When you think about the start of the fall season, your brain probably goes to pumpkins, ghosts, free candy and Cassandra Peterson aka The Queen of Halloween aka the one and only: ELVIRA! Since the release of Elvira: Mistress of Darkness in 1988, she has taken over the world. From her quaint beginnings in Kansas to being the totally amazing face of the Movie Macabre showcase, filling young minds with dreams of the silver screen. Elvira is forever immortalized as one of the founding females in the horror film genre today. This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of her feature debut, and her rise to terrifying heights.
In case you aren’t always watching this film like I am, I’ll give you a quick recap so you can remember how great it is. Elvira, played the ever beautiful and talented Cassandra Petersen shows up in town with her “Macabre Mobile” to claim an inheritance from her great aunt. This was back in the time when people still had great aunts. Now we just have okay aunts. She decides to pick up and go to New England in pursuit of her monetary inheritance only to find out that she’s been given a house in a cozy New England hell hole. However, the house is haunted and is the home to a cookbook for witches and the most adorable glam punk poodle. When the locals get a look at her, they aren’t pleased. Oh, and at the same time someone is trying to steal her mysterious cookbook.
“… [Elvira] became an icon to girls everywhere who thought that horror was a boys club.”
I will never get over that house though. It’s like they reached into my brain and pulled out the house I had been designing since I was 6 years old. It’s perfection. Fun Fact: The studio rented every piece of furniture on the set, and at some point they forgot to return her infamous couch for seven years, resulting in a $25,000 late fee. And speaking of infamous items, The Macabre Mobile, her stunning 1958 Thunderbird car still appears with her at events. One last bit of trivia before we move on- A young babyfaced Brad Pitt auditioned of the role of one of the teenage boys but was turned down because she thought that he was too cute and proceeded to write ‘yum yum’ next to his name.
I want to gush about how much I love this film but I feel like you already know. I do want to point out that within the first 5 minutes of this movie Elvira is groped by an old rich white man and she immediately quits her job when her boss won’t defend her and then basically brutalizes the guy in front of everyone (including the live tv cameras). Barely 10 minutes later as she arrives in New England, two men at the local bowling alley bar try to intimidate her and ask for blowjobs and she responds once again with kicking ass and making a scene out of it.
This is huge, not only was she a prolific figure and icon in horror especially for women but she was showing us right away that she wasn’t planning on letting men sexualize her. She owns her looks and her sexuality and doesn’t apologize for it. She was a role model and she didn’t take any shit from any man. She had a way of creating a character that was sexy and quick witted that still commanded respect from, the audience, from her peers, and from horror fans everywhere. Having this power behind her, she became an icon to girls everywhere who thought that horror was a boys club. Without Elvira, Vampira, Lily Munster, Morticia and Wednesday Addams, gory gals like myself wouldn’t have found our place in this universe.
At 17, Cassandra Petersonn became the youngest showgirl in Vegas in the “Vive Les Girls” at the Dunes Hotel. Soon after Elvis, the King [no big deal], gave her some advice “You don’t want to stay here. This is not a town you should be in” and with that, she up and left for Europe to pursue her dreams of being a singer and actor. She succeeded quickly and landed roles in Federico Fellini’s Roma, and toured all over Europe with her Italian rock band The Snails. When she finally came back to The States, she moved to Hollywood to continue to hone her craft, joining the prominent improve group, The Groundlings.
“Thank you Elvira for being the role model we all needed growing up.”
Then in 1981, she went to audition for a horror tv show host that would make her an overnight sensation. This is where Elvira was born. With the birth of Elvira came the start of a new era for not only women in horror but women hosting a show on tv. This was huge. Elvira began appearing everywhere including MTV where she came equipped with a pumpkin and chainsaw. They even gave her the ill forgotten reality show The Search for The Next Elvira, which went nowhere sadly. Just so we are clear though, if this was made right now I would be on prime time and I would kill!
Today she is in the midst of writing her autobiography, a strong supporter of the gay rights movement and she is an advocate for animal rights. She’s hosted the Halloween themed amusement park Knott’s Scary Farms for the last 21 years, and although she says she is retired from that part of her, Elvira is still out there leading the charge. Thank you Elvira for being the role model we all needed growing up. Your story is one that proves that if you stick with it and take risks, you can achieve your dreams. It also helps that freaking Elvis told her to leave Vegas and get a voice coach. I feel like if Elvis tells you to do something, you’ll probably do it. He’s the king after all.
Last but certainly not least, Arrow Video has given us the Samhain gift of releasing Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark on blu-ray and we are forever grateful. It will feature everything from introductions with director James Signorelli, a newly revised version of the feature length documentary Too Macabre: The Making of the Dark, original storyboards, theatrical trailers and so much more. My birthday is coming up, just saying.