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Then & Now: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson)

10.19.2012by: Salacious Crumb

Time: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Greetings boils and ghouls, and welcome to another spoooky edition of Then & Now. Last week, we solved the mystery of the whereabouts of that sexy maid from CLUE, which ended with a shocking twist. I confess I'm a bit ashamed for being so harsh on Colleen Camp. I may have laughed a bit too hard. So hard, donuts came flying out my nose and I had to drive my electric scooter to the kitchen sink to clean off my eleven chins with paper towels I could barely reach with my Nifty Nabber Pick-Up Stick. Anyway, I thought this time around I might focus on a hottie I'd have nicer things to say about... but then again, I may have chosen a woman who's become downright beastly! You'll just have wait and see (or scroll down immediately because you lack patience [like me]). You know this voluptuous vamp as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The babe who puts the "boo" in "boobs". She also goes by the name Cassandra Peterson.

Cassandra was born in Manhattan, Kansas, and was moved all over the states growing up. While other girls were drinking tea with their Barbie dolls, Cassandra says she was more fascinated with horror-themed toys. With almost no hesitation after graduating high school, Cassandra moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to become a showgirl in "Viva Les Girls" where she met Elvis Presley. Even her first movie role was as a showgirl, in 1971's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. She was already getting a fair share of work thanks to her looks. After all, remove that black hair dye and those layers of make-up, and you've got yourself one pretty good-looking ginger.  

I'm excited to have a chance to write about Elvira, as I think there are few women more deserving of a place somewhere here on Movie Hotties. It's not every day you see an actor's single character become so popular with the masses, they can stick with it their whole lives. The closest to that we have today is Larry the Cable Guy, but I don't think that's a character. Cassandra came up with the concept of the gothic valley-girl in 1979, in an improvisational troupe in L.A. called The Groundlings. The character became instantly popular, and a perfect opportunity would soon be presented by KCAL-TV.  

Oh, Elvira. The gal with enormous... uhm, ratings. In 1981, after the passing of Larry Vincent (host of the weekend horror show "Fright Night"), producers started looking for a potential female "horror hostess" to fill the slot. They even asked Maila Nurmi to revive her similar '50's program "The Vampira Show", but she wound up quitting the gig after technical conflicts. They than auditioned over 200 women to play their horror hostess, and decided on Peterson. What an excellent choice. Since they couldn't continue the Vampira character, they went with Elvira instead, and that's why they share so many of the same qualities. "Elvira's Movie Macabre" was a fun, MST3K-esque program that made fun of old science fiction and horror flicks. Some were classics, some were crapfests. Elvira gave insomniacs the perfect saturday night movie experience with her witty commentary, clever sketches, and entrancing cleavage. It was a great way to watch campy horror flicks in an entertaining fashion. It ran 140 episodes consistently over the course of 1981-1986.

Peterson was simultaneously taking on other roles during the run of the show. You may remember her as a biker mama in PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (popular '80's character actors had to stick together). She would also appear in bit parts as either a "busty nurse" or "busty dancer" or "busty something-or-other", but she really escalated her rise to stardom in her own 1988 movie, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK.

I was born into the era of re-runs of the "Movie Macabre" series, but the first time she caught my eye was in a cable-presentation of the ELVIRA movie. The story follows Elvira, the host with the most, who gets fired from her show just before receiving news that a deceased relative has left an old house and a poodle (renamed "Gonk" by Elvira) to her inheritance. The house happens to be in a village of happy-go-lucky townsfolk, many of whom immediately take a disliking to Elvira and her promiscuous attire. The horny teenagers in the neighborhood love her, though. Some of them even stand in line and PAY GOOD MONEY TO PAINT HER HOUSE just to be in the aura of her electrifying hotness. The Elvira character is prone to sexy behavior, whether on purpose or by accident. The scene towards the beginning where she's washing her windshield, pressing her boobs up against the glass always filled me with joy as a youngster, and it still does today. She uses her breasts to break a gate open in another classic moment. And then there's that ridiculous musical finale, which ends with an extraordinary booby-swinging tassel-dance that only the likes of Cassandra Peterson could've pulled off.

ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK is a considered by many to be a cult classic, but back then it didn't stir up big box office bucks. It received mostly negative reviews, some critics calling it "stupidity with boobs", and Cassandra recieved a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Actress. I find that last part hard to believe, because while it certainly isn't an Oscar contender, it obviously caters to Elvira fans, and in that respect it does it's job. It just seems like a waste of a nomination. It's like giving Jim Varney a Razzie nomination for ERNEST GOES TO CAMP. Oh wait, they did. The irony in all this is that Elvira's movie, about a TV-show host who talks trash on corny old movies, is now a corny old movie. 

