BY EMILY GAGNE
Role in the horror community: Modern mistress of the dark (read: a gloriously self-aware follow-up to Vampira)
Claim to fame: Elvira’s Movie Macabre, an early 1980s TV show which picked up where The Vampira Show left off, introducing viewers to various genre films through its sassy, sexy and just slightly scary host. Elvira would, like Vampira, provide innuendo-laden commentary and intros for each film, but she did so in an especially over-the-top way, as though she was a goth Valley Girl. Through this show, actress Cassandra Peterson would mould character she’d play for years and years to come (see also: the films Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, the Movie Macabre revival, The Search for the Next Elvira, among countless other projects).
Weapon of choice: She’s actually got quite a few. Her signature slinky black sheath (the perfect frame for her unreal boobs — and the self-deprecating jokes that come with them!), raven beehive ‘do and delightfully dark humour are all key to her vampy/campy persona.
Why she’s bloody brilliant: Elvira is, just as Vampira was, a brilliant twist on typical portrayals of women in horror. But whereas Vampira proved that genre girls can be both sexy and creepy, and find strength in that devilish cocktail, Elvira set out to say that being funny can be part of the mix too.
Although she might look like a typical tortured vampire exploitation flick chick at first glance, the minute she opens her mouth, Elvira smashes that image to pieces with her purposefully ditzy way of speaking and fun, bubbly personality. And then she goes one step further, ripping dumb girl stereotypes to shreds with her extensive knowledge of horror film history (call her horror’s Dolly Parton!). For gals like me, who thrive on light-hearted wit and cute dresses as much as they do dark tales and ugly-faced evils, Elvira’s been a true inspiration, proving that our kind of fan not only exists, but might just know her stuff as well as the guys and typically ghoulish girls.
What’s really impressive about Elvira is that she came completely from Peterson, as the actress was asked to come up with the replacement for Maila Nurmi’s Vampira when Nurmi dropped out of the planned Fright Night revival in 1981. She was a purposeful, inspired and genuine amalgamation of many a ravaged convention–a feminist Frankenstein, if you will–and was so well-received by the network, they decided to give Peterson her own show. She’s stood the test of time too, still managing to scare up new fans thanks to Peterson’s ongoing interest and passion for keeping her alive, whether that be through the movies (which Peterson co-wrote and produced), new shows, comic books, albums, video games or–one ticket to California, please!–Knott’s “Scary” Farm revues.