Starring Elvira, W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway
Directed by James Signorelli
Distributed by Arrow Video
The ‘80s were home to a time of experimentation in cinema that isn’t likely to be repeated ever again – namely, giving popular entertainers with unique and well-liked personalities their own starring vehicles on the big screen. For example, “Weird” Al Yankovic had U.H.F. (1989, and one of the funniest comedies I’ve ever seen), Pee-Wee Herman went on a Big Adventure (1985), and late-night horror host Elvira made her silver screen debut with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988). Directed by James Signorelli, who made his name producing segments on “Saturday Night Live” (1975- ), the film is unique in that while a narrative is present the pacing is quick due to the scenes being shot like sketch comedy – quick bursts of comedy making full use of Elvira’s comedic talents and then on to the next; precious little time is wasted over the course of 96 minutes.
Like any comedian making use of their entire arsenal some material works and some not so much but the overall vibe of the picture is unquestionably Elvira: spooky, goofy, and overtly sexual at every opportunity. After quitting her job in frustration following blatant harassment the Mistress of the Dark finds herself out of work and in need of $50,000 if she wants to join a club show in Las Vegas, her dream gig. Luckily, an extremely distant relative, Aunt Morgana, has recently died and Elvira gets a notice that she is a beneficiary, so she packs up her bitchin’ custom convertible to head for Fallwell, Massachusetts.
There, Elvira learns the locals don’t take too kindly to her type – which they assume to be a witch. At the reading of the will Elvira receives her aunt’s house, beloved poodle, and a… recipe book? That’s what she thinks, but Morgana’s brother Vincent (W. Morgan Sheppard) knows the truth: it’s a spell book and he wants it for himself because he’s a warlock and he wants to do warlock shit. Elvira finds a few helping hands in town, among them typical American hunk Bob (Daniel Greene) and a handful of horny teenagers, but she has to learn the truth about her roots if she’s gonna beat Vincent at his game of witchcraft.
It goes without saying you have to be a fan of Elvira to enjoy this film. The character has endured since her debut in 1981 for more than just two good reasons. Elvira is an anomaly; a wisecracking Goth Valley Girl who knows how to use her double entendres and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s also drop-dead-and-bury-me gorgeous, something capably (and frequently) used to her advantage. Her brand of humor is kind of Vaudevillian in that she tends to throw everything at the wall and hope most of it sticks; it doesn’t but her tenacity and fearlessness count for something, too. I was lucky enough to see her stage show at Knott’s Scary Farm a few years ago and meet her afterward and I can say my girlfriend and I were blown away at the level of energy she has on stage – and we were equally smitten by her looks later. She’s the female Dorian Gray.
Something else I love about this film is the location. Fallwell is located in one of my favorite “towns”: the Warner Brothers backlot. It’s an instantly recognizable setting from some of the most popular films of the ‘80s and the aesthetic gives off these comfortable nostalgic vibes that elevate the movie for me. Placing Elvira in Small Town, U.S.A. works well for this fish-out-of-water horror-comedy and the closeness and familiarity of the town dials that up a bit more. Even the house Elvira inherits is a Gothic delight… although in her quest to sell it the place undergoes a dramatic and vibrant restoration.
This is usually a film I watch once a year, generally around Halloween, and although many HD versions have been made available internationally (and one average edition stateside) Arrow Video has delivered the definitive version worth owning (and it is indeed identical to the U.K. release from 2019). Featuring a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of original film elements the 1.85:1 1080p image is a clear upgrade over any DVD releases and is (again) identical to the U.K. transfer. The film was shot on a low budget and these roots are apparent but the increase in resolution brings with it a brighter color palette (especially during daylight scenes), richer black levels, and more fine detail than ever seen before. Film grain is often moderately heavy and can vary between scenes. Colors look best in brighter lighting (duh) because in many lower-lit scenes there isn’t much vibrancy to them. The aesthetic is indicative of films from this era and in that respect Arrow Video has delivered an accurate reproduction of the 35mm experience.
There’s not much to crow about in regard to the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. The film is heavy on dialogue (because it’s mostly jokes) and every bit of spoken word comes through clean and clear. James B. Campbell’s score is ghoulish fun, playing up the camp and macabre aspects of Elvira but maintaining a playful tone throughout. Some third act action kicks up the activity levels a bit but for the most part the film plays it straight and simple. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of original film elements
- Original uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Introduction to the film by director James Signorelli
- 2017 Audio Commentary with director James Signorelli, hosted by Fangoria editor emeritus Tony Timpone
- 2017 Audio Commentary with Patterson Lundquist, www.elviramistressofthedark.com webmaster and judge of US TV show The Search for the Next Elvira
- Too Macabre – The Making of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark – newly-revised 2018 version of this feature-length documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with various cast and crew and rare never-before-seen archival material
- Recipe for Terror: The Creation of the Pot Monster – newly-revised 2018 version of this featurette on the concept and design of the pot monster, as well as the film’s other SFX
- Original storyboards
- Extensive image galleries
- Original US theatrical and teaser trailers
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
Elvira managed to make a seemingly oxymoronic character into a household name, built off her bountiful looks, quick wit, and indefatigable charisma. All those qualities and more are distilled into her debut here, the enjoyment of which is entirely dependent on how much of Elvira one can handle. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray is the best release yet and the bonus features are well worth watching if viewers want the full story of how this film came to be. Totally recommended.