Release Date(s)1988 (April 28, 2020)
Studio(s)NBC Productions/New World Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: I’ve had a major crush on Elvira and Cassandra Peterson since I was young lad, but I will attempt to not let that influence this review!]
Critically panned upon release but quickly embraced by an eager fan base thereafter, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark suffered at the box office, partly due to the competition (Die Hard and Gorillas in the Mist), but also because of the impending collapse of New World Pictures. Today, it’s looked upon fondly by many as a quirky and tongue-firmly-in-cheek comedy, as well as a surprising window into modern day feminism and the pros and cons of being an outsider.
After quitting her job, the titular (pun intended) Elvira learns of an inheritance from a distant relative in Massachusetts. Upon her arrival, she spooks the older townspeople while drawing the attention of the younger people, particularly the men. Hellbent on disposing of her is Vincent (W. Morgan Shepphard), her great uncle who is attempting to acquire a book of spells in her unwitting possession in order to become the “Master of the Dark.” As she attempts to find a way to make some quick cash to fund her dream of performing in Las Vegas, her devious uncle and the town’s straight-laced undercurrent are all trying to either take advantage of her or get rid of her entirely.
Looking at Elvira: Mistress of the Dark from the outside in, many might assume it to be a poor attempt at cashing in on the character. At this point, Elvira was quickly becoming a name unto herself through the success of her movie-hosting TV show, talk show appearances, and various commercials. However, the proposed project was given careful consideration at every step of the process, from the writing to the casting, and the eventual post production. That said, it’s clearly a romp, never fully taking itself seriously, yet never resorting to parody (outside of a memorable nod to Flashdance). It’s almost G-rated outside of a couple of mildly tawdry moments.
The story also sees a strong, sexy, and independent woman overcoming obstacles to achieve her dreams, while also being a human being and having flaws and desires. It also shows that the ostracized members of any community have merit too, even if they don’t conform to societal norms. Obviously, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is not a film that’s aiming for anything that highbrow, but even though it’s a goofy comedy, it has a bit more to it than what’s on the surface. Other notable cast members include Edie McClurg, Daniel Greene, Susan Kellerman, Kurt Fuller, Jeff Conaway, Frank Collison, Ira Heiden, Pat Crawford Brown, and William Duell.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark comes to Blu-ray for a second time through Arrow Video, who released the same disc in the UK recently. Sporting a new 2K restoration from the original 35 mm interpositive, it bests all previous home video presentations with organic and film-like textures. A fine sheet of attenuated grain is on display, appearing clean and natural—neither polished nor noisy. As the film is loaded with a variety of colorful visuals, hues are often bold and fine detail is abundant. From the interiors of Elvira’s new house to the exteriors of the small community to the glitzy and glamorous show-stopping closer, everything comes through robustly. Blacks are often deep with good shadow detail while brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. It’s also a clean and stable presentation, free of any major debris. Other than the obvious low grade opticals, the film retains its appreciably 1980s look without any modern interference.
The soundtrack is presented in the original uncompressed stereo, English 2.0 LPCM, with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s not a soundtrack that takes major advantage of the dual speaker soundscape, but the various elements are potent together. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise, as to be expected, but the track really shines in regards to sound effects and music. They’re presented with real muscle behind them, coming through without issue. Though the track lacks ambient or surround activity, it represents the film well. It’s also free of any leftover hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
The following extras are also included:
- Introduction by James Signorelli (HD – 1:10)
- Audio Commentary with Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, and John Paragon
- Audio Commentary with James Signorelli and Tony Timpone
- Audio Commentary with Patterson Lundquist
- Too Macabre – The Making of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (HD – 1:37:04)
- Recipe for Terror: The Creation of the Pot Monster (HD – 22:13)
- Production Stills Image Gallery (HD – 88 in all – 14:40)
- Behind the Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 31 in all – 5:10)
- SFX Image Gallery (HD – 67 in all – 11:10)
- Original Storyboards Image Gallery (HD – 32 in all – 4:31)
- New York Premiere Image Gallery (HD – 7 in all – 1:10)
- Miscellaneous Image Gallery (HD – 9 in all – 1:30)
- US Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:49)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:05)
The first commentary with Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg, and John Paragon is a lighthearted affair as the actors all discuss the film while watching it. Unfortunately, the film is slightly ahead of them at times, but they keep up as best as they can. The second commentary with James Signorelli and Tony Timpone is a slight Q&A session as Timpone interviews Signorelli while watching the film. The third and final commentary with Patterson Lundquist, who is the webmaster of the film’s official fansite, offers occasional insight, but goes quiet a bit too often. The feature-length documentary Too Macabre and it’s companion piece Recipe for Terror speak to most of the main cast and crew, including Cassandra Peterson herself, about the making of the film. Tidbits of information include the fact that Peterson really wanted Vincent Price in the film but he turned it down, Brad Pitt was almost cast as one of the teenagers, and the film’s Las Vegas ending was scrapped by NBC during filming and later shot during post production. All of the participants speak highly of their experiences and the video segments themselves are put together well. Also included is a 36-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, a foreword by Sam Irvin, The Evolution of the Living Dead Girl: Elvira and the Women Who Made Her by Kat Ellinger, More Than Just a Great Set of Boobs… by Patterson Lundquist, and restoration information. It’s also worth nothing that various overseas Blu-ray releases, primarily from Germany, feature a number of additional vintage extras that are not included here.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark had a strong cult following almost immediately upon its original home video release, but it’s not had the best of treatment in the US in the digital era. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray blows all previous releases out of the water with an excellent presentation, and an entertaining and substantial extras package. In other words, it’s more than just a great set of...
– Tim Salmons