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-TV wearing a revealing, black, gothic, cleavage-enhancing gown as host of Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly horror movie presentation. Her wickedly vampish appearance is offset by her comical character, quirky and quick-witted personality, and Valley girl-type speech.
Peterson was born in Manhattan, Kansas. She grew up near Randolph, Kansas, until the area was flooded to create Tuttle Creek Reservoir; her family then moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to a 2011 interview, Peterson states that as a child, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls. During her teens, Peterson worked as a go-go dancer in a local gay bar. She graduated from General William J. Palmer High School in 1969.
Inspired by Ann-Margret in 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, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract. Immediately after graduating, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Viva Les Girls at The Dunes; here, she met Elvis Presley, whom she briefly dated. She had a small role as a showgirl in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever and played a topless dancer in The Working Girls (1974). She also purportedly posed for the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change. 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" that it is her.
In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became the lead singer of the Italian rock band I Latins Ochanats and The Snails. Introduced to director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared she landed a small part in 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.
During the 1970s, Peterson also modeled for several men's magazines, such as High Society, Man's Delight, and Modern Man.
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, Or--Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck.
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 campy 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 feature film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan, and which was released in 1988.
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 would later be 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.
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 Mistress of the Dark, was announced for a 2013 debut to be written by R.H. Stavis and drawn by Jeff Zarnow.
Computer 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.
In the early 1990s, Peterson began a series of successful Elvira calendars featuring characteristically provocative and campy poses in various macabre settings. One calendar photo is seen throughout the video game Blood.
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."
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, also released in 1985, 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 is a vegetarian and has appeared in a humorous Halloween-themed ad for PETA, promoting a vegetarian diet.
In a 2008 interview, Peterson claimed that she lost her virginity to Tom Jones and needed stitches due to him being an aggressive lover.
She married her personal manager, Mark Pierson, in 1981. 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".
|Diamonds are Forever||
||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
||Dancer||Uncredited small role|
|The Working Girls||
|Coast to Coast||
||Dinner party guest|
|Cheech and Chong's Next Movie||
|King of the Mountain||
|Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again||
|The Sting II||
||Girl with lugs|
|Pee-wee's Big Adventure||
|Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold||
|Elvira, Mistress of the Dark||
|Ted & Venus||
|The Ketchup Vampires||
|It's My Party||
||Party guest||Uncredited role|
|Elvira's Haunted Hills||
|Red Riding Hood||
|The Haunted World of El Superbeasto||
|All About Evil||
|Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas||
|LEGO Scooby-Doo! Haunted Hollywood||
- Elvira's Movie Macabre (1981), TV horror hostess
- CHiPs – (as Elvira) in season 6, episode 4, "Rock Devil Rock" (1982)
- The Fall Guy, episode "October the 31st"
- ThrillerVideo (1985), home video series for USA and later IVE
- The music video for My Mistake by Phantom, Rocker & Slick – (1986)
- WrestleMania 2 (1986), guest commentator
- Elvira's Halloween Special (1986)
- Coors TV commercials (1988), spokesperson.
- The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! (1989), as herself, she appeared in the last sitcom segment of the program, called The Ghoul of My Dreams.
- Parker Lewis Can't Lose – season 2, episode 19, "Boy Meets Girl II", appeared as Elvira (1992)
- The Elvira Show (1993), unreleased CBS pilot revolving around two witches, played by Elvira and Katherine Helmond, moving to Manhattan, Kansas, with their talking cat.
- Helicopters with Elvira (1993–1995)
- Space Ghost Coast to Coast – episode 27, "Switcheroo", appeared as Elvira (1996)
- Nash Bridges – A professional dominatrix (as Elvira) in season 3, episode 7, "Sniper" (1997)
- Draw Your Own Toons (1998, series 1 only)
- Elvira's Ghost Stories Spooktacular show (1999)
- The Martin Short Show – TV episode #1.35 (as Elvira) (1999)
- The Howard Stern Radio Show – TV episode 19, June 1999
- Bride of Monster Mania (2000) (TV)
- Scares & Dares (2001) (TV)
- E! True Hollywood Story – Scream Queens (2004) Hostess
- The Tony Danza Show – TV episode #1.34 (2004)
- Monsterama: A Tribute to Horror Hosts (2004) (TV)
- Elvira's Box of Horrors (2004), horror film collection on DVD
- I Love the '80s VH1 – Peterson made appearances (both as herself and as Elvira) on several editions.
