Judge Patrick Bromley is particular about his Houses of Horror.
The Mistress of the Dark is back.
It's a difficult thing to review this new double feature DVD of Elvira's Movie Macabre, one of several volumes of the Mistress of the Dark's rebooted weekly horror show currently airing in syndication. I'm thrilled to have Elvira back on the air, and lament the fact that once she's gone (I don't mean dead, I just mean not doing her TV show anymore), there isn't really going to be another horror host again. It's a conceit that has gone out of fashion, and new generations coming up could care less about watching B-movies on TV (edited and with commercials, no less) on a difficult-to-find channel, hosted by some man or woman cracking jokes in heavy makeup. Those days are over. Elvira's latest show is the dying gasp of a bygone format, and I'll happily support it until it's off the air. It's the last of its kind, I'm afraid.
With that in mind, I'm happy to have this new DVD of The Satanic Rites of Dracula and The Werewolf of Washington if only for the sake of posterity. Because besides nostalgia, there's really no reason to own a disc like this. The movies are bad. They look and sound pretty lousy. They've been edited for content and are broken up by Elvira's host segments (really for commercials during TV airings). Very few people would ever buy a disc like this for the movies themselves—particularly when you consider that they've been released before, even under the Movie Macabre label (in the case of Werewolf of Washington). The only draw, then, are Elvira's segments and commentary over the movies—of which, I'm sorry to say, there is not enough.
It's the kind of disc that ends up satisfying no one. The movies have been cut up and are interrupted, making it the wrong way to see The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Werewolf of Washington. But there's not enough Elvira, either; she rarely interjects into the actual movies (but does enough to disrupt anyone who wants to watch them as a pure experience, though who those people are I really can't say), and when she does it's very brief and not always terribly funny. The pre-commercial segments hold the most appeal, and even those are limited largely to double entendres and fairly lame puns (which has always been Elvira's stock and trade, and I would argue the groan-worthy lameness is kind of the point). Werewolf of Washington is the more entertaining of the two, because there's a whole political motif that runs through all the wraparound segments, including Elvira (real name Cassandra Peterson, but, then, you already knew that) doing an amusing Sarah Palin impression and giving a speech about shooting werewolves from a helicopter.
Do I need to discuss the movies themselves? There are plenty of prior releases of both and plenty of reviews if you're so inclined to read them. Of the two, I found Werewolf of Washington the more enjoyable of the two—despite the fact that The Satanic Rites of Dracula has a higher pedigree (what with it being a Hammer production and features Christoper Lee—who else?—in a starring role)—if only because it had a sense of self-awareness and is as much a satiric comedy as it is a horror movie. I'm not arguing that it succeeds in either of these arenas, but the very attempt lends the movie a lighthearted tone that makes it less of drag to get through than Satanic Rites. Neither movie is all that good, though, and would be almost impossible to revisit even under the auspices of Movie Macabre.
The DVD is about what you would expect. The programs are each presented in the original full frame television aspect ratio, and the Elvira segments look good—the colors are lush and deep and Elvira herself looks fantastic. The movies, on the other had, look faded and scratched and old—hardly the best prints you're going to find (though both movies have bounced around thanks to rights issues, meaning quality from version to version is wildly varied with most leaning towards 'not great'). The stereo audio track is fine; tinny and hollow during the movies, but delivering Elvira's jokes and theme song with acceptable clarity. If you've watched Movie Macabre on TV at all, you should know exactly what to expect from E1's DVD release.
The extras aren't all that great, either, which is a disappointment—if the program itself doesn't really warrant a purchase, maybe the bonus features could. Sadly, they don't. There's some footage of an Elvira photo shoot, a music video for a song called "Mistress of the Dark" by the band Ghoultown (in which Elvira appears) and some making-of footage of the video. There are some brief promos for other Movie Macabre airings (which would be a welcome inclusion for novelty's sake if they weren't so darn short), as well as one that's specific to the broadcast of Werewolf of Washington in which Peterson parodies former Delaware senate hopeful Christine O'Deonnell's "I'm not a witch, I'm you" PR campaign.
I encourage all fans of B-movies and creature features to seek out Elvira's Movie Macabre and watch it weekly on TV. That's the way it's meant to be seen. On DVD, it doesn't really hold up because it's not enough of any one thing. The movies themselves aren't presented in their original format, and there's not enough value-added content (like, say, Mystery Science Theater 3000, which provides running commentary over the whole film) to warrant a purchase or space in your collection. In a perfect world, a DVD would be released of all Elvira's bits and segments collected together; though they would presented without context (which, to be fair, is a lot of the fun), that's the stuff you're really coming for. The movies almost get in the way.
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