Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress, writer and singer. She is best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Peterson gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly B movie presentation.
|Born||September 17, 1951|
Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.
|Known for||Elvira, Mistress of the Dark|
(m. 1981; div. 2003)
Peterson was born in Manhattan, Kansas. When she was a toddler, she was scalded by boiling water, and required skin grafts to over 35% of her body, spending three months in the hospital. In a 2011 interview, Peterson stated that as a child, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls. In elementary school, she watched House on Haunted Hill, which was the first horror film she ever saw. During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar.
Inspired by Ann-Margret in the film Viva Las Vegas, while on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, during high school, she convinced her parents to let her see a live show whereupon she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17 years old, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating high school, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Frederic Apcar's pioneering "Vive Les Girls!" at The Dunes; here, she met Elvis Presley, whom she had gone on one date with. She had a small role as a showgirl in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and played a topless dancer in the film The Working Girls (1974). She also purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits' album Small Change (1976); Peterson has since described it as "a giant mystery" claiming that while she has no memory of the event, the picture looks enough like her that she feels "pretty sure" it is her.
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became lead singer of the Italian rock bands Latins 80 and The Snails. Introduced to film director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared, she landed a small part in the film Roma (1972). Back in the United States, she toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mammas Boys. In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a Valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona is largely based.
Peterson auditioned for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, shortly before KHJ-TV offered her the horror host position. Peterson also was a personality on Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM 106.7 from 1982 to 1983.
Elvira begins: Movie Macabre
In the late spring of 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring the show back.
The producers decided to use a female host. They asked 1950s horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira. The station sent out a casting call, and Peterson auditioned and won the role. Producers left it up to her to create the role's image. She and her best friend, Robert Redding, came up with the sexy punk/vampire look after producers rejected her original idea to look like Sharon Tate's character in The Fearless Vampire Killers.
Shortly before the first taping, producers received a cease and desist letter from Nurmi. Besides the similarities in the format and costumes, Elvira's closing line for each show, wishing her audience "Unpleasant dreams", was notably similar to Vampira's closer: "Bad dreams, darlings..." uttered as she walked off down a misty corridor. The court ruled in favor of Peterson, holding that "'likeness' means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance." Peterson claimed that Elvira was nothing like Vampira aside from the basic design of the black dress and black hair. Nurmi claimed that Vampira's image was based on Morticia Addams, a character in Charles Addams's cartoons that appeared in The New Yorker magazine.
Peterson's Elvira character rapidly gained notice with her tight-fitting, low-cut, cleavage-displaying black gown. Adopting the flippant tone of a California "Valley girl", she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary. She reveled in dropping risqué double entendres and making frequent jokes about her cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson said, "I figured out that Elvira is me when I was a teenager. She's a spastic girl. I just say what I feel and people seem to enjoy it." Her camp humor, sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery made her popular with late-night movie viewers and her popularity soared.
The Elvira character soon evolved from an obscure cult figure to a lucrative brand. She was associated with many products through the 1980s and 1990s, including Halloween costumes, comic books, action figures, trading cards, pinball machines, Halloween decor, model kits, calendars, perfume and dolls. She has appeared on the cover of Femme Fatales magazine five times. Her popularity reached its zenith with the release of the 1988 feature film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan.
After several years of attempts to make a sequel to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to finance a second movie. In November 2000, Peterson wrote, again in collaboration with Paragon, and co-produced Elvira's Haunted Hills. The film was shot in Romania for just under one million dollars. With little budget left for promotion, Cassandra and Mark screened the film at AIDS charity fund raisers across America. For many people in attendance, this was their first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character. On July 5, 2002, Elvira's Haunted Hills had its official premiere in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premiere in her Macabre Mobile. The film was later screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication in the U.S., this time with public domain films. In October 2014, it was revealed that a new series of thirteen episodes had been produced, 13 Nights of Elvira for Hulu. The show began on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.
Elvira on home video
In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo, a division of International Video Entertainment (IVE). Many of these films were hand-selected by Peterson. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit cannibal, slasher and zombie films of the time, these were generally tamer films such as The Monster Club and Dan Curtis television films, as well as many episodes of the Hammer House of Horror television series. Since she had refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, however, the videos were released on the ThrillerVideo label without Elvira's appearance as hostess. After this, several extended episodes of the British namesake series Thriller (i.e. The Devil's Web, A Killer in Every Corner, Murder Motel) were also released without an appearance by Elvira; in some, such as Buried Alive, the cast replaced her.