- I Love the Holidays (2005) (TV)
- I Love the '80s 3-D (2005), VH1 TV miniseries
- Playboy Presents: Hef's Halloween Spooktacular (2005) (Hostess)
- TV1 (2005), Peterson (as Elvira) hosted a show on Australian-based cable TV channel TV1; the format was similar to her old show.
- The Secret Life of Superfans (2006)
- Vampira: The Movie (2006). Peterson discusses the Vampira lawsuit.
- I Love the '70s: Volume 2 (2006), VH1 TV miniseries
- Living in TV Land – Sherman Hemsley (2006), TV episode
- Elvira's Movie Macabre DVD series – (September 2006)
- The Girls Next Door – "Girls Will Be Ghouls" (October 2006) Elvira visits The Playboy Mansion to promote her Playboy-inspired DVD.
- The Search for the Next Elvira (October 13, 2007), TV reality show by Fox Reality. On April 19, 2006, Peterson announced she would be seeking a few good "Elviras" via a reality television program. Some mistook this for an announcement of her retirement. As of October 2006, she had cleared up the rumor by stating that she wanted to find other people to play the role, so that the character could appear at the multitude of personal appearance requests. As Peterson stated in an interview, there were many Bozos (the clown) making personal appearances, even though Larry Harmon himself had died since, so she saw no reason there could not be more Elviras.
- Medium (2009), Special cameo appearance as Elvira in the beginning of the "Bite Me" episode.
- Appeared in the Ghoultown music video for their song "Mistress of the Dark". (2009)
- Appeared as a downloadable character in the Sony PlayStation 3 game Pain (October 2009)
- Elvira's Movie Macabre (2010), TV horror hostess
- Last Man Standing – Special cameo appearance as Elvira (2011)
- Elvira's Not a Witch – a 45 second viral video that spoofed a campaign ad by US Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell (October 2010)
- Oddities (one episode, 2011) - In this show about a strange antique shop in New York City called Obscura, owners Mike, Evan and Ryan visit Peterson and present her with a necklace made of extracted human teeth.
- RuPaul's Drag Race – Special guest judge as Elvira in first episode (2012)
- Counting Cars - Had her car decked out,; appeared in and out of costume on episode "Satanic Mechanic" (2012)
- Rewind This! - appearance as herself in documentary about the impact of VHS on the film industry and home video.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012 TV series) (2013) - Mrs. Campbell (2 episodes)
- Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - appearance as herself in documentary about Cannon Films.
- 13 Nights of Elvira (2014), TV horror hostess
- Ryan Adams (2014) – guest appearance on the music video 'Gimme Something Good' from the album Ryan Adams (album).
- "Halloween Wars" (2015 and 2016) – Special guest judge as Elvira in season five, episode four (2015) and season six, episode one (2016)
- Talking Dead (2016) – Peterson appeared as herself to discuss The Walking Dead episode "Swear"
Peterson recorded several songs for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:
- Elvira and the Vi-tones: 3-D TV (Rhino Records, 1982)
- Vinyl Macabre (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 & The Ly's performing to a sold out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium." A 7" single was released.
In the mid-1990s, Cassandra Peterson enlisted female impersonators Christian Greenia (Cassandra Fever) from Los Angeles, California, and Patterson Lundquist ("Elvira's Twin") from Atlanta, Georgia as her "official Elvira impersonators", calling them "the best she'd ever seen." They later appeared with her as co-judges on The Search for the Next Elvira. The first official female Elvira impersonator, April Wahlin, the winner of The Search for the Next Elvira, was passed the crown on October 31, 2007. As the winner of the reality show, Wahlin made a few appearances during her one-year "reign" from October 31, 2007 to October 31, 2008. Greenia and Lundquist continue to appear as Elvira for various events across the country.
Awards and nominations
Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival
- Spirit of Silver Lake Award: 2001
- Best Actress: 1988
- Worst Actress: 1988