Featured: Top of Home Page

Two Heads and Shoulders: 'Elvira's Movie Macabre'

It was only a matter of time before the general public missed the hostess with the most-est. For her part, Elvira and her creator haven't aged a bit - and for anyone who loves bosoms and bad movies, that's a goofball godsend.


The Manster

Director: DJ Viola
Cast: Cassandra Peterson
Extras: 4
TV Series: Elvira's Movie Macabre

It was only a matter of time before a certain Mistress of the Dark made a comeback. As she sat on the sidelines, counting her cult and picking her projects (including a weird reality show looking to discover the next great horror hostess???), original post-modern TV fright queen Cassandra Peterson, aka the fetching fiend Elvira, did her own version of one Pee-Wee Herman. As big an icon in the '80s as the flailing manchild (they both came from the same improv background), she knew the time would come when her quirky, ironic shtick would find new favor. Thanks to the Internet and the undying love for bad movies, the groundwork was all but set. All she needed was a push - and the bifurcated (Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic) but still beloved affection for Mystery Science Theater 3000 argued for a return of Elvira's Movie Macabre.

Currently syndicated and sharpening up Saturday nights, the new show may offer amplified production values and a slick new intro, but for the most part, it's the same sensational spoof as 25-plus years before. Ms. Peterson, who still looks smokin' hot at 60(!), dons the familiar Vampira meets Valley Girl get-up, complete with enhanced cleavage and stripper Goth gal wardrobe, and riffs on the lowest of the low budget Hollywood bungles. By now, thanks to a world wired web that's overdosed on Z-grade schlock, the titles are ingrained in our consciousness. Luckily, our hilarious horror hostess still has something fresh and new to say. Even better, we're now getting an even quicker turnaround to home theater via DVD. Encased in a couple of crap efforts - the baffling The Brain that Wouldn't Die and the equally awful The Manster, we get discussions on the current economy as well as a possible immigration crisis. And you thought all Ms. Peterson was is partially exposed breasts and creepshow burlesque

The Brain the Wouldn't Die is one of those much maligned cl-assics that deserves all the criticism it gets. The story centers around a brilliant scientist who just can't leave his work back at the lab. So he takes it home with him. His research centers around...aw, who cares. All we know is that he's some kind of mad genius, his assistant is a whiny old man, and there's something sinister locked away in a basement closet. When our hero's fiancé dies in a terrible car crash, he salvages her head and takes it back to his underground lair. There, he keeps it alive via tubes and plot contrivances, eventually discovering that the severed noggin can speak. As his vivisected sweetie harangues him, our head-pecked doc drives around, looking for a suitable body for a planned reattachment. Unfortunately, the head has other ideas.

As a perfect b-movie follow-up, we get The Manster, a similarly themed exercise in experimental science gone potty. When a reporter arrives at his isolated mountain retreat, a famed Japanese geneticist is none too happy to see him. You see, the manic medico has been experimenting with some of the locals, and his "results" are repugnant at best. Naturally, the humble host drugs the journalist and injects him with some funky serum. Before you know it, our scribe is living the high life in Tokyo, avoiding deadlines and cheating on his earnest American girlfriend. When a growth on his shoulder turns into a second head, however, all bets are off. Soon, the writer turns into a terrifying killer, looking for vengeance and seeking out the one who made him this way for one finally pass at payback.

Taken in tandem, both The Brain that Wouldn't Die and The Manster and pure black and white wastes of time. They are neither scary nor suspenseful and offer effects so "special" they belong in their own isolated classroom at school. This is shortbus cinema, the kind of unimaginative tripe that used to fill up screening space at the neighborhood passion pit. Couples could care less about the level of authenticity or narrative reality. All they needed was a few hours of alone time to make the night's date all the more...memorable. Of the two, Manster is more intriguing. It comes with a patented Japanese/American/WWII subplot, as well as a mixed race cast. While the final act is silly, getting there offers a couple of clever twists. As for Brain, it's just a confusing mess. Before we know it, our lady in the casserole is calling out everyone and telepathically linking with the "thing" in the cage. The last minute arrival of the monster is a hoot, but for the most part, this is a trying, talky slog.

Luckily, we have Elvira to make the motion picture pain a bit more manageable. With her comic persona and come hither allure, she's the perfect companion to a compendium of crap. As we struggle with some of the scenes, she will jump in and add a joke (unlike MST3K, she doesn't do a continuous commentary or constant riffing). At each commercial break - mandatory for her survival in syndication - we get mini-skits and moments of levity. During Brain, the focus in on a game show appearance as a way to make some money. Eventually, Elvira gets the bright idea of using her own smart severed head to win. As for Manster, our heroine discovers that her visa is about to run out and, unless she can find a way around it, she will be deported. Naturally, she has a pair of back-up "assets" that help her avoid legal calamity.

For the most part, Ms. Peterson is a bubbly and sincere personality. Her characterization of Elvira is half hopped up horny, half wink and a nod suspicious . We never once get the feeling that she's relying solely on her body to get by, but do recognize the fact that she's got a viable flesh fallback position when needed. As for the show itself, it's a jovial b-movie cavalcade, a means of making people laugh while highlighting some of the worst movies of all time. Of course, costs and rights issues limit what Peterson and her producers can procure, but in the end, the choices are always perfect for the talent's tongue in cheek takes. It was only a matter of time before the general public missed the hostess with the most-est. For her part, Elvira and her creator haven't aged a bit - and for anyone who loves bosoms and bad movies, that's a goofball godsend.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.