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Movie Reviews : 'Elvira' Matches Films She Introduces on TV

September 30, 1988|KEVIN THOMAS

The notion behind "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" (citywide) seems to be to introduce TV's popular horror picture hostess to the big screen in a movie as rotten as the worst flick she has ever presented on the tube. It's a shame because Elvira (nee Cassandra Peterson) is a terrific personality: a kind of punk Mae West crossed with Vampira, her TV predecessor, dressed always in black Frederick's of Hollywood-style finery that shows off her super-bosomy figure.

Elvira herself is great fun, but her cheap-looking movie sinks in its own heavy-handed and uninspired, crass mire. Its sex jokes are so crude that most parents wouldn't want children to hear them; note that PG-13 rating. The irony here is that as NBC's first venture into theatrical production, it will never make it to TV without considerable cutting.

When we meet Elvira, she's quitting her horror-hostess job after an especially gross encounter with her new boss and dreaming of Vegas stardom. But where to find the 50 grand needed to launch her Vegas show? Out of the blue she receives word that her great-aunt in Massachusetts has died and heads there in her ghoulishly customized 58 T-Bird convertible for the reading of the will.

At this point there's every reason to hope that the film might evolve into a sort of "Cat and the Canary" spoof. Sure enough, the aunt's mansion is straight out of Charles Addams--and her great-uncle Vincent (W. Morgan Sheppard) is suitably sinister. But, instead of jokey old haunted-house thrills and chills, writers Sam Egan, John Paragon--and, yes, Peterson herself--involve Elvira in a protracted and tedious battle with the ultra-puritanical locals, who regard her as a menace to the town kids she easily befriends. (Under the tough talk, wild hair and thick makeup, Elvira is naturally a sweetheart.) When the supernatural stuff arrives, late in the game, it's decidedly half-hearted. However, if he accomplishes little else, director James Signorelli, a "Saturday Night Live" alumnus with a relentless sock-it-to-'em style, does maintain a doggedly driving pace.

Twice, Elvira is able to tear loose from the glum plot long enough to be really fun. After hosting a midnight movie at the local Bijou, she treats her audience to an amusing spoof of Jennifer Beals' frenetic "Flashdance" routine--right down to a deliberately obvious dance double. And our patience is rewarded at the end of the movie with a glimpse of her gaudy Vegas act with its delightfully trite black widow spider motif, whirling tassels and bevy of frenzied male dancers. Of course, it's a parody, but you come away suspecting that it could play the Strip exactly as it is.

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