Saturday, August 26, 2017

Elvira Mistress of the Dark...a glorious classic

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

Years ago, many more than I'd care to admit, one way to add a little spending money to the portfolio of the average 6 to 10 year old was to return soda bottles to the store to get the deposit.  This was in the dark ages, when soda came in glass bottles and the deposit was a method the bottlers used to ensure people returned the bottles for reuse.  This was the method I generally used to purchase copies of Forrest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (Ackerman was truly a national treasure and I hope he is never is forgotten - I know I'll do my best to ensure that doesn't happen).

My dad would throw in any money I was missing because, although I recall stories on the film Bug and an entire issue dedicated to the upcoming (then) remake of King Kong, it also paid homage to the classic films of the 30s through the 50s, and so there was always an article or two Pops was interested in.

Humor me for a moment while I use that to digress into an odd story of my childhood and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

My Dad and I enjoyed the magazine so much that on one occasion, perhaps for my birthday, I don't recall (symptom of being 50 I guess), he said I could buy some back issues.  The last couple of pages of each magazine was generally dedicated to a two or three page ad for ordering back issues.  So, I picked a couple I had missed (we seemed to move around town a lot - never to another city, just different houses in the same town, but, that would throw me off my routine for a bit).  I'm sure once he dropped the order into the mailbox I thought I'd never live long enough to see them arrive.  Strange how I perceived time as a youth.  Nevertheless, at some point they arrived and I'm sure I almost pissed myself opening up the package.

If memory serves, I ran outside, found a corner of the backyard  (one of the houses I lived in had a cool back its a parking lot for a hospital...) and read them all cover to cover.  On the back of one was a picture of a very dead  Christopher Lee's Dracula with the following words over it - "Dracula died for your sins".  Of course, even at 9 years old and being a pretty dim bulb, I knew it didn't mean anything. I had developed my own religious beliefs (pretty mundane and conventional by today's standards and generally it was just common Midwest Protestant Christianity. Haven't changed much other than I'm not a Protestant anymore).  I had embraced my own set of beliefs based in large part on my attendance of the local Episcopal church and the Billy Graham specials a station out of Kentucky would broadcast.  I did this because my Mother, God rest her soul, was into all kinds of stuff.  Astrology, pyramid power (yeah....that was a thing), meditation, EST, Tarot me - all kinds of crazy shit was going on in my house.

So you can imagine my surprise when my mother comes screaming through the house holding up that picture.  Keep in my mind, this was a liberal, religiously fluid individual and she is screaming about "What the hell is this.  What kind of people publish this crap?!  Don't they know kids read this?"  You know...all the stuff you heard a decade later from Tipper Gore.  My Dad and I tried to intervene.  I even testified like I was at my Grandparents small church in Southern Illinois...and I was sincere.  I wasn't just saying it because I didn't want her to destroy a magazine that had an amazing article on The Day of the Triffids.  A bargain was struck, she could rip out the picture, tear it up and throw it away but the magazine would stay mostly in tact.  I recall, as my mother was doing that, looking at my Dad and I know we were both thinking something akin to "Holy shit this lady needs meds."  The irony there is she was no doubt medicated at the time.

In fact, what she should have been worried about was that my hormones kicked in when I was, oh, maybe kindergarten.  Seriously.  And Famous Monster of Filmland would always find a way to have pictures of Vampira, who had been a "Horror Hostess" on a station in the LA area in the 50s (KABC I think but I could be wrong).  To my brain in the early 70s I thought that whole package was HOT.  Admittedly, the tiny waist now just makes my think someone had an eating disorder. But, when I was a kid the only eating disorder I was aware of  was always wanting more to eat.  Nevertheless, this cemented something in my brain which made me keen to that "type" or image I suppose. I've broaden my horizons a bit since then.

So, a decade later when I became familiar with Elvira I went batshit crazy.  I'd never actually seen footage of Vampira (damn those pre-YouTube days) other than her appearance in Plan 9 from Outer Space but, I'd seen Elvira on television and rented videos of films she "hosted" and they were brilliant.  Elvira was gorgeous and had a wicked sense of humor.  And once I found out her name was Cassandra Peterson and after some reading I realized she was writing much of the material and so clearly  this was not just some gorgeous lady a company had found and decided to feed lines. No, this was a creation of her own.  In fact, she became so popular that even my small home town had an Elvira knock off who went by the name Misty Brew who had a show on KBSI 23; I can't recall if it was Friday or Saturday nights though.  Misty Brew seems to still be a thing, but, mostly in the Cape Girardeau area I think; appearing at the Cape ComicCon and such - I don't get out that way much anymore (you know the saying "once they've seen the lights of Paris...")

The magazines I read changed in the 80s.  I was a Starlog and Fangoria kind of guy and I also subscribed to a couple of mimeographed fanzines (you know - blogs on paper).  That was how I first heard about the full length movie Elvira Mistress of the Dark. To my shame, I did not see it at the theater - its possible it didn't make it to Cape Girardeau, but, the moment I saw the video tape for rent I cleared my calendar for what turned out to be one of the funniest films, not only of the 80s, but in general.  I watched it again just recently before writing this and its STILL hilarious.

The film, written by Peterson herself along with John Paragon and Sam Egan gets some grief on the interwebs for simply being a retread of Footloose.  I'd like to purchase dictionaries for those whiners and mark the page where "Parody" is defined.  It is a word they should learn...its important.  John Paragon, one of the co-writers who has a small part in the film, might be better known to some as Jambi from Pee-Wee's Playhouse (and some of the other Pee-Wee Herman iterations).  Not since Airplane had I heard such zingers - Example when a letter falls off a theater marquee and lands squarely on Elvira's noggin, Bob the theater manager asks "How's your head" and Elvira responds with "I haven't had any complaints yet."  That line is a serious beer flying out of your nose moment guaranteed.

As the film opens we see Elvira doing one of the things she does best - hosting a horror film on television, much to the chagrin of the news team and others at the station. In disgust over sexual advances from the new station owner, Elvira quits to begin her singing career in Las Vegas - but The Flamingo wants 50K as a deposit in good faith.

Where will Elvira come up with 50K - well, luckily an Aunt she didn't know she had  recently passed away.  All Elvira has to do is go to Falwell, Massachusetts (a brilliant joke in and of itself) and collect her inheritance.  However, when she arrives she is beyond a fish out of water in the small, conservative New England town.  To make matters worse, her great Uncle wants something that was bequeathed to her and for evil purposes.  If I were to simply lists some of the hilarious scenes in this film the list would be longer than this blog post.

The cast is stellar - the late Jeff Conaway, Edie McClurg (who always plays frumpy but I secretly thought was hot), Susan Kellermann and William Morgan Sheppard are amazing in this film (but so is the entire cast).

The film is a co-production of Roger Corman's New World Pictures and NBC, so, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that pitch meeting.  Somehow I have to think there is a movie in that alone...but I could be wrong.

And, I apologize up front, but I have to spray a bit of vitriol at both the Razzies and the most vile website on Earth Rotten Tomatoes.  Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) was nominated for a Razzie as worst actress for this film and I have to wonder - what fucking movie did they watch?  Because she is brilliant in this film.  And of course, it has an unfathomably low score on RT, but, that's a site populated by chronic masturbaters living in their parents basement so they can all screw off.

The film is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon and also on DVD and Blu-ray.  Trust me, you're safe to make the Blu-ray investment - you can't go wrong. Check it out and tell Cassandra Jake sent you!

Miss you pops!

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