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'Elvira's Haunted Hills'

This movie is a trick, not a treat

Friday, October 25, 2002

By Barry Paris Post-Gazette Film Critic

I'm told the original "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark" is a cult classic among twentysomethings now who were adolescent trick-or-treaters then (1988).

Scary bad Elvira doesn't even rise to the level of camp.

Me, I was homebound that Halloween and couldn't get out to the movies. It took forever to construct my son's Ninja Turtle shell and then, later, to examine his apples and popcorn balls for razor blades. Those were the good old days, when razor blades were your worst fear.

I'm stalling. There's a movie to review, but I'm temporizing because I love the Oaks Theater and its innovative programming and I hate being the one to tell you that "Elvira's Haunted Hills" is by far the worst Halloween movie I've ever seen.

You remember Elvira, a k a Cassandra Peterson, the TV schlock horror-hostess? Here in her second breathlessly awaited star vehicle, the time is half-past 1851 and the place is Carpathia. She is en route to Paris to do a cabaret act, accompanied by her hideously fat, unfunny maidservant (Mary Jo Smith). But they're forced to spend the night at a creepy castle, where Elvira is the spittin' image of Lady Elura, who was buried alive there.

The genre is "comedy horror," and director Sam Irvin -- not to be confused with the late Watergate committee chairman -- is attempting a spoof of Price/Poe/Corman pix like "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "House of Usher." Elvira aficionados like my friend Jared find it "strangely life-affirming" that such a character can actually go to Romania and make a movie with half-decent production values. He is correct existentially.

' Elvira's Haunted Hills '

RATING: PG-13 for mild sexual humor and violence.

STARRING: Elvira, Richard O'Brien, Scott Atkinson, Mary Jo Smith.

DIRECTOR: Sam Irvin.

OFFICIAL SITE: www.elvira.com/ehh


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The best I can do, by way of damning with faint praise, is to say it contains nothing the Legion of Decency would deem "morally objectionable in whole or part for all." Not a bit of nudity or profanity. The real reason for its PG-13 (instead of PG) rating has to be Elvira's boobs -- those grotesque orbs-in-bondage, seemingly composed of something closer to fiberglass than flesh. If I had the energy, I could write a brilliant essay on the toxic pop-sociological implications of Elvira's breasts, and publish it simultaneously in "Scientific American" and "Popular Mechanics."

Elvira's "Haunted Hills" is kitsch aspiring to camp. She also co-wrote the script, by the way -- and came up with one good line. When warned that "the village people say the castle is evil," she shrugs it off with, "Who listens to the Village People anymore?"

Give me Terminal Stare instead.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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