Dressed all in black, Elvira is the queen of screams, the Mistress of the Dark, her look synonymous with late night B-horror movies and Halloween costumes. Elvira is the horror hostess with the most-ess who has been endlessly parodied in film and television thanks to her enduring appeal as a sexy-yet-smart quick-witted personality. Elvira has been portrayed by actress Cassandra Peterson since late 1981. At FanExpo Canada in August, Peterson appeared as Elvira to speak with fans.
Elvira began her career in the early 1980s as hostess of Elvira’s Movie Macabre, a showcase of B-grade (or worse) horror movies. Often interrupting the barely watchable films, Elvira would make quick-witted remarks lampooning the actors, script, and often horrendous editing. Peterson was at once making fun of the films, and herself as Elvira as she has became known for her over-the-top vampy look with a low-cut black dress and towering beehive hair-do.
Despite her risqué ensemble, Peterson says that she’s only ever had one major wardrobe malfunction, but usually has trouble getting in and out of cars with her bee-hive, which she nicknames her “knowledge bump.”
The demand for Elvira to make appearances grew in the 80s and she was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as well as made cameo appearances in several TV series and films, but it is the bad horror movies that she loves most. “I like to have fun with bad horror movies,” she says. “The naiveté of B-horror movies are the best. They think they are the best [or] serious but they’re not.” Peterson would watch the movies on Elvira’s Movie Macabre sometimes 30 and 40 times and make notes for her commentaries, and even then, “Somethings are too bad, even for my show” she claims.
For Peterson, Elvira is all about empowering women and proving that “women can be funny too, especially in a traditional male-dominated industry” like comedy. Growing up, Peterson admired and was influenced by Phyllis Diller’s brand of comedy as she was one of the first feminist heroes.
Elvira has become one of those heroes as her philosophy is all about empowering women and that, “being sexy doesn’t always mean being a bimbo. Women who are normally powerful look like Margaret Thatcher, and very few combine power and sexiness. Madonna and Cher are examples of sexy, strong, smart women,” and she strives to keep Elvira in this realm. Every the role model, Elvira’s Movie Macabre are rated PG-13 since they’re more funny than scary, and “Elvira never swears.”
One of Elvira’s biggest secrets to enduring success is branding herself and becoming synonymous with Halloween. As a child, Peterson’s mother owned a party shop and the holidays infiltrated her daily life stating “I grew up with Halloween. And now, every Halloween I’m back; I’m everywhere.”
Are you brave enough to endure some of the best B-movies with Elvira? Check out the best of Elvira’s Movie Macabre: