There are few horror icons who are instantly recognizable. Karloff, Lugosi, Price, Cushing, Lee … but there are even less who are women. Arguably the most recognizable of these is the luscious Elvira – Mistress of the Dark and her creator, Cassandra Peterson.
Elvira came into the public eye in the late spring of 1981 when Peterson auditioned for a horror movie host role at KHJ-TV when the powers-that-be there sent out a casting all for someone to host their weekly horror show. The sultry Elvira – clad in a black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown – soon became a cultural phenomenon. With her dark, Morticia Addams-like makeup, a towering black beehive wig, and wickedly vampish appearance, her comical character was offset by a quirky, quick-witted personality and valley girl-type speech. Soon, her influence was seen on everything from beverage ads to pinball games to major motion pictures.
On June 14th, 2011, Entertainment One (eOne) is releasing a line of Double Feature DVDs of her nationally syndicated television show, Movie Macabre (DVD reviews here), the first of which will feature George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead & I Eat Your Skin, as well as Hammer Film’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula with The Werewolf of Washington. Future DVDs will pair films such as The Terror (starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson) with Eegah! and Scared to Death (starring Bela Lugosi) with The Manster.
Dread Central spoke at length with that Maven of Monstrosity, Elvira – Mistress of the Dark (as well as her charming doppelganger Cassandra Peterson) and got the lowdown on what she’s been up to.
Dread Central: So you enjoy doing these types of interviews?
Cassandra Peterson / Elvira: I do. I don’t mind doing it. I don’t know that I’d want to do it every day, but… [laughs] [whimsically] I love talking about myself…
DC: Yeah, me, me, me, me, me…
DC: To begin with, I wanted to ask you… There used to be an issue with the separation between Cassandra and Elvira…
CP/E: Yeah… not anymore. [laughs]
DC: Ok, good.
CP/E: I was trying to establish the character more from the beginning. The only other person I have to compare it to is like Pee Wee Herman. You know… I wanted to be in character and have people think that was a real person… like Santa Claus. [chuckles] So, by exposing your real personality all the time, it can kind of backfire, you know?
DC: Do you think there can be a danger sometimes of one side of a character taking over? I mean Andrew “Dice” Clay got completely lost in his…
CP/E: Yeah… literally. You know, I don’t mind that because, unlike most characters (not him in particular), but… like Mr. Sulu or someone from STAR WARS, they don’t own their characters. It belongs to a studio and they own the character and that person is just a “work for hire.” I, unlike them, own my character, so for a while I was like, “Oh, boo-hoo… I only get to do Elvira: and then somebody slapped me and woke me up and I realized I owned this character. Everything I do with the character, I reap the benefits of. So, it’s different for me. I don’t know if that’s exactly what you’re asking, but… You’re asking if I can get lost in the character. No, really… I think Elvira is just me when I was a teenager. I’m pretty sure now that I’ve figured this out. It is how I was when I was a teenager. So, for me to be that character, it’s part of my own personality that I already had.
DC: You follow in a long line of horror movie hosts which I grew up with and absolutely love. I was a big Bob Wilkins guy.
CP/E: Were you really? Where did you grow up?
DC: San Francisco area… Oakland.
CP/E: I was going to say you had to be San Francisco. Do you know John Stanley, too?
DC: Oh, yeah… Yeah, yeah.
CP/E: I love those guys.
DC: Bob was amazing. I sort of helped try to raise some money for him when he got sick.
CP/E: I did, too! I sent some stuff for him also. That was sad.
DC: Do you feel that you are keeping up that horror host tradition? Did you watch a lot of that kind of stuff growing up?
CP/E: Well, you know… strangely, I did not watch horror hosts growing up because I’m from Kansas and we were too poor to have a horror host. So, oddly… I didn’t have a horror host where I lived when I was a kid. But… I was into horror. I was very much into horror. The horror I grew up with was the horror I kind of make fun of now on my show. For me, it has very nostalgic feelings. I love that kind of horror. I love the Fifties and Sixties, black & white… THE KILLER SHREWS, ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES… that kind of innocent, misguided horror. [laughs] It was so naïve. For me, it’s really nostalgic, y’know? So, although I didn’t have a horror host, I was very much into horror.
