Arrow Video: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) - Reviewed

Horror hosts are a dying breed.  Television sets were once graced with wild and weird characters introducing a bevvy of schlock with their creepy charisma, but nowadays, the average person would be hard-pressed to name even a few of them.  Despite the waning interest in these hosts of heyday, at least one figure from that realm has managed to not dwindle into obscurity.  With her massive personality and even larger cup size, Cassandra Peterson–better known as Elvira– is still a delight to watch.

Arrow Video has honored Elvira’s legacy by giving her debut film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark their revered Blu-ray treatment, boasting a 4K restoration with 1080p presentation, a 2017 commentary with Elvira and director James Signorelli, a feature-length documentary about the making of the film, and a featurette about the creation of the film’s most impressive display of practical effects: the “Pot Monster.”  For anyone that has befallen Elvira’s irresistible charm spell, the Blu-ray is well worth a watch for the special features alone.

For those that are unfamiliar with this cult classic, here’s the gist: Elvira receives an inheritance from her Aunt Morgana, which includes a “recipe book” that actually contains powerful spells.  As she tries to make herself comfortable in the shabby mansion she also inherited, she combats the prejudices of close-minded locals, all the while thwarting attempts by her power-hungry warlock uncle to obtain the spell book.  It’s the classic story of the well-intentioned “outsider” coming into a small-town setting and being woefully misunderstood, √° la Edward Scissorhands.

The “culture clash” premise is fairly predictable in this 1988 comedy, but Elvira is so charming that it’s a pleasure to watch.  She is equal parts silly and sexy, and entirely commands even the simplest scene.  Balancing her endearing naivet√© with enough worldliness to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants, we see a woman that is oftentimes objectified, but completely self-aware, confident, and ultimately empowered.  (“Tell them I was more than just a great set of boobs. I was also an incredible pair of legs.”)

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is by no means a jaw-dropping technical achievement, but it succeeds adequately enough to make it a bit more than simply a vehicle to showcase Elvira.  The camera work feels relatively “point and click,” but some of the cinematography during the spookier moments makes up for it.  While some of the special effects feel dated, the puppetry for the “Pot Monster” is impressive for even today’s standards.  It’s a film that has ambiance when necessary, but doesn’t go out of its way to impress the majority of the time.

The humor is cheesy, but intentionally so, with a script that harkens back to the groan-worthy one-liners and double entendres of Elvira’s original television show.  Visual gags round out the laughs in the film, including a poodle with a pink mohawk and not-so-subtle film references ranging from Flashdance to Frankenstein.  It’s not a “laugh out loud” film as much as it is a friendly nod to everything that Elvira embodies. 

Any horror fan with a sense of humor should see Elvira, Mistress of the Dark at least once.  It’s not exceptionally funny or scary, nor is it a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but it somehow captures the zeitgeist of '80s comedy and horror beautifully.  For those that are already familiar with the film, check out the new Arrow Blu-ray to hear more from the endlessly amusing Madonna of Macabre herself, whose powers must include immortality considering how gracefully she has aged.  Long live Elvira, and long live '80s horror comedies.   

--Andrea Riley