Growing up Catholic, in Kansas, being a bit too overzealous, overweight (for a time) and loving horror films, I had a lot working against me. Perhaps that’s why I was always drawn to the one and only Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She embodied everything I dreamed of being. Quirky, always having the right comment at the right time, strong, funny, independent, and of course, hotter than hell!
Luckily, being born in the late 70s, I was able to grow up watching Movie Macabre and its iconic hostess (which was a hell of a lot better than our local station’s knock off!). Movie Macabre began in 1981 and since then Elvira has become a household name with her likeness on everything from beer to perfume to guitars to theme parks. In 1989, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark was released in theatres, with a follow up, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, in 2001. Last year, Elvira’s Movie Macabre returned to the air in September.
Two DVD sets will be released Tuesday, featuring Elvira’s signature, unflinching, tongue-in-cheek commentary of some of the “greatest” B-movies ever to unspool. The release kicks off with the zombie-themed pairing of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead with I Eat Your Skin, and a double-bill of Hammer Film’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula with The Werewolf of Washington.
Both discs are fantastic, including a music video by Ghoultown, behind the scenes, a photoshoot, and a now famous viral video shot by Elvira herself (see interview) – fans will only be disappointed with the fact that there isn’t enough Elvira!
I had the pleasure of speaking with the woman behind Elvira, Cassandra Peterson, on the phone this week. If you don’t know her story, and you are interested in knowing more about her, I encourage you to check out her site – www.elvira.com and read her bio. She is truly an extraordinary woman!
ELVIRA: Ok! Great!
BD: By now, people know your background. Being so young when you went to Vegas, did you think that you had already “hit it big”?
Elvira: Well, at that point I did when I was 17, I thought I had hit it pretty damn big being a show girl in Las Vegas! But that quickly dissipated, and I came back down to Earth – when I moved to LA and couldn’t find work for, like, 10 years being a struggling actress.
BD: So, you started Elvira when you were 30?
Elvira: Which was too cool, I tell you! I couldn’t even get an agent at that time. I had just come from an agent the day before I got it. And he said “Are you kidding? You’re 30 years old! You might as well get out of the business, your career is over!” So, I’m glad he didn’t sign me – because he’d be getting 15% to this day!
BD: You’ve mentioned that you felt Elvira: Mistress of the Dark was the real peak of your career. Do you feel you’re reaching a new height again with the internet and the show being back on the air?
Elvira: It was a great time, I still really love it. I don’t want to say it was the peak of my career ’cause it’d be all downhill from there, right? (laughs) It was everything I wanted it to be – But, I think as far as being well known, or getting my name out there, or getting the Elvira image out there – that’s starting to build up more now than it did then – because back then, when you just had movies, and then on to video – not that many people, in the scheme of things, would see a movie. Now, my god, if you’re on the internet, good heavens! I did this recent, little video on Christine O’Donnell, the politician who said ‘I’m not a witch’ – I did a little takeoff on that and it went viral. And I had, just in the matter of 24 hours, millions of people viewing Elvira. Now, I can imagine the amount of people who saw my movie in the theatres or on video would be probably not that many. Not as many that saw the one little clip, you know?
I think the Elvira character still has a lot of life in her. I think if I even quit doing the character she’d still be around. I think Betty Page is doing better than she ever has and she’s been dead for four years.
BD: You’ve mentioned in past interviews that obtaining the films was the hardest part about getting the show rolling again – has the process become any easier? Do people volunteer their own collections ever?
Elvira: Ugh, I wish! Honestly, it’s become harder to find the films. I’m looking for a second group of 26 right now and let me tell you, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even some of the ‘good’ bad movies have been bought by the big studios. For a little show like mine, I could not afford their licensing fee. No way. And then if I wanted to, you know, do it for TV, I’d need TV rights, and then if I wanted to sell it on DVD, I’d need DVD rights, and then if I wanted to sell it foreign, I’d have to pay for the foreign rights. So, by the time I’m done, I’ve made negative money. So, that’s real unfortunate when it comes to these movies. It’s a real problem for me. And it’s probably the main reason that I didn’t come back on the air for so long because getting them was so difficult for me. And another thing is finding two hour slots on TV stations. You know, people have short attention spans now – and things are 30 minutes or an hour and they don’t hold out too many two hour slots. So, I end up being on at 3AM, 4AM in the morning. So that’s why I’m so thrilled the DVD is coming out. People have a real hard time getting the show!
BD: Well, I was lucky enough to get the DVDs – and I love them. The only problem is I want you to pop up more often! You have the greatest comments!
