Horror Reviews

Thursday, November 6, 2008

DVD Review: Elvira's Haunted Hills

Review by Kristin Battestella

I may like many an obscure thing, but I’ve never had to explain to anyone who Elvira is. The buxom goth gal has made her cheeky presence know to audiences young and old for over twenty five years. Not just a relic of an over the top eighties heyday, the 2001 sequel Elvira’s Haunted Hills provides fun and scares to a modern audience.

Lost in the Carpathian mountains in 1851, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) and her servant Zou Zou (Mary Jo Smith, Almost Perfect) hitch a ride with Dr. Bradley Bradley (Scott Atkinson) to the Castle Hellsubus. The creepy estate and its master, Lord Vladimere (Richard O’Brien) are trapped under the weight of the Hellsubus family curse. Tonight also happens to be the tenth anniversary of Elura Hellsubus’ death- and Vladimere’s first wife looks just like Elvira!

Naturally, the first thing you notice about Elvira’s Haunted Hills is the anachronistic style of Cassandra Peterson’s alter ego. It’s 1851 and yet Elvira’s still got the high hair, valley speech, and sexual innuendo that made her a cult favorite in 1983. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but the fun Peterson is having and the asides to the fourth wall allow the audience to laugh with Elvira because she can laugh at herself. This makes the viewer’s leap easy for the over the top characters of Dr. Bradley and Lady Ema Hellsubus (Mary Scheer, MadTV). Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is above and beyond as well, but also very old fashioned and high styled like the Vincent Price classics of old.

Financed by Peterson’s own company and family and friends, Elvira’s Haunted Hills actually has some fine production values. The very informative behind the scenes feature on the DVD confesses director Sam Irvin’s (Dante’s Cove) love of the Roger Corman classics and the homage Haunted Hills is trying to reach. The castle set looks real enough and has that lofty, gothic style of its black and white predecessors. Some lines and sets are taken directly from The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) and the homages blend seamlessly with Elvira’s wit. She may be a valley ditz onscreen, but Peterson’s witty script and intelligent development of the character is what’s kept Elvira fresh all these years.

Haunted Hills was filmed on location in Romania, and many local cast and crew were employed. Although Peterson feared it would fail, one great dubbing gag allows for more humor and tribute to low budget Hollywood. Despite her busty persona and high slit skirt, Elvira’s Haunted Hills also has clever sexual quips and innuendos. The film’s PG-13 rating is poked at onscreen, and the mostly tame by today’s standards sex jokes won’t interfere with a tween or younger viewing.

Besides the equally funny Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), there are many Elvira appearances. Some silly like I Love The 80s, but Elvira’s Macabre horror hosting gigs have also found their way to DVD-another great chance to introduce young folks to some great old time horror classics. If you have a macabre child in the making, Elvira’s Haunted Hills is a great way to give him (or her) something funny and something spooky that mature folks can enjoy, too.

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