One of the things we just don’t see much of anymore is great locally produced television programs. I grew up in the Chicagoland area, which was the home of many great locally produced shows. A favorite of mine was our local horror host, Son of Svengoolie. He’s still on the air today, known simply as Svengoolie. The TV horror host is a great American tradition. Of course, one of the most famous was Elvira. Her show originated in Los Angeles, but eventually went to several stations around the country before she hit the big screen in 1988’s Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Elvira (who is actually named Casandra Peterson) has just left her show after a new owner has taken over the TV station. She has big plans to open a show in Las Vegas, but she needs money to do it. Luckily, she gets word that she stands to inherit some of her great aunt Morgana’s fortune, but she must head to Massachusetts for the reading of the will. Upon arriving in Fallwell, MA she quickly starts to upset the locals, especially one Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg). The local teenagers quickly take a liking to her, however.
At the reading of the will, Elvira learns that she has inherited her aunt’s house, a dog, and a recipe book. Her Great Uncle Vincent (W. Morgan Sheppard) is none too pleased with this and is anxious to try and get the book for himself. See, unknown to her, he’s actually a warlock who has big plans for the book of so-called recipes. At first Elvira is perfectly willing to sell it for a few bucks, but the dog manages to hide the book making that deal fall through.
Meanwhile, Elvira’s involvement with the local teens isn’t going over well with the others in town. She’s even got them going to midnight screenings of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. She pulls this off thanks to getting close with the theaters hunky owner, Bob (Daniel Greene). The prudish locals continue to cause trouble for her, though, even going so far as to tar and feather her at one point. Having had enough, Elvira uses the recipe book to cook up a spell which she serves to locals at a potluck dinner. This, however, opens the door for Uncle Vincent to snag the book by having the townsfolk go after Elvira and try to burn her at the stake for the crime witchcraft.
Like many horror hosts, Elvira’s brand of comedy is a bit corny. That sort of thing works when you’re introducing a late night showing of The Head with Two Things…uh, I mean The Thing with Two Heads, but can it carry a film? In this case no. Don’t get me wrong, I think Elvira is a fun character, but the film just isn’t that funny. The majority of the jokes all have to two with one subject…her breasts. It doesn’t take long for that to wear pretty thin.
It isn’t until the end of the film that we get a glimpse of where there may have been some solid potential for a big-screen Elvira vehicle. The last 15 minutes or so get pretty dark considering the tone of the rest of the film. After almost being burned at the stake, she then has to battle her warlock uncle who seems to be gradually turning into a demon of some sort. He shoots blue lighting out of his fingers, has a strange orange fire breath, and when he loses a hand in the heat of battle, it starts crawling around on it’s own. In other words, the host of tons of cheesy B horror films suddenly ends up in a cheesy B horror film. I dare say the film would’ve been more successful had that been the premise all along.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark may not be the most entertaining film, but it is an interesting curiosity. I mean, Elvira is the only TV horror host I know of to have starred in her own movie, that’s got to count for something.