Quaint Little Hellhole

Massachusetts was a swing state in the ‘80s, but to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, it’s a land where hyper-conservatism never left, and she… sticks out.

There’s not much a movie in Elvira – the plot doesn’t even kick in until the hour mark – but it delivers endless puns and humor. Elvira’s less a movie than statement, and in multiple ways, even ahead of its time. A wealthy boss at her TV station promises to keep Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) on staff if she sleeps with him, predicting the Roger Ailes fiasco at Fox (and likely projecting her own network experiences).

A decade later, Pleasantville told this same story: A town undergoes a sexual and social awakening, and equally satirical. Elvira is a little more brash though, flaunting its star with few reservations. The town is run by Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg), a name that says it all, the perfect person to run the local morals committee. It’s of little surprise when they brand Elvira a witch and condemn her to burn at the stake. Again, this was not meant to be the modern Massachusetts.

Elvira turns into one of the larks the horror host demeaned in her TV role – but loves every minute of it

With a dash of screwball comedy, the ruthless caricature brands puritan values as unnatural, and Elvira’s expressiveness utterly freeing. Teenagers sit bored in a bowling alley, because even bowling is considered too risque it seems. By finally embracing themselves during a midnight screening of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (of all things), kids finally see the world around them, away from the sheltered corners in which they stay. It’s delightfully corny, but with something to say.

Vincent Talbot (William Morgan Sheppard) is the villain. This place is so isolated, no one catches The Wolf Man’s last name, or realizes the cane Talbot carries calls back to said film. Of course, Talbot is respected in the community. While everyone fears and judges Elvira for her looks and daring, Talbot legitimately practices black magic in his basement. The puritan naivety on display doesn’t tone down any absurdity, propping up its heroine solely on the basis of the villain’s idiocy; Elvira just needs to stand there and let everyone be.

For the finale, Elvira goes bonkers. Magic spells, transforming dogs, supernatural rings; Elvira turns into one of the larks the horror host demeaned in her TV role – but loves every minute of it. A celebration of schlock, while simultaneously tearing down those who admonish her sexual shtick. What a combo, and in-line with the character’s own wit.

Video

Debuting in the US two years after the UK Blu-ray release, Elvira comes from a 4K scan of the interpositive, leading to a pleasingly film-like output. Grain spikes come and go, but nothing is lost. Arrow’s encode handles the challenge without compression problems. Other than a handful of scratches, the print itself holds up its end.

Strong contrast gives this relatively low budget offering an expensive sheen. Brightness excels to keep up the visual energy. At nightfall, black levels reach superb density, selling shadows at little cost to detail.

And it’s sharp too. Fidelity may not jump from this presentation, but overall sharpness goes well beyond any previous home video release. Exteriors, including the Universal backlot set shared by Gremlins (and so, so many others), look fantastic. Inside Elvira’s new home, dust mounds and cobwebs break free from their formerly low resolution sources. Better color definition helps too, saturated as needed. After painting the house in a rainbow palette, the images pop.

Audio

The soundtrack comes together in PCM stereo. Output is sharp, clean, and even producing some range.

Dialog though is a challenge, harsh and overly dated, even by late ‘80s standards. It takes a minute to adjust, becoming tolerable through exposure, even if the strained quality doesn’t improve.

Extras

Commentaries come in triplicate, beginning with stars Cassandra Peterson and Edie McClurg, joined by writer John Paragon. Track two brings in director James Signorelli to speak with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. On the third, Elvira’s reality show host.

When given the option, don’t skip the director’s introduction; it’s classic. From there, the 97-minute making of is a few minutes longer than the movie itself, and it’s a must, covering the movie and Peterson’s career. Recipe for Terror spins-off from that, a 22-minute look at the effects. A slew of galleries and trailers come in for the finish.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Summary

Content with itself, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark uses this absurd platform to comically lash out at puritan critics in a hokey, enjoyable lark.

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