There are a few different paths to celebrity, and one of them is being famous for having a striking personality — or playing a character with one. Cassandra Peterson got her start hosting a Los Angeles network’s late night movie show. Inspired by the earlier character Vampira, her Elvira was an over-the-top vamp of a witch with a California “Valley Girl” attitude. Elvira’s Movie Macabre became a fixture, and her popularity spread with Tonight Show appearances and eventually commercials. In 1988, the time was apparently right to see if the character could transition to film herself, making for a bit of a circular situation — a character created to mock B-movies would now be the star of one herself. The film was directed by Saturday Night Live‘s James Signorelli.
That combination explains pretty much everything about the film.
The story plays with the notion of Elvira being her own character (in fact, the credits simply list Elvira “as herself”). It treats Elvira’s stage personality as being her real personality off stage as well, and this drives most of the comedy of the picture. Elvira starts out as a local TV late night movie host, and when fed up with her new manager’s sexual harassment, she quits to go open up a stage show in Vegas. The problem is, she needs money to get it started. She thinks a windfall has landed in her lap when she learns of an inheritance from her hither-to unknown great-aunt Morgana, but when she arrives in the tiny town of Falwell, Massachusetts, she discovers that the inheritance consists of a house, a recipe book, a dog, and not one cent. What’s worse, the townspeople aren’t very keen on her presence. Not only would Elvira stand out in a normal crowd, but this is a town that’s as far into the mundane as Elvira is into the occult; the local movie theatre isn’t even allowed to show films that have a rating higher than “G”. Meanwhile, her uncle seems to be a little too interested in getting his hands on that “recipe book” — though Elvira, of course, remains oblivious to this for much of the film.
The film is extremely campy, but anybody who chooses to watch a film centered around Elvira knows this going into it. The real question is can Elvira carry an entire feature length film on her own? The answer to this is fortunately “yes”; although much of it consists of deliberately-bad acting or breaking the fourth wall, the character of Elvira is entertaining enough to make it all fun. Many audience members would be making smart remarks about the goings-on in any B-movie anyway, so why not have a character making those remarks herself? The problem with the film though is that Elvira has to carry it by herself; with a few exceptions, the other characters are simply flat. Love interest Bob (Daniel Greene) may as well have “generic nice guy” embroidered on his lapel.
Perhaps it’s on his bowling shirt.
The kids in the film are likewise generic and two-dimensional, existing solely to provide a visible conflict between the younger generation (who find Elvira fascinating) and the older generation (who find her appalling). Essentially if anybody is aligned with Elvira, they’re uninteresting. The only characters to have much in the way of personality are chief busybody Chastity Pariah (played by Edie McClurg) and Elvira’s uncle Vincent Talbot (William Morgan Sheppard). They aren’t given deep characterizations, particularly Chastity, but then, one doesn’t really expect much depth in an Elvira film. The important thing is that they are entertaining by themselves, which most of the other supporting characters are not.
It’s a film for a certain type of movie fan. Anybody who is a fan of B-grade horror films — or who simply remembers her late 80s media blitz — should already be acquainted with Elvira, and will know what to expect from the film. Like the films Elvira always poked fun at, it’s not top-tier material. It’s not really trying to be. But it’s amusing while it’s on, and while it’s not a film that would demand repeat viewings, it’s also not one that would cause a viewer to change the channel.