Color, 1988, 96 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by James Signorelli
Starring Elvira, W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Edie McClurg, Susan Kellermann, Robert Benedetti, Jeff Conaway
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Nameless (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The much-loved horror host format that had been flourishing on TV since the '50s got a big boost in the Reagan era with the arrival of Elvira's Movie Macabre, with the sassy, very SoCal horror hostess played by actress and model Cassandra Peterson becoming a huge pop culture sensation. Soon she was guest starring in TV shows, doing beer commercials, and popping up on late night talk shows, which meant it was only a matter of time before she got her own big screen vehicle. That came to pass with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a high-profile release from New World Pictures, which opened in the Fall of '88 on the heels of some really bizarre fare from the indie studio like Slugs, Dead Heat, and Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Though it did reasonable business, the film didn't set the box office of fire but went on to amass a big cult following on cable TV and VHS where Elvira's grand persona always seemed most at home in the first place.
When her L.A. hosting gig goes sour after a screening of It Conquered the World thanks to a gropey new boss from Texas, Elvira decides to reinvent herself as a Vegas act thanks to a new inheritance from her great-aunt, Morgana ("Is that timing or what?"). However, to claim it she has to travel to the ultra puritanical town of Falwell, Massachusetts, where she also inherits an aggressive poodle and agitates the locals with her provocative attire and freewheeling personality. Only friendly movie theater owner Bob (Greene) seems to be on her side at first, while her uncle, Vincent (Sheppard), harbors a very dark skeleton in the family closet that could throw Elvira's plans to sell the estate and bolt into serious upheaval. Things take a wild supernatural turn as Elvira ends up tackling with monster, a magic duel, and a literal witch hunt that could cut her hosting days short for good.
The process of bringing Elvira to the big screen proved to be a little trickier than you might think with multiple cooks in the kitchen involved; most notably, the involvement of NBC Pictures meant that Brandon Tartikoff wanted to take more of a Harper Valley PTA fish out of water vibe instead of straight-up horror fan service. Fortunately that didn't turn out to be a bad thing as it allows Elvira to go outside of her usual comfort zone and display a fine flair for physical comedy, while the horror elements that remain have a goofy, family-friendly vibe not far removed from the same year's Beetlejuice. The plot itself is intentionally absurd and episodic with a lightweight charm that would probably keep it out of theaters altogether these days, and it's all shot with that nostalgic gauzy gloss familiar from other New World titles around the same time.
A perennial on home video since it hit VHS shelves at the end of the '80s, Elvira's star vehicle first appeared on DVD in 1999 as one of the earlier titles from Anchor Bay (with a trailer and talent bio as extras) and was later repurposed into a variety of packs and double features over the years. Eventually it passed over to Image Entertainment in 2011, which resulted in DVD and Blu-ray reissues from an old master with only a trailer as an extra. A notoriously botched attempt to get the film out as a deluxe Blu-ray from a startup German label set this film back for a little while before it finally emerged as multiple, very pricey limited mediabook editions in Germany in 2018 from Nameless. Arrow Video featured essentially the same package around the same time just before Halloween of 2018 in the U.K. on Region B Blu-ray, with an identical Region A U.S. one following in 2020. The 4K scan of the original interpositive is a much-needed improvement over the moldly master used for the earlier U.S. Blu-ray and DVD releases, with very healthy colors and way more detail on display. The English LPCM 2.0 stereo track (with optional English SDH subtitles) showcases one of the more ambitious and lively mixes from this era of New World, who were generally still sticking for flat mono even for bigger titles like Heathers. The film can be watched with a very blooper-filled intro by director James Signorelli (1m10s) as well as three audio commentaries, the first (and oldest) with Peterson, McClurg, and actor John Paragon, the second with Signorelli (hosted by Tony Timpone), and the third with Elvira webmaster Patterson Lundquist. There's some understandable overlap at times between the three but they're all loaded with stories and trivia about the film including the potential casting of Brad Pitt in a key role, the daunting scene Peterson had to shoot first, the possibility of bringing Vincent Price aboard, the selection of songs for the soundtrack, the influence of Elvira on pop culture at the time, and lots more. Running even longer than the main feature is "Too Macabre - The Making of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" (97m4s), which is touted here as a newly-revised 2018 version and features pretty much every single available person who worked on the film chatting about its creation including in-depth looks at the special effects, the casting, the rationale behind some of the character choices (including her preference for the character of Bob), and the budgetary issues, among many, many other topics. In "Recipe for Terror: The Creation of the Pot Monster" (22m13s), you get another look at the creation of the effects with many of the same participants explaining how they went from concept sketches to reality. Separate extensive galleries are also provided for production stills, behind the scenes shots, special effects photos, storyboards, New York premiere coverage, and miscellaneous material including invites. The disc closes out with the U.S. theatrical and teaser trailers, while the first pressing also contains an insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Lundquist and comments by Sam Irvin on the 2012 audio commentary.
Reviewed on March 31, 2020