Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Black Sheep video series looks back at Elvira’s Haunted Hills, starring Cassandra Peterson

The Elvira’s Haunted Hills episode of The Black Sheep was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

It’s always fun to see some of our horror heroes appear outside of their given role as it were. We’ve seen Stephen King appear in tons of his story’s adaptations, but he also showed up in things not associated with him like Sons of Anarchy. Sure, you get athletes that try acting, some that are even successful, but how about our beloved horror hosts? Many of them only stayed on the critique end of the movie spectrum but a couple have made the jump. Joe Bob Briggs appeared in a segment of the recent Scare Package as well as a deleted scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 but never got the spotlight in his own feature length film. And no, Hogzilla doesn’t count even if I can hear the chanting from here. Elvira though? She got 2 movies. Movies that happened to be over a decade apart. While Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is seen as a cult favorite, Elvira’s Haunted Hills (get it HERE) is seen as a misstep. So, what happened?

Cassandra Peterson, better known to us mortals as Elvira, was born in Kansas in September of 1951. She grew up in my current city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. In her young adult life she was an exotic dancer, the lead singer of an Italian band, and showed up in a few films including the final official Sean Connery James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. She would tour with a comedy troupe and almost land the role of Ginger in a Gilligan’s Island TV movie before being offered the TV Horror Host gig in the early 80s. This would lead to her own feature film with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark in 1988. It had her own brand of signature humor as well as all of the sex appeal and overall charm that you would expect from the late 80s. It was written by Peterson herself but also Sam Egan and John Paragon. Egan is an Emmy nominated writer who has mostly stayed in the TV realm but is comfortable writing within the genre. Paragon is actually Peterson’s frequent collaborator on all things Elvira and grew up in the northern part of Colorado, Fort Collins.

The movie would be directed by James Signorelli who was also the uncredited director of Police Academy 2 but would make an entire career out of working on Saturday Night Live. The movie would only make 5.5 million on its 7.5-million-dollar budget, a huge failure, and critically it was not exactly loved. These are the perfect elements to make a cult classic movie and that’s exactly what happened. The lack of success didn’t kill the Elvira brand however, as two years later we would get the Video Game version of the movie called Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. It followed the events of the movie, mostly, and was a mix of first-person gameplay and Point and Click, something very popular at the time. This would be followed by a sequel 2 years after that was called Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus. This time you play as Elvira’s boyfriend as he travels to a movie studio to save her from all the prop creatures that have become real.

Elvira's Haunted Hills Black Sheep

None of this did much to erase the failure of the first movie but in 2002 we received another film starring Peterson as her Elvira character. This would be released straight to video even though it did get special screenings in theaters. The first movie had some studio backing on its 7 plus million dollar budget while this one was a private affair to fund it’s 1.5 million but more on that later. Elvira’s Haunted Hills would be written by Peterson and Paragon who we already discussed but this time the directing duties would fall to actor, director, and producer Sam Irvin. Irvin had already directed a handful of movies, some direct to video, some theatrical, and some shot for TV and is still working today. He did Oblivion and its sequel for Full Moon but not a lot else that really jumps out even though he is a more than capable director.

The first film just exudes everything in the ’80s everything but this movie is a love letter to the Roger Corman Poe movies which is appropriate considering the budget limitations while also paying its respects the Hammer films of yesteryear. All of this is done in parody, of course, as for the Elvira character to work she needs to be silly and sexy. The movie follows Elvira and her servant Zou Zou as they attempt to get to Paris for the Can Can revue. While this isn’t a follow up to the previous film or even in the same continuity, it really doesn’t need to be. Elvira is the sort of character that is timeless and you can stick in nearly any era or setting. Zou Zou is played by Mary Jo Smith and it’s a shame she hasn’t done more as she is really great here and should have been given the chance to shine in more starring roles.

After the pair get kicked out of an Inn, they end up at Castle Hellsubus in the Carpathian mountains where they meet the eccentric family and figure out that they may have a hard time leaving. Apart from Peterson, the other standout performer and outstanding choice is that of Richard O’Brien as the Lord Vladimir Hellsubus. O’Brien is and always will be Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don’t just mean the movie either, he has been around since it first appeared and has shown up in a handful of other fun things. Parts in Flash Gordon, Dark City, Ever After, and the original Dungeons and Dragons film. He was also involved in the less successful Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment. It also has Scott Atkinson having a ridiculous accent as Dr. Bradley Bradley and Mary Scheer as the Lady Hellsubus. Atkinson was a TV regular with appearances on many of the top programs like JAG and Desperate Housewives and Scheer is a comedian who was on Mad TV before finding future success as a voice in Madagascar the show and a huge role on iCarly.

Dr. Bradley is the guide through the castle where we get a bit of the history of the family and castle. The movie had already provided sight gags and continues that with Obrien being the face in all of the paintings. It’s little things like this, that require exactly zero budget, that give a sense of fun to the movie that can make you ignore some of the things it’s missing. Petersons performance is great as usual from her fourth wall breaks to sense of humor even in dire situations. We learn that Elvira resembles the former lady of the house to a T and that there is a curse on the house. Vladimir’s niece also has the curse, and she looks it. I talked about the movie being a parody of the old Poe Corman movies and it works so well. You could do a double feature with any of those Vincent Price movies, whom this film is dedicated to actually, and it would be a fun watch.

Elvira's Haunted Hills Black Sheep

Elvira finally meets Lord Hellsubus in the cemetery and O’Brien chews the scenery like he hasn’t eaten in months. He tells the story of his wife’s tragedy and the curse itself. The family is definitely up to something even if we don’t know quite what yet. Elvira also meets and wants to have a fling with Adrian the stable boy who is hilariously dubbed by prolific voice over actor Rob Paulson. Intentional or not, it adds more to the movie with a history of dubbing, especially in Italian Gothic horror. After sleeping with Adrian, we see what really happened to the former madame Hellsubus. She was caught for infidelity and walled up somewhere in the castle for her crimes. While we don’t see exactly who it did, it makes sense for it to be Vladimir. Shortly after we discover that no one leaves the castle, alive or dead and the lord is actually quite crazy. He admits to burying his wife alive and is about to do the same to Elvira when she knocks him out. In walks Dr. Bradley with the counts new wife and Elvira overhears the true plot of the story unfolds.

It’s a simple, well-worn premise of the new wife and her lover driving the husband insane and taking over his fortune. Elvira knows now so they need to dispose of her but while on a torture device she is able to tell Vlad what is going on. Vlad, still pretty crazy saves Elvira and attacks the other two before turning his attention back to Elvira. He is still crazy after all. She is able to escape(again) and he ends up on the guillotine table where he decides he needs to split…sorry, I think the movie is starting to rub off on me. Adrian comes in and he, Elvira, and Zou Zou flee the castle and find a carriage that will take them out of the region. Unfortunately, we get the swerve ending where Vlad is the carriage driver. It’s not unfortunate that it happens, only that we will never get any kind of third movie but to be fair, that’s how a lot of these movies ended. Even the credits add to the feel by crediting Elvira as Elvira rather than Cassandra.

The biggest takeaway from this movie and the one that I hope will get more people to watch it is just how much Cassandra Peterson put into the movie. She and her husband funded it themselves because the character is such a passion for her. It’s a good little flick that does exactly what it sets out to and is a fun watch on its own or paired with the first Elvira movie. The first time I watched it, I wasn’t super into it but it really is an enjoyable time. Scream Factory put out one of their patented Blu Rays and Joe Bob recently had Cassandra on to host the movie. It was one of the rare times Cassandra showed up out of character to discuss Elvira and it was a wonderful meeting of the host minds, something they’ve done before but not about this movie. Haunted Hills is seen as inferior, but the truth is, it’s just different. Give it a chance to see why a good character with a fun script and people doing a passion project can get past any budget limitations and transcend how it performs.

A couple of the previous episodes of The Black Sheep can be seen below. To see more, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.