DC: You brushed up on those guys pretty quickly, I’d imagine.
CP/E: Oh, yeah! I have met I think every horror host that ever existed and talked to them and we keep in contact with each other. So, yeah… I caught up on them very quickly. Zacherley was the first one I met and I was very impressed by him. He’s such a great guy.
DC: I’m interested in your personal viewing habits. Do you keep up with a lot of the stuff that’s coming out now?
CP/E: Strangely, I don’t. [laughs] I hate to say it. I like some stuff, but… I was just in a movie called ALL ABOUT EVIL and I loved that movie. It’s campy and I think I like the campy horror. I like something that has a little bit of humor maybe injected into it. The things that I’ve liked most recently have been the zombie take-off movies like SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND. I loved those because they have a humorous aspect. So, I kind of like that element of horror and if there’s more horror out that is more to do with supernatural, ghosts, demons, monsters… I like that kind of horror, but as far as things like SAW… that type of horror… I don’t like. I don’t like to watch it. I’m not interested.
DC: Do you think that horror as a genre at some point lost its innocence?
CP/E: Oh, yeah… definitely it did. I mean, god more recently… The more Special FX that come in, the less there is that is left to the imagination. I think one of the scariest movies ever was PSYCHO. I mean, I can hardly watch PSYCHO. I really can’t even still because what’s in your imagination is just much more horrible than what anybody can put on the screen. Even with Special FX. I don’t know… BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. It’s not like it was my favorite movie, but I have to hand it to them. I thought it was really smart. Basically, there was nothing really going on. Everything scary was pretty much in your brain. You kind of had to manufacture it yourself. I liked that because I think everything’s done for everyone these days. You don’t even have to think any more. You just go on and they tell you what to think.
DC: Stephen King said in Danse Macabre that it’s the hint of the thing behind the door that’s scary and, once you open the door, you can kind of get your head around it and it becomes less frightening.
CP/E: Exactly! It’s even like… It’s so funny, Playboy asked me for several years to do PLAYBOY Magazine as Elvira and I gave it some loooooong thought because they were offering me a LOT of money. And I was at a convention doing a panel and I actually took a vote of my fans whether they thought I should do it or not. because I was ok with it. I mean, I danced semi-nude in Las Vegas. I was a showgirl, so it’s hardly like I’m shy. I couldn’t have cared less about that part. But the fans said to me that I would lose the mystery of Elvira. I’d lose that side of Elvira which they said was so important and I started thinking about it and Elvira shows just enough to pique your interest, but not enough that it lets the cat out of the bag. [laughs] So, it’s exactly what you were talking about as far as horror goes to me. “I can see everything, what else is there?”
DC: I think the implication of the character is much more effective than if it were to step across that line.
CP/E: I definitely think they were so right. Thank god I have smart fans! I really would have done it because I was offered as much money as the most money that was ever offered beside Farrah Fawcett to do PLAYBOY. It was very tempting, I gotta tell say, but I’m glad I didn’t do it in retrospect. I think the character is still liked by a lot of kids. I know the character is still liked by a young audience also. People are surprised by that because I’ve been around so long, but it has a whole new, younger audience and I think it’s a good thing I didn’t do it.
DC: What made you decide to bring Movie Macabre back?
CP/E: Well, it wasn’t so much a decision as it was that I lucked out because I’d really been trying for twenty years to get the television shot out again. The major problem was trying to get the films. Pretty much unless you get public domain films, you can’t afford to do a show like mine. And I was doing other projects like making my movie HAUNTED HILLS and the reality show and making some various film and video series that I did for various people, so… I was busy. But in between, I was always trying to get another TV show together and I was just not able to make it happen. Finally, just twenty short years later, I found somebody – a syndication company – that was able to pull it together.
DC: The show is on in over one hundred and twenty stations across the country. Do you plan to try and broaden that scope?
