Cassandra Peterson’s career has been an erratic one – over time she’s worked with both Fellini and Tim Burton – yet she remains best known for her 1984 creation, Elvira. Essentially a more risqué version of Vampira (star of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space) inasmuch as her dress is far more revealing and that she seemingly speaks only in double entendres, Elvira first came to prominence via the Movie Macabre before branching out into in-character chat show appearances and guest slots in the like of CHiPS and The Fall Guy. As such the eventual movie spin-off seemed inevitable and so it was in 1989 that Elvira Mistress of the Dark was released to the public at large.
The film begins with our heroine in familiar territory, namely playing to host to Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World on late night TV. But of course, this is hardly going to provide the material for a 90-minute movie and so she soon quits her job and heads off to a small town to claim an inheritance from a recently deceased great-aunt. Needless to say her appearance doesn’t go down too well with the cleaning living locals, although some of the male members do fall for her rather obvious charms. Add to this a slight subplot about a book of magic and an evil uncle and we just about have a film in our possession. Certainly, it’s all extremely flimsy, but then you get the impression that it’s meant to be.
For this isn’t an especially good film, nor is it particularly bad. The intention behind it would seemingly be to ape the so-bad-it’s-good B-movies which Elvira used to introduced on TV. (It comes as no surprise to discover that Corman’s New World Pictures was behind the production.) As a result it’s full of intentional terrible gags, is extremely simple and relies most heavily upon Peterson’s sizeable breasts. In fact, it could be the nearest the US has ever got to replicating the Carry On movies – it certainly shares the coyness and mild sense of embarrassment.
That said, the films of Joe Dante and John Waters are perhaps nearer the mark, although there’s a crucial difference between the two. Whereas those directors clearly have a great love for their respective areas of trash – 50s B-movies in the case of Dante, camp in the case of Waters – Peterson and co seem to lack that passion. They would appear to see It Conquered the World and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (which also features) solely as a bit of goofy fun, and as such Mistress of the Dark lacks that affectionate edge which characterised Matinee, say, or Cry-Baby. Certainly, it has its moments – the Flashdance parody, the tacky creature effects – and it’s hard to dislike a film which so resolutely refuses to take itself seriously, but ultimately it’s exactly the kind of thing which might come across accidentally on late night TV and not make a great deal of fuss over. Indeed, the DVD package needs to be something special in order to truly justify its existence…
…and sadly, this doesn’t prove to be the case. Improving on the previous Cinema Club R2 release insofar as we now get the film in widescreen (at a ratio of 1.78:1) and anamorphically, the disc nonetheless comes without the featurette and theatrical trailer which accompanied that version. Instead we merely find some brief film notes (essentially a plot synopsis) and a biography for Peterson. Moreover, the presentation itself is simply okay as opposed to impressive. The image, though clean, is discernibly soft throughout, whilst the soundtrack – despite the choices of the original stereo plus DD5.1 and DTS – similarly never feels quite as clear as it should. Certainly, it’s all very watchable, but you’d ultimately expect better from a re-release.
Anthony Nield takes a look at Anchor Bay's Region 2 re-release of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a cult-ish offering from 1988. Now available in the UK in anamorphic widescreen, the disc sadly misses out on the featurette and theatrical trailer which accompanied the previous Cinema Club editio