Thursday, October 27, 2005

Movie Review: "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark"

Or: "Putting the 'Tit' in 'Titillation'

This movie is exactly why I try very, very hard to keep an open mind as often as I can. Because if you judge "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" by how it looks rather than what it says, you probably come away with a completely different - and much more negative - opinion of it.

Ethan practically begged me to watch this with him. Apparently it's a relic of his childhood, one of those movies you're always so nostalgic about even though you only remember a scene or two. I made him sit through "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" (he's not a Mel Brooks fan, go fig), so fair is fair. I should note here that I was only vaguely familiar with the character of Elvira before watching the film... mostly through the old PC game back when DOS ruled the world. So I didn't really know what to expect aside from the fact that it was labeled a comedy.

He was expecting me to start snarking as soon as Elvira turns up looking like this:

And I probably would have, if the movie had continued with the tone it establishes in the first minute, painting Elvira as another vapid bint with more boobs than brains. But then she starts harping on the lame movie she just hosted, and it becomes pretty difficult to muster any vitriol towards her. There's something very genuine and light-hearted in the way Cassandra Peterson plays the part, to the extent that I couldn't help but like Elvira and laugh with her.

A big part of that is, I think, the fact that while Elvira may be a few clones short of a Star Wars movie (as the saying goes), at the same time she's never a victim. She's highly and overtly sexualized, and objectified by almost every man she meets... but they can't touch her if she doesn't want them to. In that respect, her appearance is almost empowering rather than demeaning; it's a choice she makes not to draw men in, but because it's how she wants to express herself.

The plot is stock B-movie quality: Elvira is summoned to a small town in Massachusetts (called Fallwell, hah hah) to receive an inheritance from her deceased great-aunt. Unfortunately, she gets herself stranded there, and finds out the town is dominated by a "morality club" that never quite let go of their Puritan heritage. Naturally, someone like Elvira sticks out like a sore thumb. But the oppressed, repressed teens see her as a symbol of rebellion and freedom, which sends the whole town off the rails. Meanwhile, Elvira's great-uncle Vincent is trying to steal an item of magical power left in her care, and he plans to kill her once he receives it. Cue mayhem, firebreathing demons and a homage to Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. There's even a nice, upbeat ending where Elvira finally achieves her dream of performing in Las Vegas.

It turns out rather better than you'd expect; one of those movies, perhaps, that's "so bad it's good"? A charming effort... not Oscar material, but certainly a pleasant surprise.