Elvira: You know, it’s so funny – people have been saying that to me more and more lately. I went to a big comicon in Phoenix last week – and these are people who love horror – and even they’re saying ‘Why isn’t there more of you and less movie?’ Strangely, I was just thinking that last week of a way to see less movie – and I love these movies – but people do have shorter and shorter attention spans – even I do! I’ll go on youtube and there’s a video that’s 12 minutes long and I’ll go ‘I don’t have time for that!’ So, I’ve been thinking about cutting it down to an hour and going out and selling that. So, the movie would be a very abbreviated movie but most of these movies, if they are 90 minutes long, there is about 89 minutes of those that are boring, so…I could get that one minute that really, really mattered.
BD: Again, I’ve read things that say for Night of the Living Dead, you had to watch it almost 15 times to get the right comments. On an average movie – how many times do you have to watch to get it right?
Elvira: I view it over and over and over again. My writing partner views it a million times. Between the two of us, I don’t know. 20-30 times – it gets to be a blur. Then you’re going back, going forth, going back, going forth. Then you have to start at the beginning. Then you fall asleep after you’ve had a couple of drinks. No, I’m just kidding. It’s a process. Night of the Living Dead, thank god, is a movie I love and I enjoyed. I swear every time I see the movie I see something different. I just love that movie so that wasn’t, like, work. Some of the others. Like The Satanic Rites of Dracula – (laughs) – the first time was way too much! Not much going on there in that movie. And not even campy stuff. You know the TV stations wanted more color – and that’s really hard to come up with in the genre of movie that I’m looking for. Color gets in the late 60’s and 70s and the movies weren’t bad, just not good!
BD: No BS – What movie has actually scared you?
Elvira: You know, I have to say – such a typical answer – but several years ago I went to a screening of The Exorcist at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I went with Linda (Blair) and we sat next to each other – and I had to leave halfway through! She couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t stand sitting next to Linda Blair, first of all, watching that movie. Even though she was grown up – it made it extra, extra, extra creepy. It had the new footage in – with her going down the stairs – and I couldn’t handle it! I swear to god it scared the living hell out of me! The Exorcist still is one of the scariest, if not the scariest, of all time.
Speaking of The Exorcist – I posted a commercial the other day on my Facebook page…
BD: The vacuum cleaner one?!
Elvira: Yes! Oh my god! Speaking of The Exorcist was that hysterical?!
BD: It is the best!
Elvira: I laughed so hard! Hey, as a side note – about a month ago, my Facebook page – which had hundreds of thousands of friends – disappeared! Just disappeared. Just gone into cyberspace. So it’s like starting all over again! If you can – if you know anybody! Tell them about the new page.
BD: Oh! I will!
Elvira: Oh, it’d be such a big favor!!
BD: Are there any films you always wanted to show that you never had the chance – why?
Elvira: Oh god yeah – a ton! I can’t even begin to list all the ones I want. Most of the Roger Coreman films – I have a couple, but most are locked up. All of the Universal classics. Most of them are so great you can’t even make fun of them. A ton of movies, people don’t think they’re that bad, so someone has them locked up somewhere. I was trying to do a new series called something like “Sequels: The Best of Number Two” and –
BD: That’s awesome!
Elvira: We were going to try and get movies that were already really bad, yet had a sequel. But not gettable – nada, nothin’! Even the Rocky Horror sequel – not available. Warner Brothers owns it. Just on and on. I definitely tried to get anything about exorcism or exorcists because I wanted to dress up like a nun so bad. And I wanted to get Richard Chamberlain to reprise his role as Father Ralph from The Thorn Birds and exorcise me. I had all these great ideas about things I was going to get, but oh well, too expensive! Couldn’t get ’em!
I’ll tell you the Roger Coreman movies I wanted so badly are all the Edgar Allan Poe movies. Pit and the Pendulum and Tomb of Lygeia and all those movies I grew up with as a kid and I love those movies and adore them. I actually played homage to them in my movie Haunted Hills. You know, couldn’t get those.
BD: Just thinking about visual from Pit and the Pendulum brings back the feeling I had seeing it as a kid. Just a sick in my stomach, gut feeling of dread. To most people they’d be campy, but to me, far from. There is just something about those old movies.
Elvira: Oh, to me – as a kid, House on Haunted Hill scared me and I had nightmares about that for a year – which is funny because it didn’t turn me off. They just made me more and more interested. And even now, thinking about it, still me makes a little eehhh… It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
It was the first movie that made me just go ‘oh my god’ – I was just beside myself. I couldn’t believe it. That was the movie that set me off on wanting to see horror movies and it was starring my favorite actor. And it got me into the whole horror genre and from there I wanted to see everything. I saw, and it makes me feel ancient now but I saw these movies in the movie theatre. As a kid in downtown Colorado Springs! And it’s just so nostalgic.
BD: Is there a recent movie that has captured the beauty of what you believe to be that “classic” horror film you love so much?
Elvira: God, sad to say there’s not. I don’t go to a lot of horror movies anymore. And a lot of them aren’t horror. I mean I don’t mind bloody and disgusting and gore and everything there is. But, just, the realism turns me off. I don’t know what to say – I was just saying in my last interview that the king of gore – Herschell Gordon Lewis – his movies are really gory, but there is still an unreal, camp value to them. And they still leave something to the imagination.
