My Misspent Youth In Films...
Hot To Trot
Directed by: Michael Dinner
Starring: Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, John Candy
Released: August 26, 1988
Directed by: James Signorelli
Starring: Cassandra Peterson, Phil Rubenstein, Larry Flash Jenkins
Released: September 30, 1988
What I Thought Then
For a family with an extensive VHS collection, we purchased very few of them new. Most of our movies were... uh... time-shifted indefinitely from TV, but a significant portion were purchased second-hand from the video rental section of our grocery store. Because, yes, grocery stores rented movies even before Redbox. I have no idea why we owned (or were allowed to watch, frankly) these two movies other than they were $2 and the cover looked like something the kids might like. Needless to say, I loved them both.
What I Think Now
Hot To Trot is a "comedy" starring a man named "Bobcat" playing against a "horse" that is "acted" by John Candy. The movie opens with Bobcat's mother having just died, leaving half of her brokerage firm to her son as well as a talking horse name Don who is unexpectedly good at picking stocks for reasons that are never fully explained. This puts Bobcat at odds with his stepfather, Dabney Coleman wearing "comedy" false teeth. After that they... you know what, it doesn't matter. There's barely a plot. Something about a horse race. A bunch of animals destroy Bobcat's fancy new apartment. It's Bobcat Goldthwait doing his Bobcat Goldthwait shtick all over the place against a background of jokes that stand-up comics thought should have been in Mr. Ed.
Most of it is painfully unfunny, but a couple of the jokes land. At one point Don and Bobcat (his character has a name, but it's just easier to think of him as Bobcat) are hitchhiking and Don gets picked up while Bobcat gets left behind. Burgess Meredith voices Don's dad, who lives in a stable with a human shoe nailed above the door. There's a scene towards the end where Don is talking while Bobcat is mouthing the words, and that's an amusing bit of meta-humor. And I guess it's kinda funny that one of the screenwriters is named Neigher. What's not particularly funny is John Candy as the voice of Don. Without his boisterous personality on screen, his jokes just feel tired or mean. Apart from that, the horse wrangling is impressive. I can see why I dug it as a kid. It's also paced like a children's movie--it zips from scene to scene without any build-up of narrative tension or even a single establishing shot. Honestly, if the racier--and racister--jokes had been cut out, this might have worked really well as a children's film. But as it is, it's a stinker.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark sees Cassandra Peterson's late-night B-movie horror presenter character (try saying that five times fast) moving to the big screen, and there is no better comparison for this movie than Wayne's World. It has the same energy, the same 4th-wall-breaking, self-deprecating, broad-parody, slapstick comic sensibilities, and is of roughly the same quality. And I mean that as a compliment. It's really funny. I giggled through the whole thing. Elvira's sexy punk/vampire aesthetic is transplanted to a small town America for maximum humorous juxtaposition. While there she has to contend with her evil warlock uncle, played by a scenery-chewing W. Morgan Sheppard, and a local busybody named Chastity Pariah, played by Edie McClurg in exactly the kind of role you hire Edie McClurg to play. In fact, the background casting all-around is solid, including Pat Crawford Brown (google her, you'll recognize her) and Kurt Fuller (Oh, hey! Kurt Fuller's in this!) in one of his first film roles. Oh, Elvira also has a magical poodle. Because why not?
The jokes range from dumb to aggressively dumb, but they're generally funny. There are throwaway gags like a troop of Girl Scouts roasting marshmallows at a witch burning, humorous set pieces like a will-reading re-imagined as a game show, and elaborate sight-gags like this extended joke involving a movie theater marquis. There's also a low-key thread of what passed for feminism in the 80s that I find endearing. Elvira is extremely confident in her sexuality and willing to use it to achieve her goals (why was 10-year-old Kurt allowed to watch this?) but a number of men grab her breasts over the course of the film and they always face immediate violent repercussions. Now, I don't want to make this out to be something it's not--she also thwarts one of her low-level antagonists by revealing that her bra is stuffed. But it's a different take than you expect to see from this era: a prominent female character whose overt sexuality is not portrayed as a flaw or a weakness, but as just another aspect of her character, and one that is not automatically on offer to the men around her.
The movie does fall apart a little at the end. The story mechanics are all in service of getting Elvira to Las Vegas with $50,000 seed money so she can do a show there, and in the end we get to see part of that show in what's essentially a musical coda to the film. She sings. She dances. She raps (it was the late 80s after all... and it's probably the most cringe-inducing thirty seconds of the entire film). She twirls her tassels. Yup. Tassels. I was fascinated by this as a child (again... why was I allowed to watch this?), not because "bewbs" necessarily... Okay... a little because "bewbs", but mostly because it was an impressive physical feat. She'd spin them one a time, both at the same time, both in the same and then in opposite directions. I certainly couldn't do that. Anyway. Bewbs.
Hot To Trot is bad, although for bad-movie enthusiasts, at 83 minutes, it's a very consumable length of bad. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark holds up surprisingly well, even if the last couple of minutes get a little cringey.