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‘Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 03, 1988


James Signorelli
Cassandra Peterson;
Morgan Shepherd;
Daniel Greene;
Jeff Conaway;
Susan Kellerman
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" is stupid fun, a distaff, gothic version of "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson, who has parlayed hosting bad horror films on the little screen into a bad comedy film on the big screen, is, like Paul (Pee-wee Herman) Reubens, a veteran of L.A.'s Groundling Theatre, which may explain her penchant for playing everything so broadly. A number of other Groundlings participate in "Elvira," most notably Edie McClurg as the puritan prude Chastity Pariah. And, yes, the name is a good indication of the level of the script.

In a perfect example of art imitating life imitating art, the pale-skinned, black-bouffanted Elvira portrays a campy horror show hostess bounced from her job after rebuffing the station owner. $50,000 to mount her act, at which point she finds out her aunt has died and left her an unspecified inheritance.

So Elvira toddles off to the prim town of, ha-ha, Fallwell, Mass., where all the adults are on a, ha-ha, major morality kick, and all the kids are well bred and bored. Next thing you know, Elvira's tied to the stake in the town square, at which point ...

Well, the only thing flimsier than the plot is the black dress that barely contains Elvira and her bosom. It's surprising that the bosom doesn't get equal billing, since it figures so prominently in the movie. There's a goofy satanic plot involving creepy great uncle Vincent (W.W. Morgan Sheppard), designed to allow for some so-so special effects; silly take-offs on game shows and "Flashdance"; one good visual gag imagining Elvira as a baby; and a running joke involving a punk poodle, complete with pink mohawk and studded harness.

But just as Pee-wee Herman's films are vehicles for his shtick, "Elvira" is mostly Elvira wisecracking and busting out of her dress. She's fun, a Transylvania Valley Girl grown up into the Queen of the Bs, but after 96 minutes you may start thinking more fondly about those '50s and '60s camp classics she's usually interspersed with.

"Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" is rated PG-13 and contains no nudity, but most of Elvira's torso and a steady stream of sexual humor.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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