The success of the ThrillerVideo series led to a second video set, Elvira's Midnight Madness, released through Rhino Home Video. In 2004 a DVD horror-film collection called Elvira's Box of Horrors was released, marking Elvira's return to horror-movie hosting after a ten-year absence.
Unaired pilot for The Elvira Show on CBS
In 1993, she filmed a pilot for CBS called The Elvira Show. An expansion of the 1988 film with a sitcom setting, the premise had Elvira and her family moving into a new neighborhood with her older aunt and dealing with nosy neighbors and uptight conservatives who all want them to move out. It also starred Katherine Helmond, Phoebe Augustine, Cristine Rose, Ted Henning, Lynne Marie Stewart, Claudette Wells, John Paragon, Laurie Faso, and Basil Hoffman. It was cancelled before it aired.
Elvira appeared in comic books from DC Comics, Eclipse Comics and Claypool Comics. DC published a short-lived series in the mid '80s titled Elvira's House of Mystery. Claypool took over the series and in the 1990s distributed a new series, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, co-branded with and distributed by Eclipse. After Eclipse ceased publication, the series was distributed solely by Claypool. The series was edited and occasionally written by Richard Howell and featured photographic covers with interior stories and art by Kurt Busiek, Dan Spiegle, Jim Mooney, Steve Leialoha, and others. It ran for 166 issues plus two trade paperback collections, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Comic Milestones-Comics Format and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Double Delights. In 2012 another series, also titled Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was announced for a 2013 debut to be written by R.H. Stavis and drawn by Jeff Zarnow. The comic book series, to date, has never materialized.
On July 18, 2017, it was announced that a new licensing agreement was made with Dynamite Entertainment for a multitude of new Elvira-related merchandise, including a new comic book series, trading cards, posters, lithographs, card games, and board games. Dynamite formally announced that a new comic book series, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, written by David Avallone and penciled by Dave Acosta, would hit stores in July 2018. Along with a new comic book series, a new line of graphic novels were mentioned.
Beginning in 1996, three Elvira novels (authored by Elvira and John Paragon) were published by Berkley Books, Transylvania 90210, Camp Vamp, and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Long out-of-print, all three titles were republished and made available as e-books in 2018.
Computer, video and pinball games
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of Elvira-themed computer games were produced: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Elvira 2: The Jaws of Cerberus, and Elvira: The Arcade Game.
Two Elvira-themed pinball machines were produced by Bally/Midway: Elvira and the Party Monsters in 1989 and Scared Stiff in 1996. A third pinball machine has been produced by Stern Pinball and was released in October 2019, titled Elvira's House of Horrors.
Elvira was also one of the special characters featured in the 2007 PlayStation 3 game Pain.
Elvira stars in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare "Absolution" released in 2017.
In the early 1990s, Peterson began a series of Elvira calendars featuring characteristically provocative and campy poses in macabre settings. One calendar photo is seen throughout the video game Blood.
Peterson has also portrayed non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985 alongside friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens, who starred as his Pee-wee Herman character; Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, released in 1987, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone; and All About Evil, as a mother named Linda, who says not to go to the old theater to watch scary movies.
Peterson married musician Mark Pierson in 1981. Pierson soon became her personal manager. They had one daughter, Sadie Pierson (born October 12, 1994), and were divorced on February 14, 2003.
In an October 2016 interview with Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist Podcast, Peterson revealed that she was scalded on over 35% of her body in a kitchen accident when she was one and a half years old. She said that she was teased at school over her scars and jokingly added that her Elvira costume "showed only the good bits". Peterson was a vegetarian for many years. She now eats a semi-vegetarian diet.
Peterson originally planned to release her autobiography in October 2020. As of the fall of 2020, possibly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the release date has been pushed back to September 21, 2021.