CP/E: Yeah, they’re working on selling more stations all the time. So, hopefully… I think it looks good that they are going to continue to add markets and keep it going. I’m already planning next year. I do have to say that I am trying to get it onto cable. Syndication is fantastic and I’m thrilled that I’m doing it, but I gotta say it proves very difficult for people to find me in a lot of markets. It’s on digital stations and it’s on at really weird times, mostly like three or four in the morning. People are having a helluva time trying to find it. If you have a different cable provider, it’s on a different station and it’s really weird. In some markets it’s fine. In some markets, it’s impossible for people to find. So, I’m really trying to find a home for it on cable. That would be ideal. At least you’d know which cable station you could go to and find it. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to be on in syndication.
DC: I found it interesting… I was going through some Netflix stuff, looking for some older films, and I found many had gone out of print and the only way for someone to get hold of them was by renting some of the older episodes of your show. It was the only way some of these titles are available.
CP/E: Well, I’ll tell you why… When I started my local television show, it was on a station here called KHJ-TV in Hollywood, and they were owned by RKO. So, I had that whole library of RKO films at my disposal… and those weren’t just films MADE by RKO. They were what was in RKO’s library from many different film studios. Even when I was in syndication I used their library. So, I aired these movies that other people wouldn’t be able to get because they were owned and locked up by RKO. Then, RKO had to let go a bunch of stations and it was eventually sold. I’m not sure what happened to that library, but… that was how I got those. God knows where they are. They could even be tied up in legal thing because RKO had contributed illegally to the Nixon campaign [laughs] and they got in all kinds of trouble. This is really a long, weird story, but… that’s why you probably can’t find some of those movies very easily.
DC: Did you have a hand in picking what was shown on the show?
CP/E: Not in the beginning. They were more like foisted on me rather than chosen. When I was at the TV station, it was what they had and what they were going to air and that was it. One of the things I like about my show now is that I have total control. I wish there were more films available that I could afford, but what is out there, I get to pick what I like. Unfortunately, syndicators would rather have movies made in color. There’s a lot of black & white films I’d like to have, but they really, really want me to do color and there’s not as many public domain films in color. There just aren’t ‘cause they’re late Sixties and early Seventies and then public domain was no longer.
DC: That kind of makes me sad…
CP/E: Me, too!
DC: …the idea that people – especially younger people – will say, “I don’t watch films in black & white” and “I don’t watch films that are sub-titled.”
CP/E: Absolutely. It’s kind of a bummer. Did you say you liked black & white or you don’t?
DC: I love it!
CP/E: Me, too!
DC: I prefer film in black & white.
CP/E: I know! I really, really do… and the syndicators were like, “Oh, we can’t sell that. It’s black & white.” But you haven’t seen it… “No, nobody wants to see black & white.” I don’t get it. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t get whether it’s black & white or color makes or breaks a good movie. It’s either a good movie or a piece of crap. What does color have to do with it?
DC: They say we dream in black & white and they also say that films are our dreams, so… especially when you look as something as beautiful as – and I use the word “beautiful” really loosely – the first ten minutes of so of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist.
CP/E: Oh, god yes!
DC: The first ten minutes of that just kills me, the high contrast black & white.
CP/E: It’s beautiful. It is. I totally agree. There are so many things. And you were just saying, subtitles, too. Nobody wants to see subtitles. It’s a bummer. That just has no effect on me. I guess it’s people who can’t read very well. I don’t know. If a movie is subtitled, that makes absolutely noooo difference to me.
DC: A big sawhorse of mine is American film versus foreign (like say Asian) product. There’s often no comparison as to which one is better.
CP/E: I know. I saw THE RING… oh, god. Too scary to even watch.
DC: There’s so much good stuff coming out of there it’s crazy.
CP/E: There’s the one where the Japanese girl keeps cutting the guy’s arm off… and his leg. He’s tied up…
CP/E: Oh, my god!!! Wheeew!
DC: Not to get too far afield, but… Takashi Miike (Audition’s director) is amazing. This is not genre product, but…his new film, 13 Assassins that rocks.
