are two reasons to see an Elvira movie, but after all these years, your
interest may start to sag.
in the sixties, Roger Corman took the faded careers of old horror stars
and gave them new life. By taking the most creative of licenses with
the stories of Edgar Alan Poe, Corman practically created a genre unto
itself. Giants like Karloff, Price, and Lorre lurked through these films,
scaring newcomers like Jack Nicholson. At the time, they were cheap
thrills. Now? They look pretty cheesy. So the moment really has past
when those Corman films could withstand being parodied. Writer/actress
Cassandra Peterson must have missed that memo. Maybe it got lost in
she’s got the look down cold. By actually filming in Romania, Peterson
and director Sam Irvin have managed to create an authentic atmosphere
for the spooky goings-on. All the right characters are here: the tortured
older man (usually Boris Karloff, here Richard O’Brien), his suspicious
wife (Mary Scheer), and a family curse. Even the opening titles bring
back those early sixties, down to the last drop of melted wax. The only
thing possibly out of place would be Peterson herself, in her better-known
persona of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
even so, if you purposely do a bad movie version of bad movies, how
good could it be? Two wrongs don’t make a right, though three lefts
in her first film (remember it?), Elvira stars as Elvira, here allegedly
a showgirl making her way to Paris with her servant girl Zou Zou (Mary
Jo Smith). They catch a coach to the mysterious Castle Helsebus, where
it turns out that Elvira bears a terrifying resemblance to the late
mistress of Helsebus. And just for good measure, Vladimere (O’Brien)
suffers a family disease that heightens his senses, only able to withstand
the dimmest of light and softest of sounds. Of course, Elvira even walks
the cast clearly has a grand time. Many of the players have been pulled
from L.A.’s Groundlings Theater Company, where Peterson got her start.
They have a great ensemble feel. O’Brien finally gets to play something
other than terminally creepy (well, for a while, anyway – Vladimere
has a split personality). In the purposely badly dubbed role of Nicholae,
newcomer Remus Cernat plays earnestly dumb without seeming like a bad
actor. Fabio should take a lesson here.
sore thumb is Elvira, and though it’s intentional, it grates. The character
offers up almost nothing but dumb double entendres, which can
be funny in small doses. In a film with everything else so letter perfectly
period (subtitles give the year as 1851), her modern viewpoint confuses
everyone around her, including the audience.
on a personal gripe, it also makes little sense that for a supposed
“Mistress of the Dark,” Elvira seems to know so little about the supernatural.
At least in her first film they gave the excuse that she was still learning.
But here, other characters carry the burden of explaining the paranormal
happenings. It works against the persona Peterson has carefully built
for herself on television and in comics.
a shame, really, because Peterson is so clearly a good writer. With
her partner John Paragon, she proves that she has an ear for dialogue
and story structure. If she applied it to something new, good things
would not be surprising.
it’s time for her to move past Elvira. The rest of us have.