In preparation for our Elvira: Mistress of the Dark themed episode of the podcast, I decided to draw up this handy little retrospective about America’s favorite horror hostess. If you’re left jonzing for some more info about the iconic TV horror hostess, be sure to check out some of the sources for this article, which are nested at the bottom of the page!
Cassandra Peterson, better known around the TV landscape as Elvira, was born on September 17th, 1949, which makes her 70 years old at the time of writing this. After becoming a Las Vegas showgirl, having a rumored appearance in the 007 feature “Diamonds Are Forever,” and creating/taking her own variety show across the country, she rose to prominence in the 1980s with her highly self-aware and kitsch character Elvira, as well as her show, Elvira’s Movie Macabre.
Elvira’s inception was a simple one, Peterson took clear influence from the TV horror hosts of years past, with Elvira’s look clearly being modeled after the likes of the 1950’a horror hostess Vampira, who many remember for her now iconic appearance in Ed Woods’ Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Morticia Addams from the seminal television series The Addams Family.
Elvira’s purpose as a horror hostess was as simple as the job title implies it would be; all she had to do was host the movie. At the start of the program, as well as between commercial breaks, she would interject with some light comedy about the film, while also engaging in some pretty sharp wordplay. It’s a bit like those podcasts that revolve around people bantering about movies either while they’re watching it, or immediately after they’ve finished it… Hm… Was I just meta?
Before long, Peterson/Elvira’s star rose and her show, which was then based and aired locally in LA, began to be known around the country. She’d go on to appear on talk shows, beer commercials, comic books and even have her own line of videocassettes.
Then it happened. In 1988, Peterson got to write and star in her own campy horror comedy, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Almost mirroring the fate of the films she would cover on her show, the film underperformed at the box office, but found its audience on the video circuit, eventually becoming a cult hit and spawning a sequel in the early 2000’s.
As for Elvira herself, she’s still out there being her best self! Movie Macabre came back in 2010 using public domain movies and basically returned again, albeit with a different name, in 2014 as the Hulu original 13 Nights of Elvira. That was actually my introduction to the character, after only seeing her in random YouTube clips for a couple of years.
Oh, and the Vampira resemblence was totally noticed by Maila Nurmi, Vampira herself, who famously sued Peterson in 1988 for basically slapping a new coat of paint on Vampira and creating a career out of it. It’s hard not to see where Nurmi’s coming from with the claim but at the same time, Vampira was only locally broadcast in LA for a year, while Elvira has been around for what’s rapidly approaching 40. Suffice to say, I think there was a bit more to Elvira’s success than essentially being an 80s version of Vampira.
If you dug this little write up on the Queen of horror TV, be sure to let me know in the comments! Also, consider checking out our episode of our podcast on Mistress of the Dark!
Until next time, unpleasant dreams!