs $50,000 for the project. Upon learning she is a beneficiary of her deceased great-aunt Morgana, she travels to Fallwell, Massachusetts, to claim the inheritance. When she arrives, she is in a hurry to sell her inherited house and get to Las Vegas.

Elvira's eccentric personality and revealing clothes turn the conservative neighborhood upside down.

Her uncle, Vincent Talbot spares no time in prying Elvira for her aunt's spellbook and, at first, she is more than willing to give it to him except that the dog, which she had also inherited, hid the book while she was not looking.

She eventually finds the book by mistake, casts a few spells unintentionally and, before you know it, she's getting locked up for witchcraft. The townspeople decided that it was beneficial to their community to burn her at the stake, an idea given to them by Elvira's uncle Vincent.

Eventually, Vincent acquires the book and becomes an all-powerful warlock. Vincent and Elvira engage in a magical battle that Elvira, of course, wins by banishing him to the underworld. The next day, Elvira has just inherited Vincent's estate and is able to go to Las Vegas for her show. The end.

Plot

I don't know how to put this.....

The plot is fantastically 80s and predictable, but where this would usually mean a mark against the film, it actually is a favorable trait. It's got some charm that only Elvira's powerful wit and smutty sex-positivity could make for such a fun and engaging time.

It's energetic and all about that tongue-in-cheek humor. It's simply stupid fun, filled with typical parodies of horror tropes and an uncountable number of jokes that focus on Elvira's considerable bust.

Yes, the story is serviced with events that coincidentally benefit Elvira. Plot holes that are filled in with simple ingredients like a magic dog that can shapeshift into a rat or a magic ring that can summon a rainstorm. I'll be honest, the links between scenes and conflicts are lazy and shoehorned in to justify Elvira's victory or witty one-liner.

The story comes to an incredible crescendo for the end with Elvira finally achieving her dreams of becoming a showgirl in Las Vegas. There's a solid musical number and a number of-- screw it-- the whole thing is a sexy and fun gothic performance, with shiny, revealing dresses and, well, spinning tassels. I'll leave it at that.

To summarize: it is the embodiment of Elvira as a whole and exactly what she stands for and what made her such a loved icon of, not only the horror genre but of the eighties as well.

It doesn't take itself seriously, much like the Mistress herself and for that, I can confidently say that I enjoyed myself with this short little flick.

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Cinematography

The color palette that dominates the set is one of your typical American suburbs in the late eighties with that one quirky, somewhat spooky house that sticks out like a sore thumb among cookie-cutter homes. Nothing really memorable or groundbreaking about it which is, unfortunately, one of the few negatives I can talk about with this film. This is, unfortunately, a staple of so many comedies from the eighties so it isn't a huge mark against the film.

I will, however, give praise to the film's lighting work, specifically during the climax of the film, is moody and stylish which really fits into the Elvira aesthetic.

I'll also give praise to the effects, I don't know what it is about practical effects, but I prefer them over CGI. Perhaps it's the charm? But even the effects, like when Vincent is shooting fire out of his mouth, I thoroughly enjoy. Effects like this give the movie an otherworldly, fantasy vibe that can only exist in Hollywood films.

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Acting

In Elvira, Mistress of the Dark the acting of every single character is downright atrocious, in my opinion. Their performances are forgettable and offer no substance to the mix of horror tropes and hypersexuality. Again, sounds like a really big mark against the film right? Well, while each of the supporting actors is not doing a good job at all, this only lets Elvira's charm and personality shine even more than those damnable tassels and, when watching a film titled Elvira, Mistress of the Dark the film should really highlight the personality of the title character.

I will also give kudos to William Morgan Shepherd who plays the main antagonist of the film, Elvira's uncle Vincent Talbot. He plays an impressive bad guy who keeps himself disguised until he gets the book of spells and becomes a powerful warlock. The villain reminded me of something one might see in Beast Master or Neverending Story and gets the job done well enough.

But, there's no doubt about it Cassandra Peterson is the star of the show and as her horror movie host persona, she makes it perfectly clear that she is aware of this fact and owns it like the queen she is.

My Verdict

It's not a masterpiece. The plot is not anything special, neither is the camera work or even the acting. The movie isn't some milestone in cinema or even in Elvira's surprisingly expansive lore. It's got some solid one-liners and, oddly enough, the breast innuendos are never tiresome.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is exactly what its name implies. Elvira. That's it.

With everything going wrong with this movie, I could easily give it, primarily, a negative rating. However, I don't want to bring myself to review it based on the basic format of movies as a whole and while I will still have to do just that, I'll have to review it based on the context of Elvira as well.

It's an enjoyable Halloween-esque comedy that doesn't demand your attention. The film is more about having fun and expanding the Elvira character and the message she stands for: Smutty sexual-positivity and entertainment. Just sit back and have a good time with the movie.

Comments

Matt Brown from Pasadena on April 19, 2020:

An excellent review! One of my favorite things in the world is Halloween, and I go to Knotts Scary Farms Halloween Haunt several times, so I have seen Elvira live several times, including her final performance a couple years ago! I was always entertained by her but until now I never thought I would sit down and watch her movie. But you changed my mind! Mostly by saying that the things I expect to be so bad about it are actually what makes it work. Intriguing!