Elvira Talks Movie Macabre
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.