Cassandra Peterson (born September 17, 1951) is an American actress best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ wearing a black, gothic, revealing, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation.
Born in Kansas, Peterson grew up near Randolph, until her family then moved to Colorado. According to a 2011 interview, Peterson states that as a child, while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys.
In the late spring of 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a local Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring the show back. They asked 1950s horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but eventually 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. 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 in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).
Peterson’s Elvira character rapidly gained notoriety 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 revelled in dropping risqué double entendres and making frequent jokes about her cleavage.
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 feature film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, co-written by Peterson and released in 1988.
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In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo for U.S.A. Home Video and later International Video Entertainment (I.V.E.). 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. She refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, so the videos were released on the LIVE Home Video label without Elvira’s appearance as hostess.
The success of the ThrillerVideo series led to a second video set, Elvira’s Midnight Madness 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. In September 2010, Elvira’s Movie Macabre returned to television syndication in the U.S., this time with public-domain films.
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.
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 (1989) and Scared Stiff (1996).
In the early 1990s, Peterson began a series of successful Elvira calendars featuring characteristically provocative and campy poses in various macabre settings.
After several years of unsuccessful attempts to make a sequel to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to take matters into their own hands and finance a second movie themselves. In November 2000, Cassandra wrote and co-produced Elvira’s Haunted Hills.
The film was shot on location 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 the many people in attendance, this was the first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character.
In 2012 Peterson became an investor in Comikaze Entertainment Inc., which hosts Comikaze Expo, one of the largest pop culture conventions in the United States. She and fellow investor, Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, were guests of honor at the inaugural Comikaze Expo in 2011. Comikaze CEO Regina Carpinelli refers to Peterson as the “Mistress of the Board”.
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Buy Elvira’s Movie Macabre: Bloody Madness on DVD from Amazon.com
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