Elvira, Mistress of the Dark represents something different for different people. Cassandra Peterson, through Elvira, an icon of horror, but also of comedy. For many fans, she’s a sex symbol. Significantly, she’s a smart sex symbol. Much is often made about Elvira’s chest, mostly by Elvira herself who self-deprecates for comedy. Much of that comedy is built on the contrast between Elvira’s goofy Valley Girl personality and her (I hate this word) buxom appearance, which could easily lead to her dismissal by clueless cretins who form an opinion strictly on first appearances. Yet no matter where she drives, which judging panel or rented couch she sits on, Elvira is always going to be smarter than everyone in the room. For me, Cassandra Peterson is the ultimate example of a woman creating her own opportunities using her talents as an actress, performer, and writer. She is the Mae West of the eighties, yet unlike the fabulous Ms West, Elvira continues to have a relevance outside of the decade she found fame. When Cassandra got the gig as a horror movie host, she couldn’t have expected it to last long. Possibly, she regarded it as a gig until the next acting job came along. Not only did she create the character, she kept the rights and makes money when she appears in every conceivable bit of merchandise imaginable. Like I said: smarter than everyone in the room. And like everything else that touched the zeitgeist in the eighties, Elvira managed to star in her own movie. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a cult classic that more and more people are discovering. From taking on sex pests, tedious finger-wagging moralisers, cinema snobs, and gas stations (!), this is a movie with a lot of charisma and pace. It’s fun, basically. Every Halloween, it gets put in the selection and my friends always love every second. Some things are inevitable in October. Cold weather, dead leaves on concrete, my birthday, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Cassandra Peterson recently made headlines worldwide after revealing in her autobiography that she was in a relationship with a woman. Some of the comments I read seemed to question how a ‘gay woman could be an idol for straight horror fans’, the audience that bought the beer with her face on it. Actually, Elvira was unfollowed by some of these fans, though she gained far more followers. For me, I assumed that Cassandra is gay and Elvira is straight – and that’s how I see them, but then they can be both at the same time, because they inhabit different spaces in the same woman. If it truly matters to you, then understand something significant about Elvira: she has always been a heroine for gay men and gay women. I never realised this until years later, because for me she was a cult misfit and that was the appeal. In ’90s Scotland, Elvira was someone only a few people knew about from a movie that was released in the ’80s and shockingly didn’t win an Oscar.
If you haven’t read Yours Cruelly, you should get a copy right away. It ended up being one of my favourite books of the year. Not only do you get to see the woman underneath the beehive, but you get to understand more about Elvira, much more than you’d learn from the bitchy brilliance she routinely unleashed on Movie Macabre. If I’m being completely honest, I think the main reason I love Elvira is that she always wins. There’s something in my DNA that always takes up for a misfit who has everyone against her yet somehow she finds a way to humiliate them. She loved taking the piss out of horror movies, which was my thing too – but like me, Elvira clearly loved them too, bad effects and all. There’s a secret club out there, a circle that feels so much larger now with the internet, a fan club of fellow Elvira devotees. They speak in code. They wear the right t-shirts and quote the words you thought only you knew. We adapt these phrases for real life, using them when the opportunity arises, knowing it will never be quite as good as Cassandra doing the same. Honestly, I have uttered the words “I need this job like a leper needs a three-way mirror!” in real life. I strongly encourage you to do the same. Try it. You’ll enjoy the moment of freedom before you get in your car and drive off to the Job Centre.
I want to say Elvira isn’t just for weirdos. She deserves to be respected by everyone for winning against the odds every time. She comes out, loses fans, gains more. She gets a job hosting a horror show on TV, she ends up keeping the rights and establishing a career for life, because while Halloween exists, so too shall Elvira. She is a real life Final Girl and that’s something we can all celebrate.
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