CP/E: I’ve heard about it! I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t seen it.
DC: It’s a throwback to like old Akira Kurosawa stuff.
CP/E: Oh, I would love that, then because I’ve seen a few Kurosawa movies and I LOVED them.
DC: Yeah, I do two or three movies a day and I can fill your life up with this stuff. [laughs]
CP/E: [laughs] I do two or three a day, too, but they’re the most horrifying crap you’ve ever seen. I’m wading through boxes of films I get sent that I could afford and oh my god… is it sorry. I gotta tell you. [groans] I’ll find one good on in every twenty-five movies maybe that I watch.
DC: I always say that being a horror fan is like being a prospector in a river of shit.
CP/E: [laughs] I might steal that line! That’s the greatest line ever…
DC: You just have to wade through so much crap to get to the smallest of nuggets of gold.
CP/E: You REALLY do. Know what I found the other day that I was like, “Wow!” and it’s a total piece of crap… I’d never heard of it before and I LOVED IT. It’s bad. It’s really bad, but its bad in a really great way. It’s THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS.
DC: Oh, that’s a fun movie!
CP/E: Oh, my god! I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. That blew me away. I’m wading through this crap and I’m wading through this crap and then I played that and I’m like, “Oh, my god…” with a title like THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS. Compared to what I’m seeing, I thought it was pretty damned funny. And I’m looking for stuff that’s sort of bad-good, so… I’m not really looking for scary stuff, but looking for stuff that’s really bad, but bad enough as to be good. It was a really funny movie. Most of the crap I see is just bad, so bad that I can’t even make fun of it and that’s hard to believe. Anybody would turn it off after just a few seconds of watching it, so… that was like a breath of fresh air.
DC: So when you sit and watch something for the show, do you sit with a notepad and write all of your stuff or do you have people that sort of help you out with that?
CP/E: Nope. I mean, I have people that help me out, but I sit… with a notepad… and watch the movie several times. I first go through it with all the notes that just hit me. Then, I give it a little break and then watch it again and come up with some other stuff. I then try to think of little ways we can play off of and have kind of a storyline. That’s what we’ve been doing lately. I didn’t do that my first time around, but this time we’ve been getting a little bit of a tiny, tiny story line going through my segments. So, we come up with that and then go back and write jokes. Then, my writing partner, Ted Biaselli, who’s brilliant. I love the guy. He goes through it and does the same thing, makes notes, and we kind of get together and compare the notes, watch it, and sort of write it right there on the spot. We’ll go through and rewrite it later and then I usually go back and watch the movie AGAIN to get the “pop-ins” that I do. I’ll pop in at the corner and comment on lines, so… You get to know the movie pretty well. People are always asking me… You’d think I’d remember every line of the movie, but what happens instead is that I’ve seen so many that they all kind of melt into one big, giant bad movie in my brain.
DC: So, tell me about the Double Feature DVDs.
CP/E: I’m glad you asked. Entertainment One is coming out with them on June 14th and it will be the show – minus commercials – and really good quality and much more easy to find than on TV. I think it’s going to be really good. I’m very excited it’s on DVD. Each DVD is two films and they’re going to release two every other month. For now, that’s the way it’s set up until the release all twenty-six. One really cool thing about the DVD feature also compared to TV is that it will have six never before seen episodes which I am not going to air in the syndicated package. So, that will be kind of cool. They’re really ones I love a lot, too. WASP WOMAN which is one of my all-time favorites. KILLER SHREWS.
DC: I love that movie.
CP/E: Oh, my god! I love KILLER SHREWS! Oh, my god! Love it so much and it came out really funny. Through the first half of the movie, I think it’s ATTACK OF THE KILLER SHOES and it’s all dealing with foot fetish stuff. Then, WILD WOMEN OF WONGO which has always been one of my absolute favorites. I hosted it a couple of times before and it’s brilliant. Have you ever seen that?
DC: Yup… great stuff.
CP/E: I can’t wait for the discs to come out. They’re really fun.
