The Mistress of the Dark is making all our undead dreams come true.
Cassandra Peterson a.k.a. Elvira has been making audiences swoon, laugh and shiver in fear for over 40 years as a hilarious horror hostess. During the anniversary of debuting her “Santa Claus of Halloween” stage character, Peterson has made headlines with her same-sex relationship, tell-all memoir Yours Cruelly, Shudder and AMC+ streaming movie marathon Elvira’s 40th Anniversary, Very Scary, Very Special Special and taking over Netflix‘s social channels every Sunday in October for weekly Netflix & Chills events.
At age 70, it’s safe to say that Peterson is still the queen of Halloween—and she’s clearly just getting started with her second act. The B-movie scream queen revisited her O.G. series Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and exclusively spilled on why her character Elvira was never “accidentally funny.”
Below, see inside Elvira’s epic world through the years as Peterson answers all our burning questions about being the Mistress of the Dark.
E! News: Congratulations on your 40th anniversary special. What was it like stepping back into Elvira for the Shudder and AMC+ movie marathon?
Cassandra Peterson: I hadn’t done it in quite a while. I think the last thing I did was for Hulu [with 13 Nights of Elvira] but that was quite a few years ago [in 2014]. So coming back and doing this again, my regular horror hosting gig, was really fun and exciting for me. I love doing it. I found a new writer, Eric Kornfeld, who is awesome. He has been a writer with Bette Midler for the past 20 years. I think the material is really funny. We had a blast doing it. It was kind of rushed and kind of low budget but I think we pulled it off. We’ve got four fantastic movies.
E! News: How did you pick the movies to be featured, from House on Haunted Hill, City of the Dead and Messiah of Evil, to your own Mistress of the Dark?
CP: I couldn’t believe it, Shudder really came up with this choice of movies, and of course I was thrilled it was Mistress of the Dark but I was equally as thrilled it was House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price because that was the movie I saw as a child that got me turned on to horror, and I think ultimately led me to this gig of being Elvira. So having that movie there was really nostalgic for me. I loved seeing it again—I’ve seen it a million times over the years, but seeing it again and then having my idol Vincent Price being in the movie, a guy that I just worshipped as a kid right up until the time he passed away…He was just a wonderful human being.
E! News: Looking back, how did Elvira come to be?
CP: I started in comedy at the Groundlings Theater, which is a comedy improv group in L.A. I was there for four-and-a-half years. I also have seen myself as a comedian. I think a lot of other people don’t realize that. I mean, they know I’m funny but I think they think I’m funny accidentally. I actually studied and got that together, but it started out being really kind of a low, low, low-budget thing that looked like it was shot in a basement or something, and we were able to take it national, so it became the first nationally syndicated horror show with a host in it. Every kind of local market had their own horror host when I grew up.
It started off very small in a local station and went national and then I began getting national ads for Coors, Pepsi, and it really carried the character into kind of iconic status. I think the main thing that has kept the character going over the years—and there were some very, very lean times, and there were some very happening times—but basically when Halloween rolled around every year, and still rolls around every year, I was back. So I feel very much like Santa Claus. Except for the beard, I think we’re very similar. But aligning myself with a national holiday sure didn’t hurt things, you know? I think Elvira and Halloween have sort of become synonymous.
E! News: Yours Cruelly really proves that you’ve lived nine lives as a celebrity. Fans may not have known that you led an Italian pop band, or were the youngest Las Vegas showgirl in history. Was there anything you were hesitant to include when you were writing your memoir?
CP: I did have things I was wondering if I should talk about, but at the last minute, I just kind of said, ‘Screw it, put it in there.’ I’m 70 years old now. What, am I just going to keep this under my hat until I die?
I’ve had a very interesting, bizarre life, and so many of my friends have said over the years, ‘You have got to write your memoir and talk about all this stuff and let people know,’ because most people just think I was born the day Elvira began in 1981, and don’t know about any of my past adventures before that. I always told people that my life was so interesting and weird before Elvira came along that when I became Elvira, it just suddenly was normal. ‘Oh, finally I can be a regular person and everything has calmed down.’ So you know that if somebody looks like Elvira and their life was weirder before, you know there’s something really bizarre. Right?
E! News: What do you hope fans take away from your memoir?
CP: I have a feeling that when this book gets around and more people read it, they won’t be concentrating on Elvira as much concentrating on maybe me as Cassandra Peterson. There’s just a small portion of the book, really, that deals with Elvira. I hope women who have been through trauma—all women have some stories about sexual harassment or sexual assault, sadly—I hope it appeals to them so they can hear my story and not feel so alone. I hope it appeals to people who felt like a misfit when they were a kid. I certainly did, I had been burned as a baby and was covered in scars. I was bullied when I was a child. I hope that the other people who had similar situations, and that doesn’t mean getting burned, but they felt like a misfit because they were gay, possibly, as a child and felt different than the other kids and were teased…I hope that will appeal to them, and that they feel like they have somebody that just shares those stories and they won’t feel alone.
It’s one of those things you hold inside your whole life and it’s not good for you. It brings back things, when I hear other peoples’ stories, they’re almost PTSD-like. So I wanted to get it out of there and not keep it a secret, and I wanted other people—other women, in particular—to see that it happens to everybody, unfortunately, sadly, and not to feel alone or estranged because of it.
Elvira’s 40th Anniversary, Very Scary, Very Special Special is now streaming on Shudder and AMC+. Yours Cruelly is available wherever books are sold.
For more information on Elvira’s projects, go here.
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