Elvira's Haunted Hills


Director: Sam Irwin


Director: James Signorelli

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The extras on the silly-ass DVD Elvira's Haunted Hills were more fun than the movie, conveying the director's & the star's love for the B-horror genre. I felt they'd both be fun to hang with at a con as they know exactly where fans are coming from, they are themselves super-fans. But alas, without being told in the extras that this film is supposed to be a parody of 1960s Roger Corman "classics," one would be hard pressed to figure out why the plotline & the gags are so dated & dumb, as they sure aren't effective as comedy.

When one watches for references to Corman there are plenty of them there, plus references to inapropos non-Corman films including the Titanic, though not a single one of these references can be regarded as particularly clever or witty. There's really only one good joke in the film -- the fat french maid ZouZou (Mary Jo Smith) seems always to have whatever Elvira needs on the spur of the moment tucked between her Fat French Maid boobs.

Too bad there weren't more bits as comically silly, but all too often what passed for "jokes" seemed at best to be gags Cassandra thought up when she was eleven years old & never let go of. A typical "humor" routine is Elvira trying to take off her shoes, bumbling into a vase & breaking it, & causing a rocking chair to rock on a cat's tail. That's it. That's the whole joke. My baby sister made up better jokes than that when she was eight.

Elvira Mistress of DarknessI liked Elvira's first film Elvira, Mistress of Darkness in which she arrives in a suburban neighborhood & carves a niche for herself among "normals." It was a charming horror spoof worth viewing more than once. Its humor was effective, as there were many opportunities to compare the beautiful goth chick Elvira to "ordinary" people in very whimsical ways. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times, the "tic tac pie" sequence was hysterical.

Not so Cassandra's next script, alas. There were no such opportunities for whimsical contrasts, & though a cast entirely of eccentrics might have added up to something just as good or better, there just aren't enough jokes to go around.

After twelve years of not being able to convince anyone to produce this awful script with her starring, she produced it herself. She should, perhaps, have just gone on to script number three a decade ago & not wasted all these years on this dumb dud. A minor factor is how in the intervening bakers-dozen years Cassandra Peterson had gone from Goth Chick to Goth Hag, so the boob jokes aren't quite as funny, & waiting so long to make the film may have have required a younger star to carry it off, though no one saddled with this script could be much better. Since I do find middle-aged goths sufficiently appealing, I enjoyed watching Cassandra even as a Goth Hag -- but the combination of no longer being able to pass for immortally young, in addition to her inability to write good comedy, is a bad combination.

The humor for the most part all fails. At most it makes you think "Oh, there's a joke. Oh, that's a joke too." But anything for a real laugh is hard to find. The story is no worse than the Corman films it claims to spoof, but often Corman has more intentional humor than this imitation (there are few horror comedies funnier than The Raven, especially Peter Lorre while trying on different clothes so he'll look nice for Boris). Elvira's Haunted Hills has all the mediocrity of average Corman plot, but without taking advantage of the intervening thirty-plus years to assess the weaknesses & strengths of vintage Corman in any comical manner. It comes across as a fair-to-miserable contempory imitation for the Drive-in Era, not a modern spoof at all. The real spoof of Corman he did himself -- in Little Shop of Horror & in Bucket of Blood -- & Cassandra should perhaps have studied those more closely to see what spoofing Corman well would look like.

Richard O'Brien from Rocky Horror is fun to see in any role, but he did not have much to work with, & he does not look brilliant by any means, though he's much better than Cassandra playing Elvira, alas. There are some good supporting performers such as the Fat French Maid "ZouZou" & young cursed girl from out of Corman's House of Usher -- both women are good comic actors & do as much as can be done with such a juvenile script. It's a rare case of a B-horror film having actors who are entirely competent -- but they're lost in an incompetent script. ÝThe whole "climax" of the film has ZouZou in a cage ignored entirely by the script, & when it comes to the moment of setting her free, there is no pay-off -- the "joke," if it is one, is she falls down & gets wet.

The problem with producing one's own script, when the script is this lousy, is no one forces you to rewrite it. Cassandra was her own boss, no one was going to tell her honestly, "This sucks. Can we get someone to do a rewrite & invest it with some actual humor & horror?" The director, best known for directing Phantasm, did impose some improvements on the script, including the Titanic reference to the sinking of the Usher-like house (not a good joke but better than Cassandra's attempts at comedy writing). But it all needed a much more complete rewrite before filming even began.

Have to face the fact, Cassandra wrote a bad script, no one would produce it because it was so bad, but she didn't believe it was bad & so she produced it herself, though not until she was approaching being too long in the tooth to play Elvira. The younger Cassandra was a sex-goddess & clown; the middleaged Cassandra is a clown only, & needs better material to pull off such clowning.

I don't regard myself as a comic writer, but even I could've invested this script with better comedy. Every set-up lacked a pay-off, & just about any horror fan or comedy fan could've fixed her script frankly. If she'd given the script to someone willing to tell her there's not much humor in it yet, it might've been cut to ribbons & rebuilt with some actual humor, then the good cast & competent director could've gotten their teeth into something.

One of the best bits was the "musical number" in the middle of the film -- that could have been brilliant, but it lacked anything approaching good choreography. The sets built in Roumania were vastly better than the film shot in those sets, & with an actual choreographer the musical number could've been as cool & outrageous as something from Rocky Horror itself, using every corner of the set. Failing to carry the dance up the staircase was only the most obvious lack; not getting the entire cast involved in the choreography left it unfortunate & thin. The whole dance routine could've been acted out in just the same way in any junior highschool gymnasium stage, & like the rest of the script's scenes, when the bit is done, it just sort of hangs there with no pay-off.

If Elvira's next film thirteen years from this one is called Goth Hag; or, Elvira Returns, then I'll go see it, as it'll at least be self-aware. But if the downward learning curve on scriptwriting continues into the pit, Ýthen it will be no loss if she cannot raise the vanity-funds to launch herself one more time.

copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl

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