Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

4 out of 5

Directed by: James Signorelli

A few minutes in to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’s double-entendre humor and the big-city-girl-visits-close-minded-small-town setup will have you easily predicting how it uses its the shtick and mapping out the plot: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) sometimes winks at the screen and makes jokes about her cleavage; the townees gasp at Elvira’s goth look and exposed skin and are primed to be taught some kind of lighten-up lesson by film’s end. Your tolerance of this will be dependent on whether you groan with giggles or pain over the very campy delivery of those often equally campy jokes – Peterson and the rest practically waiting for rim shot cues after a punchline – and whether or not you consider self-aware send-ups of movie tropes from the 50s through the 80s to be entertaining or just tiresome.

I landed on the positive side of these things, thanks to the movie’s cheeky spirit, and Airplane!-like roll-with-it flow: the flick isn’t exactly waiting around to make sure we’re laughing; like its movie-hosting star, there’s an offhand, chipper dismissiveness to the whole thing: Mistress of the Dark is going to go about its B-movie business, whether or not we’re there to watch.

But if you do watch, the movie ends up using that confidence in some surprising ways, sneaking some smart jabs inbetween every dumb one, and Peterson using her platform to transform a standard sexpot-type 80s character into something more sex-positive and, in its own way, progressive. …Which isn’t to be confused with any form of commentary, mind you, that definitely being one of the flick’s shortcomings, meandering between being a full-on parody, and later on, an actual movie, and then pausing every now and then to send up tropes like the teens trying to perv on Elvira, or the lecherous old men trying to, er, perv on Elvira. As a result of not making up its mind on what its trying to accomplish, the movie can be a little unfocused feeling, and even its 96-minute runtime feels a bit long when it tries to shift into a supernatural adventure kinda thing.

This clunkiness is also rather charming, though, and the flick again surprises by how it commits to these bits, even if all the bits don’t necessarily fit together.

Given the steady stream of yuks that get funnier the more you allow yourself to go with it, and the occasional zings that show the intelligence burbling beneath this dumb humor, there’s a version of this flick that was either all-out parody or a bit more incisive with its satire. The inbetween route makes it imperfect, but it’s nonetheless a rather unique, entertaining, and consistently silly view.