|1971||Diamonds are Forever||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
|1972||Roma||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
|1974||The Working Girls||Katya|
|1980||Coast to Coast||Dinner party guest|
|Cheech and Chong's Next Movie||Hostage|
|1981||King of the Mountain||Neighbor|
|1981–1986, 2010–11||Elvira's Movie Macabre||Elvira||TV horror hostess|
|1982||Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again||Busty nurse|
|CHiPs||Elvira||Episodes: "Rock Devil Rock", "Things That Go Creep in the Night"|
|1983||The Sting II||O'Malley's girl|
|Stroker Ace||Girl with lugs|
|1985||Pee-wee's Big Adventure||Biker mama|
|ThrillerVideo||Elvira||Home video series for USA and later IVE|
|Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold||Sorais|
|WrestleMania 2||Guest commentator in Los Angeles segment with Jesse Ventura and Lord Alfred Hayes|
|Elvira's Halloween Special||Elvira|
|1988||Elvira: Mistress of the Dark||Elvira|
|1989||The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!||Elvira (as herself)||Episodes: "Mommies Curse" and "The Ghoul of My Dreams"|
|NWA Halloween Havoc 1989 promo||Elvira|
|1990||NWA Halloween Havoc 1990 promo||Elvira|
|1991||Ted & Venus||Lisa|
|WCW Halloween Havoc 1991 promo||Elvira||Claims in the promo to be in the process of constructing the "Chamber of Horrors" cage for the event.|
|1992||The Ketchup Vampires||Elvira||Narrator|
|Parker Lewis Can't Lose||Elvira||Episode: "Boy Meets Girl II"|
|1993||The Elvira Show||Elvira||Unaired CBS pilot|
|1993–1995||Helicopters with Elvira||Elvira|
|1996||Space Ghost Coast to Coast||Elvira||Episode: "Switcheroo"|
|It's My Party||Party guest||Uncredited role|
|1997||Nash Bridges||Elvira||Episode: "Sniper"|
|Draw Your Own Toons||Series 1 only|
|Elvira's Ghost Stories Spooktacular||Elvira|
|The Martin Short Show||Elvira||Episode: #1.35|
|The Howard Stern Radio Show||Herself||Episode 19|
|2000||Bride of Monster Mania||Elvira|
|2001||Scares & Dares|
|Elvira's Haunted Hills||Elvira|
|2004||E! True Hollywood Story||Herself||Episode: "Scream Queens"|
|Monsterama: A Tribute to Horror Hosts|
|Elvira's Box of Horrors||Elvira||Horror film collection on DVD|
|I Love the '80s||Herself and Elvira|
|2005||I Love the Holidays|
|I Love the '80s 3-D||VH1 TV miniseries|
|Playboy Presents: Hef's Halloween Spooktacular||Hostess|
|TV1||Elvira||Australian-based cable TV channel TV1; the format was similar to her old show|
|2006||Red Riding Hood||Hunter's mom|
|The Secret Life of Superfans|
|Vampira: The Movie||Herself||Peterson discusses the Vampira lawsuit|
|I Love the '70s: Volume 2||VH1 TV miniseries|
|Living in TV Land – Sherman Hemsley||TV episode|
|Elvira's Movie Macabre||Elvira||DVD series|
|The Girls Next Door||Elvira||Episode: "Girls Will Be Ghouls"|
|2007||The Search for the Next Elvira||Elvira||Reality television series|
|2009||The Haunted World of El Superbeasto||Amber||Voice|
|Medium||Elvira||Special cameo appearance as Elvira in the beginning of the episode "Bite Me"|
|2010||All About Evil||Linda|
|Elvira's Not a Witch||Elvira||45-second viral video that spoofed a campaign ad by US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell|
|2011||Last Man Standing||Elvira||Cameo appearance|
|Oddities||Herself||45-second viral video that spoofed a campaign ad by US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell|
|2012||RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars||Elvira||Guest judge; episode: "Dynamic Drag Duos"|
|Counting Cars||Herself and Elvira||Episode: "Satanic Mechanic"|
|2013||Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas||Artie Duke|
|First Period||Ms. Glenn|
|2013–2017||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012 TV series)||Mrs. Campbell / Computer voice / Utrom Queen (six episodes)||Voice; six episodes|
|2014||Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films||Herself|
|13 Nights of Elvira||Elvira|
|2015||Halloween Wars||Elvira||Guest judge|
|2016||LEGO Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood||Drella Diabolique||Voice|
|Halloween Wars||Elvira||Guest judge|
|Talking Dead||Herself||Episode: "Swear"|
|2017||Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare||Elvira||Video game|
|2018||Hollywood Weapons: Fact or Fiction?||Elvira||Episode: "Terry's Underworld"|
|Storage Wars Halloween "Scariest Lockers" Special||Elvira||Host|
|2019||RuPaul's Drag Race||Elvira||Guest judge|
|In Search of Darkness||Herself||Documentary film|
|Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island||Elvira||Voice|
|Halloween Wars Season 9, Episode 1||Elvira||Guest judge|
|2020||To Tell the Truth||Herself|
|JJ Villard's Fairy Tales||Queen||Voice; one episode|
|Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo!||Elvira||Voice|
|In Search of Darkness: Part II||Herself||Documentary film|
Music video appearances
|1985||"Born in East L.A."||Cheech Marin|
|1986||"My Mistake"||Phantom, Rocker & Slick|
|2009||"Mistress of the Dark"||Ghoultown|
|2014||"Gimme Something Good"||Ryan Adams|
Peterson recorded several songs and skits for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:
- Elvira and the Vi-Tones: 3-D TV: "3-D TV (Three-Dimensional)" b/w "Elvira's Theme" (Rhino Records 1982)
- Elvira Presents Vinyl Macabre: Oldies but Ghoulies (Volume 1) (Rhino Records 1983)
- Elvira Presents Haunted Hits (Rhino Records 1987)
- Elvira Presents Monster Hits (Rhino Records 1994)
- Elvira Presents Revenge of the Monster Hits (Rhino Records 1995)
- Elvira's Gravest Hits (Shout! Factory 2010)
She also performed on a track called "Zombie Killer" for the band Leslie and the Ly's, released in February 2008. The music video for the track features Leslie and the Ly's performing to a sold-out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium". A 7" single was released.
