Posts Tagged ‘elvira’

"Frankenstein's Castle Of Freaks" Movie Poster

Quick : what do you get when you stick a third-rate American director into an Italian production, stock it with has-been Italian and American “stars,” throw in a couple of busty babes, a lost tribe of cavemen, and Count ( I know, it’s usually doctor or Baron, but consider the source here, folks) Frankenstein himself?

The answer, of course, is 1974’s Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks.  And if this movie sounds like a total mishmash, rest assured — it is. In fact, it’s probably even more of a discombobulated affair than I’ve made it sound so far.

Our story opens with some neanderthal dude getting stoned to death by local villagers in the middle ages (I think) who apparently take kindly to having his kind around.  And it only gets weirder from there. Next we learn that local girls have been turning up dead in the village and their graves have been robbed. Given the flick’s title, any sane audience member would, at this point, assume that Dr. — excuse me, Count — Frankenstein would be involved. And of course you’d be right. The Count’s up to his usual tricks, trying to reanimate the newly-deceased and all that, but rest assured, that’s where any similarity to the Frankenstein story as we know it comes to an end.

First off, the Count is a widow in this one, with a lovely young buxom daughter named Maria (Simonetta Vitelli, acting under the pseudonym “Simone Blondell”) who brings her equally lovely and even more buxom friend Valda (Laura De Benedittis) to Castle Frankenstein for a visit. Being a red-blooded Italian male, the Bar — errr, Count — takes a liking to his daughter’s companion and is soon seducing her by revealing the depths of his scientific depravity to his would-be paramour. Strangely enough, it seems to work! If only I’d thought of trying that angle back when I was single — but I digress.

In any case, other shenanigans are afoot, as well. When the Count (played, incidentally, by Rossano Brazzi) is forced to dismiss his longtime dwarf-servant Hans (Italian midget mainstay Luciano Pigozzi, billed here as “Alan Collins”) for getting frisky with the corpses, the diminutive necrophile swears revenge on the castle and all who live in it and, with nowhere to go, quickly falls in with one of the outcast cavemen living in the woods that he names “Ook” (Salvatore Baccaro, billed here as — I shit you not — “Boris Lugosi”). Meanwhile, we get to learn that Igor (here played by washed-out former muscle-hunk Gordon Mitchell) is one deceptive bastard who likes to slap women around, that the caves in the woods where the neanderthal men live have a natural hot spring that Frankenstein’s daughter and her friend like to play around in named before smearing mud on each other in clumsy faux-lesbian-eroticism fashion, and that the chief inspector looking into the grave robberies, Prefect Ewing (Edmund Purdom, who seasoned Eurotrash veterans will recognize from the likes of Pieces and 2019:After the Fall of New York) is easily snookered by Frankenstein’s wealth, power, prestige, and privilege.

Things start to come to a boil, though, when the mad Count gets his hands on the corpse of a Neanderthal he names “Goliath”  (Loren Ewing) and decides to reanimate the hulking monstrosity. In case you couldn’t guess already, folks, when you combine a stock-footage lightning storm with a zombie cavemen and a midget out for revenge who has another caveman in tow with him, bad things are gonna happen.

Everything you’re looking for in a cheap Italian monster classic knock-off is here, my friends — atrocious dubbing. terrible acting and effects. Gratuitous nudity. Implied lesbianism. Implied rape and necrophilia (all this with a PG rating, mind you!). And best of all — no apparent understanding of its source material whatsoever, even though it was directed by an American hack (Dick Randall) who probably had seen the original dozens of times as a kid! A movie this flat-out fucking weird and ill-conceived could only come from one of two places — Italy or Hollywood. But it’s so much more fun when the Italians do it, don’t you think?

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is available on DVD in a couple of different formats — either as a stand-alone release from Something Weird Video with their usual plethora of pretty-much-unrelated extras, or in a version hosted by Elvira that was put out by Shout! Factory as part of its Elvira’s Movie Macabre series. both feature full-frame transfers with a minimal amount of remastering (if any) and a just-barely-adequate mono soundtrack. Needless to say, I highly recommend you track at least one of them down immediately, this is a true B-movie lover’s dream and you’ll be damn glad you saw it.

"Elvira's Haunted Hills" DVD Cover

So, 13 years of attempted sequels that ultimately went nowhere later, Cassandra Peterson and her husband, sometime-producer/sometime-actor Mark Pierson, finally said “to hell with it” and scraped together about a million and a half bucks’ worth of financing on their own and made another Elvira flick in 2001, this time bringing the obvious and lame double-entendres right into the title of the film itself, calling this one Elvira’s Haunted Hills. This time around they brought in another TV vet to direct, Sam Irvin, and, due to extremely favorable currency exchange rates, brought the production to, appropriately enough, Transylvania, Romania itself. I kid you not.