DC: I’m impressed by some of the “pulls” that you’re doing in the shows. I mean, I Eat Your Skin and Satanic Rites Of Dracula… that’s some good stuff.
CP/E: Oh, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA… I really hate that movie. [laughs] I hate to say it, but that’s the worst piece of crap. The three others I love… I love WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON. I’ve hosted that about three or four times. I love it every time more. But, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is one of those that we had to have more color, so we took that. I’ve got to say, it’s just a really slow moving, pretty damn boring movie. It was really hard to eek some humor out of that. Or even make sense of it. I’d have to say… It’s horrible to say, “Oh, yeah… here’s my package of movies and the one I hate the most is one of the first four,” but… [laughs] Some movies are just easier to have fun with than others and that was a particularly difficult one.
DC: It’s like having to do My Dinner With Andre. “Nothing’s happening!”
CP/E: [laughs] I know… “What are we going to make a joke about? There’s nothing there!”
DC: So, how did you hookup with Entertainment One?
CP/E: Oh, golly… My manager actually knew someone from there and told them I had a new television show out and they should check into it and they looked at it and loved it. They immediately grabbed it and I was thrilled out of my mind because, with syndication, I’m not exactly gettin’ rich over there. I tell ya… [laughs] So, it’s nice to have a DVD release.
DC: It’s such a huge market now.
CP/E: Unfortunately, probably that’s going the way of the dinosaur, too.
DC: With stuff like streaming.
CP/E: Yeah… pretty soon I don’t think there’ll be physical DVDs around. I think people will always collect them. Like right now, people are collecting vinyl. There’ll always be a market for collectors of that kind of thing, I think. Especially in my genre.
DC: Agreed. Horror fans are rabidly loyal and they’re really forgiving.
CP/E: They are! That is so true. I tell people that. It’s hard to believe because, you know, you’d think it would be the opposite with horror, but… I have the best damn fans in the whole world and they really love horror. They’re so adamant about it and when they get into it and they like Elvira… they’re the best! They will like you when your five hundred years old and they don’t give a damn how you look. The people who really enjoy the genre and really enjoy the hosting and all of that, they are your fan no matter what you do.
DC: I also notice on your website that you have such a great amount of access to them.
CP/E: And more now thank god. I have my new site up and I’m doing a lot of live chats. I’m doing web casts and I have my new fan club and I’m really gearing all of that up to where I can interact with the fans instead of just having pictures to show online. And I love doing that.
DC: If you look at someone like Kevin Smith whose whole fan base now is based off Twitter and Facebook.
CP/E: It’s crazy, isn’t it?
DC: It really is.
CP/E: I gotta get me some of that.
DC: It’s a full time job, I tell ya.
CP/E: I believe it. I mean, I have a couple of assistants who work on my website, Facebook page, and Twitter and they don’t have enough time to get much done. It’s crazy. I don’t know. I do as much as I can and, you’re right, it’s a completely full time job. I don’t see how the people who do nothing but that have time to do it.
DC: Let alone create.
CP/E: Yeah, yeah… and have time to do something that you’re supposed to be doing. Exactly.
DC: I’ve always been impressed by you and how witty and smart you are. I’m curious as to whether you’ve ever though of podcasting or is that a whole ‘nother kettle of fish?
CP/E: It would be fantastic. I wish I could do it. I have a list of stuff I want to do that’s a mile long and I try to attack it one at a time and that’s a great idea, too. I would love to do a pod cast.
DC: Ok, I think that’s it. Is there anything I’ve not asked about? [laughs]
CP/E: Well, I had a really bad Facebook accident recently. My Facebook page after… I don’t know how many years… disappeared. Just boom!
CP/E: Gone forever. And it was pretty… developed (if I do say so myself)… and I had hundred of thousands of friends on there. I now have like eleven thousand. So, if everyone can mention to anybody at any time to become a friend on there… It’s “Elvira Mistress of the Dark Official.” If you just put in “Elvira” and “Official” it comes up, but… because there’s a lot of Elvira pages. I’m just trying to get friends on Facebook! It just looks ridiculous that I have so few. It’s horrible.
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