I was just in a movie, that I LOVE, called All About Evil. Which I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it?
BD: I have and I hope to be able to see it very soon! (Hopefully there is a review coming soon to B-D!)
Elvira: You have to see it! I love it to death. It’s like Herschell Gordon Lewis meets John Waters. It is so neat and different and to me that’s a horror movie. I just like it because it’s unique and it just great.
BD: I am with you about the gore. I’ve always said ‘Just because someone is disemboweled on screen doesn’t make it a horror film.’
Elvira: Thank you! That is a good quote! That is exactly how I feel. Just stuff like Saw and Saw II, I don’t see them as horror! I like fantasy in my horror movies. You want to walk outside and not have them out there and not run into them. Not having them hiding in the bushes.
I have a box of movies I’m screening for my show and a bunch aren’t black and white and a lot aren’t horror movies. I get more and more gross, disgusting stuff with females being tortured… I hate that crap. I have to sit through it and thank god there is fast forward.
The thing with horror that I like things with psychic phenomena and ghosts and vampires, monsters. Any or all of that stuff can be really horrifying and this other stuff…there just too much. You don’t leave anything to the imagination, you know?
BD: Yeah, the crazy people chopping up other people aren’t very entertaining.
Elvira: Yeah, they’re not my idea of fun.
BD: And speaking of crazies…Have you encountered your craziest fan yet? And if so, what made them most memorable?
Elvira: (laughs) I love my fans! They are all pretty memorable! They’re smart, they love me, they’re different. They’re misfits and losers and 20 years later they’re the CEO of some big company. And the girls are strong and cool. They’re great! I’ve had a couple of weird fans. One came up and told me she’d had been practicing something to show me and had been waiting for me to come to their town and took a one foot 2X4 and nailed her tongue to it.
Elvira: And dropped it. And I never realized how long the human tongue is. The 2X4 dropped to her chest.
She was a crazy one! I also sign a lot of tattoos on people and I actually signed a tattoo on a girls…uh…butt and she had a rather large one. My face was about twenty times wider than it normally is. That was interesting as she pulled her pants down and I signed my face there on one of her buttcheeks. So…(laughs) you know, they’re interesting.
BD: That’s a bit horrific in itself.
Elvira: Yeah, it was. But it was also pretty cool ’cause, you know, I’m Elvira!
BD: That’s the coolest thing about you! You always show how sweet and genuine you are – no matter what – as yourself or Elvira. Has there been any celebrities that you’ve admired that when you actually met, let you down?
Elvira: Hmm. Not really let me down. Most of the time when I meet celebrities I really like they’re really great! I met Leonard Nimoy recently and he’s just adorable, the nicest man. I’m happy to say most of them are great. Gary Busey, though, I call him Gary Abusey. He’s been physically threatening to both me and my assistant.
BD: I’ve heard that he can be!
Elvira: I’ve never had a bad experience – except with him.
BD: Speaking of abuse, with the internet, everyone has their say these days. I mean, you look great – you’re going to be 60 this year?
Elvira: Ugh. (whispers) Yes.
BD: Come on! I’d like to look like you now at 31!
BD: But really, anyone who dogs you is obvious jealous. I was going to ask how many Chastity Pariah’s have tried to break you down over the years?
Elvira: I am on like Teflon. I’ve been around for so many years. I’ve had horrible – you know, with the first movie when it came out – the reviews would just scathe me. Everyone hated me. Even Roger Ebert who LOVED me and apparently he worked at the Chicago Tribune and had a picture of me on his desk and had always said how much he loved me and loved me – just gave me the most scathing review of my movie. And I tell you, for, like, one year it was like post partum depression. I spent two years working on that movie, morning, noon and night and when it came out I thought people would think it was just fabulous because I just worked so hard on it. And everyone who reviewed it hated it. So I spent one year depressed. I think ever since that day – no one can say anything that’s negative about anything I do, anything I make, about how I look, how old I am, I don’t care! It does NOT affect me. I’m just like, well, whatever! I went through the fire and I came out the other side and I’m like ‘whatever’! I always like to get good compliments – that always makes me feel great. That does affect me. The rest don’t – they just don’t register! If they want to be like that – that’s their problem. Not mine.
BD: One more question – the 30th Anniversary is coming up this year – any big plans?
Elvira: The 30th Anniversary of the show? Oh my god, I better start planning for it now. You’re right. I’ve been so bogged down and involved in the DVD coming out that I forgot! You got any plans for me? (laughs) I gotta do something!
Don’t worry, I am sure we can come up with something! Until then, as the Mistress as the dark has always said:
Thank you SO much to Cassandra Peterson for taking the time to speak with me for Bloody-Disgusting. The two DVD sets are released Tuesday, June 14th.