I could go on for hours about this story, because it’s so unbelievably entertaining. Everything completely works in this story, and not just because Claudette Nevins, cast as the mysterious and very powerful Empress of Evil, decided to play the part with the kink dialed up to eleven and the subtlety dialed down to one. Her back is arched in every single scene, she’s licking her lips, and she even gives herself a slow caress at least twice, suggesting that the network censors were not paying a drop of attention. And she is constantly, constantly laughing. She and her associate Lucrecia cackle like old Hollywood witches in every scene.
I remember Nevins worrying the heck out of me as a kid. All these little elements added up to some genuine troubles for five year-old me. I thought the Empress was really weird and really scary, without being able to explain why. Later on, I’d come to really appreciate the over-the-top camp masterpiece that it is. If I haven’t made it completely clear, the Empress and Lucrecia would not have been at all out of place running their hands over Tim Curry’s corset in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, meaning it’s not the sort of thing that a viewer’s going to catch until they’re in their teenage years.
But more about the production stands out as compelling and freaky than just the sex. The no-budget special effects forced the team to realize the script demands in weird, weird ways. At one point, a fire pit is created by dropping a jagged blue screen on the floor and chromakeying in a huge fire around Deidre Hall and Judy Strangis’s feet. At another point, a banshee – yes, a banshee – just wanders in to wail at our heroines and lead them into the Empress’s “Arena of Skulls” chamber. The banshee frightened the daylights out of Daniel, who looked at the screen from behind the sofa horrified, his eyes as big as dinner plates.
Absolutely everything about this story works. It’s incredibly fun, thunderously bizarre, and looks and sounds like nothing else on TV. It also has perhaps the pinnacle of stupid television narration, when Electra Woman says “We accept your challenge!” and the narrator solemnly intones “And so, Electra Woman accepts the Empress of Evil’s challenge.” How could you not just hug television as silly as this?