“And if they ever ask about me, tell them I was more than just a great set of boobs. I was also an incredible pair of legs. And tell them… tell them that I never turned down a friend. I… never turned down a stranger for that matter. And tell them… tell them that when all is said and done, I only ask that people remember me by two simple words… Any two, as long as they’re simple.” – Elvira
Rewatching Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for the first time since I was a kid, I went in with fairly low expectations. I only vaguely remember when Cassandra Peterson’s alter-ego was “Mistress of All Media,” appearing in everything from Muggs Root Beer commercials to the pinball machine in my local laundry mat. I hadn’t followed her career since, hearing only of her reality show and the revival of her Movie Macabre film hosting series. The idea of her in my mind wasn’t a positive one – I saw her as goth-splotation, a vapid eye-candy character for selling things to straight men each Halloween.
I was wrong. I was missing the point.
The truth is that Elvira could be the poster child for the SlutWalk movement. While she certainly appeals to straight men with her low-cut, high-slit dress and “This one goes to 11″ sexuality, it is all on Elvira’s terms. Nowhere is this on better display than in her 1988 film debut, where the humor mostly comes from two sources: Innuendo about her promiscuity, and her verbally and physically shutting down men who think her attire and behavior denies her the right to say no.
The film wastes little time establishing this, actually, in a scene where her station owner ends up writhing in pain after sexually harassing her. “I thought you said she was a nympho!” he whines to the manager as Elvira quits her job hosting crappy movies over the incident. Thus the message is sent: Elvira can wear a skimpy dress, joke about her breasts and her promiscuity, and still retain her rights to say no with being groped. She’ll also kick your ass if you don’t get it.
The point’s further made by Elvira’s love interest in the film – actually the only person she shows any interest in sexually. Looking like he fell off a package of Brawny paper towels, the man is sheer cheesecake and also extremely friendly, respectful and kind. For once, it’s the female protagonist who gets her fantasies fulfilled. In another reversal, he’s also completely passive – Elvira literally has to throw herself at him.
It’s important to note that Cassandra Peterson co-wrote the film, so this isn’t just a heterosexual male idea of empowered female sexuality. I should also say that the movie isn’t just a feminist thesis – it’s hilariously witty and just silly enough to be fun. It’s not completely perfect – there are a couple fat jokes and small-breast-shaming put downs. It’s also a comedy of the late ’80s focused on a cultural icon, meaning it has to end with bad rapping. But hey, this is Cinema Sans Irony for a reason – if you can roll with the punches a little this is an excellent Halloween comedy.
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. You can watch the entire thing on Youtube, but come on, seriously?
Sometime I’ll talk about 2001′s Elvira’s Haunted Hills, which is an equally great movie but very different (and you have to be a Roger Corman/Vincent Price fan to get it). Until then, unpleasant dreams….