While the first Elvira movie had a budget of around $8 million, this actually looks like the more expensive production of the two, even though there is, sadly, a dearth of location footage, and most of the production is studio-bound. Which is something of a shame given that this movie was made in what could generously be called the Mistress of the Dark’s natural habitat, but whatever.

Again, the drill is pretty much the same — no joke too obvious, no gag too obvious, no way-less-than-sly sexual reference too obvious, no cleavage shot too obvious, no pun too obvious, no cliche too obvious. Hell, the obvious is Peterson and company’s best friend here, and she knows it — she even co-wrote the script herself!

And you know, that’s the main difference between the first and second Elvira flicks — this one really is a homemade labor of love. Which is not to say it’s the better of the two — it’s not. They’re pretty much about equal, quality-wise. The lady in black herself is less likable here, more of a show-biz bitch, even though this story is set in 1851 in the Carpathian mountains.

I suppose I’d better backtrack for a second and explain that. This “sequel” really isn’t a sequel at all, it’s a completely different story that just happens to feature the same character. This time around she’s headed from eastern Europe to Paris, where her new can-can show is due to open, with her faithful (and flabby) servant girl, Zou Zou, in tow. The have some trouble paying their bill at an inn, need to skedaddle in a hurry, catch a ride from a handsome stranger, and end up in a haunted castle owned by an evil Lord (or maybe he’s a Count — in either case he’s played by Richard O’Brien of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) whose dead wife bears a striking resmeblance to Elvira herself! Hijinx, needless to say, ensue.

As with the previous entry in the Elvira a cinematic “canon,” don’t expect anything you wouldn’t expect (well, okay, the song-and-dance number that randomly breaks out at pretty much the exact midway point of the movie is a bit jarring, but fun in the usual lame way), but do expect plenty of cleavage, some sorta-near-nudity(again, this is strictly PG-13 stuff), some more of Elvira throwing herself at a male suitor who may not be quite as interested as she is, some cheap boob-groping, some even cheaper laughs, and just general camp nonsense.

There’s a sort of cut-rate genius at work here, as before — Peterson’s whole Elvira shtick is hopelessly lame and she knows it. That’s sorta the point, really. Harmless horror, harmless titillation, and harmless laughs at punchless jokes. Some performers want to shake up the world — Peterson is happy just to deliver the goods. Sure, she’s a little older here, but nothing a push-up bra can’t solve. The song, as ever, remains the same. No harm in that.

Peterson and Pierson weren’t able to get any theatrical release for this one, but I’m betting they didn’t much try. Its straight-to-video fate was obvious from the outset, why fight it? This time around the company that put it out was an outfit I’ve never heard of before (and not since, either, for that matter) called Good Times Video. Their product features a perfectly-decent-if-unspectacular widescreen anamorphic transfer paired with a perfectly-decent-if-unspectacular 2.0 stereo soundtrack. As far as extras go, there’s a trailer, plus a pretty solid little “making-of” documentary. If you enjoyed the first Elvira flick, you’ll enjoy this one. You don’t need to see it, even if you saw and liked the previous film — but then there’s no reason not to, either, so there ya go.

"Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" Movie Poster

You really gotta hand it to Cassandra Peterson, creator (sort of, as I’ll explain in due course) of the world’s most famous horror movie hostess role : she’s been at this gig for getting on 30 years (!) now, and there’s definitely something sort of iconic about her whole shtick. And it’s not just down to her most obvious — ahem! — attributes, ‘cuz let’s face it, there are younger, better-looking ladies with bigger boobs who could’ve supplanted her from her throne years ago if they’d wanted to, and no one’s really even tried. I understand that they even came up with a “Find the Next Elvira” reality show and that no one won — it was just decided that nobody else could bring to the role what Peterson does.

Or something like that. I never saw the show so if I’ve got that wrong maybe someone can correct me. But the fact that Peterson’s still going strong in the part is all the evidence you need that even if they did find a “winner,” she never assumed the mantle of  Mistress of the Dark.

And do you want to know why I think the part will remain hers forever? It’s simple, really — underneath all that vampish corny OTT glam beats the heart of a genuinely talented comedic performer. Sure, the whole Elvira act is as groaningly lame and obvious as the movies she hosts (she starts this flick by sowing It Conquered the World on her late-night TV show) — you can count on her trotting out every heard-it-a-thousand-times boob joke in the world, plenty of gratuitous cleavage shots, campy-as-hell costumes and props — you know the drill. Yet she somehow takes two of the biggest taboos out there — sex and death — and makes them palatable. Safe. Even dully obvious.It’s one thing to de-mystify these two subjects, it’s another altogether to make them damn near family-friendly, which is exactly what she does.

