Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Watch: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)

In some ways, there's no way in hell this movie could have been made any other time than a certain window post 1985 or before 1991.  In other ways, this world is just now catching up to what Cassandra Peterson and company were saying, and an idea that I suspect people of my generation (and older) have a harder time grappling with than the kids today.

I'm not here to argue that Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) is a bleeding edge comedy, because it has more in common with a sort of groan-inducing shenanigans with a sort of Looney Tunes style of thinking, topped with a winky, we're-not-taking-this-seriously vibe that lands pretty squarely in my wheelhouse.

In an odd way, Elvira is a sort of Groucho Marx with a very, very different look.  She's amusing herself as she goes among the squares, dropping double entendres (and single entendres), knows she's not everyone's cup of tea, and she's okay with that.  

Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) needs to raise $50K to put on her Vegas dream-show.  And she thinks she may just get it thanks to an inheritance that turns out to be a run-down Queen Anne house, a rough-looking poodle and a cook book.  All of this is in small town Massachusetts rather than sunny LA, and the locals don't like the looks of the young lady in the form-fitting dress.  The town is run by a super-uptight city council, led by local pain, "Chastity Pariah" (Edie McClurg in top form), who can't stand the idea anyone might be having fun or not fit the mold.  The local movie theater can only show G-Rated movies, the kids are all afraid to do anything but go bowling, and the place kind of sucks.

Meanwhile, an uncle she didn't know she had is trying to get his hands on the cook book (secretly a book of spells), and he turns the town even more against Elvira.

There are innumerable jokes regarding Elvira's, uh...  obvious attributes, but it's an odd sort of humor for the time in which it was released and the jokes are not about Elvira as object of ridicule, but knowing, frankly, she draws attention and doesn't mind.  Perhaps not a forceful message, but definitely in the conversation is that she also isn't there to be picked on, grabbed, groped or abused.  She can be sexy, dress how she wants and that doesn't make her anyone's victim.  It's all stuff we're talking about now in a way Elvira was pitching three decades ago.

Also - the path to better happiness is terrible movies.  That's a key message as well.

Yeah, it's a bit of a silly movie, but it's kind of funny how Elvira's whole schtick and her stance has become relevant - and maybe that's why she's got a new audience and fan following out there, including a lot of young women who maybe don't want to be told they have to be a certain way to deserve or earn respect.

Anyway, here's to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.  It's a Halloween favorite of mine, and if it's been a while or you've never seen it, I highly recommend giving the movie another go.

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