Despite MISTRESS OF THE DARK's short-lived theatrical run, Elvira's legacy stayed alive. She rapidly and understandably began to sell out to pinball machines and Coors commercials. If George Lucas taught us anything in the last 20 years, it's that merchandising can save your ass. There's all sorts of Elvira junk out there. The Elvira costume has always been popular around Halloween time, her series did well in home video sales, and she's had multiple video games and comic books with her name plastered on the cover. So suck on that, critics! "The Simpsons" even occasionally features a character named Booberella, a spoof of Elvira (who's a spoof of Vampira).  

"[pause] BooooOOOOOOOOoooooooooooobs!"

Moving on... Elvira continued to make special appeances throughout the '90's in full costume and make-up. She appeared in an episode of "Space Ghost Coast To Coast" and had her own Halloween special entitled "Elvira's Ghost Stories Spooktacular Show" in 1999. Peterson would often visit Kott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt dressed as Elvira. She made an attempt at a new Elvira sitcom (that never aired) and several attempts to sequelize ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK without much success, until 2001, when her husband (Sam Irvin) said "F*ck it. I'll direct it. And we'll do it on a budget of $1.5 million." That's exactly what they did, and it worked surprisingly well...

ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS (2001), although filmed on a much tighter budget than MISTRESS OF THE DARK, was recieved much better by the majority of critics and Elvira fans alike. Set in a spooky castle, it carries that much needed "horror movie" tension, which was so lacking in MISTRESS. It was meant to fondly parody old British horror films from Hammer Studios. Richard O'Brien (writer and star of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) plays Lord Vladimere Hellsubus, the head of the household who notices that Elvira strangely resembles his former "missing" wife. There are lots of great sexy moments, like when she steps behind a magnifying glass which amplifies the size of her cleavage; the same cleavage that saves her from being sliced by a giant swinging axe. There's also another musical number that ends with Elvira initiating a round of applause with her ass. 

Cassandra Peterson stuck to her guns, and sometimes over the years the "boob signal" would shine in the night's sky, and Elvira would appear to display her perky love-mountains wherever they'd be needed. She's had songs written about her, ships-worth of fan art, and above all else, there are plenty of women dying to take on the crown of Elvira. There all sorts of semi-obsessed imitations of her on YouTube. I wouldn't mind watching really great Elvira impersonator's more modern take on the show. She could provide wacky commentary for shitty movies from the '70's and '80's era. There was a reality special that aired not too long ago called "The Search for the Next Elvira", which was won by model April Wahlin, but she hasn't done anything with the character (not even a web series or photoshoot) since, and seems to have dropped it altogether. Figures. She didn't LIVE and BREATH Elvira the way Cassandra did. Or perhaps still does?

IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE! MY FRANKENWEENIE IS ALIVE! Elvira attended the L.A. premiere of her old friend Tim Burton's FRANKENWEENIE, catching everyone offgaurd by... still looking like Elvira. She may be 61-years-old but her breasts stayed 35, and that has to be some kind of awesome black magic. She resembles her character three decades later far more than Paul Reubens resembles his. This appearance popped seemingly out of nowhere, but Elvira's already snuck her way in front of cameras earlier this year at a Toys 'R' Us charity event. Early this month, she also returned Knott's Halloween Haunt to greet her longtime committed, adoring fans. They're almost as dedicated as she is. 

As I'm sure many of you are aware, "Elvira's Movie Macabre" returned for a 20-episode run from 2010-2011. She did the same old schtick as back in the '80's, walking the viewer through good, fun, B-grade horror. The episodes were released in pairs as "double features" on dvd, with a box-set expected to release next month. I would love to see her do more episodes if she was up to the task.

You won't hear any complaints from me about the outcome of this "Then & Now", as I couldn't be more pleased with it. I feel like Elvira is one of those cult figures we'll remember forever. She was a frequent guest on "The Johnny Carson Show", and even appeared on '80's cheesefest TV-shows like "CHiPs" and "Fantasy Island". Overtime, she evolved into "The Mistress of all Media". This ultimately reminds me of what the true spirit of Hollywood used to be: if you embrace what you love to do and just keep at it, people will catch on. Unfortunately, Hollywood is shopping for safety nets and not catapults these days. It's a good thing Elvira came on the scene when she did. Otherwise, we may have never gotten the chance to blow her up into the raging ball of success she is now. Unpleasant dreams, everyone.

Extra Tidbit: How do you think Elvira and her haunted hills are holding up?
Tags: then & now


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