Back in 1988, her whole tits, ass ‘n horror routine was even deemed palatable enough for NBC to green-light an Elvira sitcom. Along the way things got muddled up as they so often do in Hollywood, the show was canceled before the pilot was ever completed, and the pilot was picked up by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and transformed into (almost) a 90-minute feature film titled, unsurprisingly enough Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

You want surprises? You want a plot with twists and turns? You want the unexpected? Go elsewhere. The whole idea here is to serve up exactly what you would expect, and that’s kinda the beauty of it.

Elvira wants to ditch her movie-hosting job in LA and host her own Vegas revue. She’s got an offer she’s hot to take, but she needs to cough up $350,000 in production costs for the show from her own pocket. Lucky for her, a great-aunt that she’s never met has just passed away and she’s summoned to the town of Falwell, Massachusetts for the reading of said great-aunt’s will. The timing couldn’t be better as she’s just rebuffed the slimy and pathetic sexual advances of the Texas cattle magnate who just bought the TV station she worked at, and finds herself out of a job. Next thing you know she’s packing up her skull-festooned vintage Cadillac convertible and heading on a cross-country road trip to New England.

Once there, she finds she hasn’t inherited a pile of cash, after all, but instead has been left with a creaky old fixer-upper of a house, a yippie little dog, and an ancient recipe book. And from here I bet you can predict everything else on offer : this being New England the town is a puritanical backwater, and Elvira invokes the ire of her prudish neighbors, particularly one Ms. Chastity Pariah (played by Edie McClurg, who made a career out of playing nosy, overbearing neighbors). The recipe book is actually a tome full of powerful spells because her deceased great-aunt was a witch, just like Elvira. The horny teenage boys in town will do anything to try to catch a glimpse of our star’s hooters, and when spying through her bedroom window doesn’t work, they settle for remodeling her house in order to try to curry her — ummmm — favor, and maybe get paid in trade, if you catch my drift. Elvira gets the hots for a local thick-headed stud who owns a movie theater but doesn’t seem to catch on that our lady in black has the hots for him. The local PTA-type group doesn’t take kindly to all the boys in town going ga-ga for the new tramp —- err, vamp — in town. Her great-aunt’s devious brother knows the truth about the spellbook and will do anything to get it. Elvira hosts a midnight screening of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” at the aforementioned local stud’s theater to try to scare up some cash. The enraged townsfolk follow in the footsteps of their witch-burning ancestors and try to burn Elvira at the stake. Everyone wakes up and sees the error of their ways just in time and she leaves town having ended up making friends with everyone and heads for Vegas where her show opens to a packed house. The end.

Throw in all the tired tit-jokes we talked about earlier, lots of gratuitous cleavage shots as we talked about earlier as well, one obvious double-entendre after another, some very-near-but-of-course-not-quite nudity (this is strictly a PG-13 affair), a couple cheap special effects,   and a raucous, crowd-pleasing Vegas show number at the end that features a real special effects sequence that you absolutely gotta see to believe (I’ll say no more, apart from the fact that she gives her tassles one hell of a workout), and you’ve got what you could safely call an Elvira-story-by-the-numbers.

Director James Signorelli, a TV veteran who had been hired to helm the scuttled pilot, ended up sticking around to finish the feature film version, and he’s got a pretty basic, point-and-shoot style. You’re really just in this to see her, and any stylistic flourishes would just get in the way. He’s there to do a workmanlike job of showing off his leading lady, and that’s exactly what he does.

So, like I said at the outset, nothing original here. Nothing unexpected. Nothing even remotely surprising. But hell, it’s fun. Stupid fun, to be sure, but fun nonetheless. Peterson had her whole routine down to a science by this point (she was hired to be a horror movie hostess based more on her theatrical comedy work than her looks, and basically “created” the Elvira character on her own from a very brief outline provided by the TV station — while 1950s horror host Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira, might disagree, the fact that Peterson won a lawsuit for stealing her shtick that Nurmi filed against her tells you that she basically came up with this whole persona herself), and while you can safely predict pretty much every cue in this film, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just says that our gal Cassandra really knows what she’s doing.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is available on DVD from Anchor Bay either as a stand-alone release or on a double-feature disc with Transylvania 6-5000. The technical specs are the same for each — it’s a nice-looking widescreen anamorphic transfer with perfectly serviceable 2.0-channel stereo sound and no extras apart from the theatrical trailer and a text bio of Cassandra Peterson that’s pretty interesting reading.

Sometimes you’re just in the mood to get exactly what you’re bargaining for  from a movie. Next time you find yourself in one of those moods, you could do a lot worse than giving Elvira, Mistress of the Dark a go. Expect —- well, the expected. That’s not always such a bad thing.