Awards and nominations
Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival
Hollywood Horror Festival
- Vincent Price Award: 2018
- Maila Nurmi
- The Vampira Show
- Midnight movie
- "Elvira: 'Burns Made Me What I Am Today'". Contact Music. August 24, 2005. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
- "This Week in Horror - Summer Spooktacular: Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark". YouTube. June 28, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- Miska, Brad (October 28, 2019). "Elvira Reveals the First Horror Film She Ever Saw [Exclusive]". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
- Del Mar, Pollo (January 21, 2009). "Elvira Was Raised By a Pack of Wild Drag Queens". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Archived from the original on August 7, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
- "'Elvira' Actress Cassandra Peterson Dishes On Her Dream Date With Elvis Presley". Huffington Post. July 7, 2014.
- O'Neal, Sam (October 28, 2009). "Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark (and merchandising)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 20, 2009.
- Femme Fatales, 1:3, Winter 1992/1993, p. 6
- Elvira's House of Mystery DC Comics (11 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Claypool Comics (166 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
- Turek, Ryan (October 2, 2014). "Elvira Heads to Hulu for All-New Series". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
- Cavanaugh, Patrick (September 13, 2019). "Elvira Actress Clarifies Reports of Streaming Project, Teases New Movie on the Way". Comicbook.com. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
- "Thriller Videos & DVDs". Markmcm.co.uk. July 18, 2005. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- Jr, Felix Vasquez (July 25, 2018). "[TV Terrors] "The Elvira Show" Was Cancelled By CBS Before It Even Aired". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
- "A Look at "The Elvira Show" Pilot |". Retrieved February 11, 2021.
- "Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark Teams With Dynamite For New Comics And More!". Elvira.com. July 18, 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017.
- "Elvira Returns to Comic Books With Her Own Line". Newsarama. April 5, 2018. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
- "Books – Elvira, Mistress of the Dark". Elvira.com. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
- "Elvira Celebrates Halloween with Revealing 'Coffin Table' Book". Parade. October 25, 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2018.
- "List of games at Gamespot". Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
- "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Elvira and the Party Monsters'". Ipdb.org. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Midway 'Scared Stiff'". Ipdb.org. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- "[Trailer] Here's Elvira in New 'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare' DLC". Bloody Disgusting. July 6, 2017. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
- "Nerdist Interview". Nerdist. October 31, 2016. Archived from the original on November 5, 2016. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
- "Elvira Talks Halloween, Being an LGBTQ Icon and Selling a Haunted House to Brad Pitt". Marriott Bonvoy Traveler. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
- Squires, John (August 8, 2019). "Elvira's Autobiography Set for Release During the 2020 Halloween Season". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
- "Elivira's Halloween Havoc '89 promo". YouTube.
- "NWA Halloween Havoc 1990 Promo feat. Elvira V.2". YouTube.
- "WCW Halloween Havoc 1991 Promo (Chamber of Horrors Version)". YouTube.
- "Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival (2001)". IMDb.
- "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA (1990)". IMDb.
- "Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards. Archived from the original on May 12, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
- "Razzie 1988". Razzies.com. Archived from the original on May 5, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
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