I suppose this is both for the character and the same-titled movie. But let’s face it: The movie wouldn’t have existed without the character first. And oh, what a character she is.
You all know that I love horror movies. And anyone who loves the horror genre knows that sometimes really bad horror equals a really great movie-watching experience, especially when said horror is brought to you with respectful acknowledgement of said shlockiness. By a Goth Valley Girl with really large…assets.
Enter Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
To be honest, I’m slightly too young to be able to claim that I first knew Elvira as the host of Movie Macabre. I must confess that I first knew her as the provocative spokesghoul of…Coors Light:
All right, all right. Cut me some slack. I didn’t know anything about beer back then. Besides, they brought me the Mistress.
Of course, the feminist side of me wants to rage against the first-blush image of Elvira and her scantily clad form and what might be the most amazing push-up bra in the history of everything. However, my more learned feminist side informs me that a woman can dress however she chooses to without fear of retribution or repercussions, and if this is how Elvira wishes to dress, then so be it. Then, of course, the engineering side of me wants to know things like how on earth does she stay inside that low-cut dress? I mean, everything has its limits, and I would think that she would have maxed out that dress a while ago.
Look even more deeply and you’ll find the woman behind Elvira and an amazing story. Cassandra Peterson, she who is the Mistress, was born in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1951. When she was three years old, she knocked a pot of boiling water onto herself, burning off most of her hair and ending up needing skin grafts over 35 percent of her body. It was so bad, she said that doctors had to graft skin from her mother to cover her burns.
Peterson would later state that her scarred appearance was what led to her love of horror. She’s said in interviews that she felt “comforted” by the monster movies of her youth because other kids often made her feel like one of the monsters from those movies. Then came puberty and a sudden expansion of her…personality that she admits led her to be what she has deemed cruel and taunting to the boys. In fact, she has stated that she channels some of that uninhibited teenaged lustful indulgence into Elvira’s personality.
Fast forward to post high school when Peterson went to Las Vegas to become a dancer and ended up being told by the King himself, Elvis, to get out of Vegas before it consumed her. So, she packed up and headed to Italy, where she met Federico Fellini and ended up in his movie Roma.
Back to the States and she found herself in LA LA Land and part of the improvisational group The Groundlings. This troupe has provided many a stand-up and star to comedy clubs and shows like Saturday Night Live and MadTV. It was also where Peterson both began to hone her Elvira persona and where she would meet and become friends with Paul Reubens. She even appeared in a brief non-Elvira cameo in a little movie called Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
And then, of course, came Peterson’s big break when she saw that a local affiliate was looking for a new host to help them bring back their weekend horror show, originally called Fright Night but rechristened Movie Macabre. With her sharp comedic timing, her sarcastic Valley Girl comments, delicious double entendres, unforgettable visual aesthetic, and anachronistically upbeat personality, Peterson’s Elvira was destined to become one of the most popular horror personalities of the 80s. Hell, of every decade since she started, really.
Of course, the zenith of her popularity was around the time that NBC Pictures greenlit her very own titular (heh) film in 1988. Co-written by Peterson, the film is one of the purest forms of 80s horror comedy shlock imaginable…which means it’s kind of perfect if you think about it. Elvira made her claim to fame by providing snarky yet loving commentary to really awful horror movies. She was MST3K before MST3K. For horror. What better venue for the Queen of Cheesy Horror than her very own cheesy horror?
Seriously, it’s really cheesy. And stars Edie McClurg as one of the antagonists. And W. Morgan Sheppard as one of the other antagonists. And the nerdy wheelchair-bound kid from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. (Spoiler: He doesn’t really need a wheelchair.) Plus a bunch of other instantly recognizable character actors populating a town in Massachusetts called “Falwell,” and a poodle with a punk-rock buzz. Oh, and tassles. Spinning tassles. I kid you not, denizens. There’s really nothing else I can think of to say about this movie after that.
Do I recommend this movie? Oh good grief, yes. Rent it, buy some really good beers (Sorry, Coors, that doesn’t mean you), invite over some friends, and just have a great time laughing at one of the most ultimate midnight B-movies ever made. You’ve heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: When horror is good, it’s great…but when it’s bad, it can be spectacular. Elvira is spectacular.