Thursday, October 02, 2014

Culture Shock 10.02.14: Elvira buries herself in her 'Coffin Collection'

Trigger warning: Some of the puns and alliterations in this column are particularly pungent and may produce prolonged paralysis. The author regrets nothing.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on the sofa of her 2010-11 series.
This time every year, the historic Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California, undergoes a transformation, becoming Knott's Scary Farm. It's one of the nation's most storied haunted attractions.

Returning to Knott's Scary Farm's 1,800-seat Charles M. Schultz Theatre this year "by overwhelming demand," is that horror hostess with the mostess, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It turns out you can't keep a good ghoul down. So, Elvira is dying on stage twice nightly in a Vegas-style variety show. That's about the only way nowadays you can catch her live — or even dead.

Elvira's alter ego, Cassandra Peterson, retired a while back from doing the convention circuit in character. And who can blame her? She's been donning her black, bouffant wig and pouring herself into that low-cut Morticia Addams dress for more than 30 years.

Who could have guessed Elvira would become a long-term gig or that the character, which Peterson created for local Los Angeles television, would go national, even international, like pancakes?

Elvira's original "Movie Macabre" show aired from 1981 to 1986 and featured Peterson's undead Valley girl persona hosting horrible horror flicks ranging from "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" to "Night of the Zombies." From there, Elvira branched out into merchandising, comic books, two feature films (1988's "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" and 2001's "Elvira's Haunted Hills") and a seasonal Coors Light ad campaign. You know you've hit the big time when you're shilling for the Silver Bullet.

More than almost any other horror host, Elvira has endured. But it was still a pleasant surprise when she returned to television for the 2010-11 season with a resurrected "Elvira's Movie Macabre."

Now all 26 episodes of Elvira's latest spell (including several never aired) are in one box set, "Elvira's Movie Macabre: The Coffin Collection," from Entertainment One.

At the height of her notoriety, Elvira became the
four-color hostess of DC Comics' "House of Mystery."
At a suggested retail price of $99.98, the 13-disc set isn't cheap, but the movies are. (If you're cheap, a few episodes are available at Elvira sticks with films that have fallen into the public domain. That used to happen when a production company went bankrupt and nobody renewed the copyright, or nobody bothered in the first place. Thus, Elvira serves up a bewitching buffet that includes classics such as "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" and "Night of the Living Dead," and not-so-classics such as "Attack of the Giant Leeches" and director William "One Shot" Beaudine's "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter." (Note: "Frankenstein's Daughter" is not to be confused with "Lady Frankenstein," which is also included in this set. #TheMoreYouKnow)

But don't think there's no star power here. The Coffin Collection conjures up a lot of name actors with bills to pay, including Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Dean Stockwell, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Jack Nicholson and Joseph Cotton.

Still, let's not kid ourselves here. The real star attraction is Elvira, draped across her red velvet sofa and letting it all hang out. Well, not all. This is a show that ran in broadcast syndication. This isn't HBO's "Same Old Gnomes," or whatever. For that matter, some of the movies are censored, too, to meet broadcast standards. (I'll pause while we all laugh at the idea of broadcast TV having standards.)

Under normal circumstances, I don't approve of watching movies that have been chopped up for TV, but in this case some of the alterations, such as the fogged-out "naughty bits" in "Lady Frankenstein," are entertaining on their own merits. And so is Elvira.

With skills honed as part of LA's Groundlings comedy troupe, Peterson makes even the lamest jokes get up and walk. Sure, it's kind of a slow, shambling, zombie-like walk, but fast zombies are an abomination, and don't you forget it!

Inviting a horror host into your living room is like serving comfort food to your brain, and Elvira is the chocolate-covered cheesecake of horror hosts.

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