Horror Icons: Elvira

My name’s Elvira, but you can call me ‘tonight’ ” – Cassandra Peterson, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

The time has come for me to share the things I love (fair warning, there’s a lot) about one of my favorite horror culture icons, Elvira. I only really got into Elvira’s work a few years ago, but she has been a huge inspiration to me. She has shown that you can truly be who you want to be through perseverance and confidence.

Also, let’s just get this out of the way: yes, Elvira is the one with the big boobs and utilizes her sex appeal in her image and comedy. This may not seem like a big deal now, but just thinking of how long she has been this international persona shows how Elvira has pushed boundaries from the very beginning. She challenged media representations of women and redefined female agency.

So yeah, let’s get started:

Early Career

“Elvira” is a persona portrayed by actress Cassandra Peterson. She was born September 17, 1951 in Manhattan, Kansas. With inspiration from Las Vegas shows of the time, she began performing as a showgirl. As time went on, Cassandra’s other accomplishments included being a lead singer of an Italian rock band, improv, and touring with a comedy act. In the 1980s, Cassandra began her career as a hostess of late-night horror movies.

Television Shows

Elvira is best known for hosting horror movies (especially low-budget “B” movies) on televised programs. She provided commentary on these “midnight movies” and brought a new wave of campy comedy to this type of hosting. Some of the shows she has hosted include:

Elvira’s Movie Macabre (1981-1986)

Midnight Madness (1990)

Elvira’s Movie Macabre (2010-2012)

13 Nights of Elvira (2014)

Movies

While also making appearances in other movies throughout her career, Elvira starred in two of her own major motion pictures:

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988): In financial distress while trying to fund her own Las Vegas show, Elvira arrives in a small New England town to claim her inheritance from a deceased great aunt.

Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001): Set in 1851 Europe and inspired by the Poe films of Vincent Price, this horror-comedy follows Elvira’s antics in a crumbling family castle on her way to her solo show in Paris.

Check out more of Cassandra Peterson’s filmography on her IMDb page!

Cultural Influence

The image and brand of Elvira have been well-known in popular culture and horror culture for decades. Thanks to her voice acting and other media appearances, people of all ages and generations know who she is. Like many popular icons, a lot of Elvira’s fortune comes from licensed merchandise. Some of her merchandise includes apparel, Halloween costumes, comic books, and collectable figurines. One of the most successful factions of Elvira’s merchandise empire is her collaboration with Funko. Funko has created several vinyl figure designs inspired by Elvira in the last few years. Based on my own research as an avid (sometimes too avid) Funko Pop collector, I know that all of the editions released thus far have drastically increased in value since their initial release.

Elvira Now

Elvira actively uses social media and continues to work on various entertainment projects. She has also acted as a guest judge on a variety of reality television shows, including Halloween Wars on the Food Network and RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1. Most of her current acting work is in voiceovers, most recently Scooby Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019) and Happy Halloween, Scooby Doo! (2020).

She also continues to host many horror film-related specials, the next appearance being Elvira’s 40th Anniversary Very Scary, Very Special, Special! on Shudder (streaming September 25, 2021). A few months ago, she announced the publication of her memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, set to release September 21, 2021.

The woman behind the black gown: Cassandra Peterson

When I first saw the black-clad woman on the velvet sofa with her tall hair and batwing makeup, I never expected she would have an impact on my life. Elvira has become one of my top idols. Not only has she built a career and a life on all things dark and spooky, but she stays true to herself and does what she wants. Elvira/Cassandra Peterson showed me that I can be confident, smart, glamorous, kind, assertive, funny, charming, and spooky all at once without compromising. She expresses herself the way she wants and refuses to take abuse from anyone. I keep my Elvira Funko Pop next to my keys so I can see her example every day before I walk out the door. On top of the many nights of entertaining movies and commentary I have enjoyed, Elvira has inspired me to become more of who I am.

Until next time,

Jordan

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