Meeting Elvira: the Mistress of the Dark had been one of my top goals for Horrorhound! I had been unable to attend the 2008 Flashback Weekend here in Chicago; an event in which she shared a stage with Svengoolie. Missing that historic moment was something I never forgave myself for and I was determined to finally meet her.
Elvira is, without question, the most recognizable horror host in the country. Whether she was selling products such as Coors Beer, making numerous media appearances, or even starring in her own feature film, she remains an indelible figure of 1980’s popular culture. Women admired her brassy, valley girl attitude while men liked her for entirely different reasons. Her low cut dress and celebrated cleavage were the source of many a man’s fantasies as well as providing her character with infinite laughs. Although I haven’t actually counted, I would venture to guess that her self-titled first film contained more “boob” jokes than any others to date.
After our local Son of Svengoolie was canceled, Elvira became our only option. Although nothing like Svengoolie, I found her highly entertaining. As a teenager, I purchased all of her “Elvira Midnight Madness” videos and still enjoy them today – easily watching SHE DEMONS and FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER about 50 times. I also loved her Halloween CD’s – “Elvira’s Monster Hits” and “Revenge of the Monster Hits.” Those tunes, particularly my favorite – “Monster Rap,” still receive regular play in my household throughout the month of October.
A friend of mine had shared a story of his meeting Elvira at a convention some years back. Apparently the line to greet her was so long she would sign autographs only and take no photos. Negotiation was futile as her female assistant had enough muscle tone to bench press ME. I had a lot of anxiety that history would repeat itself at Horrorhound, especially since it had attracted such a large number of visitors. I was relieved when I saw that the line was relatively short and that she was allowing photographs. Now was definitely my chance!
She was very friendly and took a couple photos with both my friend and I. Although I had missed her performing with Svengoolie LIVE, I did get to see the event courtesy of Rich airing it on his own show along with a photo taken of the two together. Since he was unable to attend Horrorhound, I asked Elvira if she would sign something I could send to him. It was at that moment when she looked up and noticed I was wearing my Sven shirt. She beamed a big smile and said, “I really enjoyed working with him.” I asked her if she was familiar with his work prior to Flashback Weekend and she responded, “Oh, definitely!” During his HD presentation of THE BIRDS, Svengoolie showed the autograph and mentioned the meeting (though he was off on the correct year).
Before leaving her booth, she delighted us by doing a video introduction for our home movie, introducing the “Dave and Jason Horrorhound video” as if it were her own. She ended with her famous exit phrase, “Unpleasant dreams….” while waving goodbye. You could not have asked for a better way to cap our first night at the convention!
On Sunday, right after the Vampira Tribute (an event I’ll be covering soon), we passed by her booth a second time. No longer in character, she was signing as her alter ego, Cassandra Peterson. We decided that the opportunity to get a photo both with and without make-up was too good to pass up. The line was short and we went back for another meeting.
After Horrorhound, I remember reading some complaints on the magazine’s fan forum regarding Elvira’s choice not to participate in the actual Tribute. Those aware of the history between these two women surely understood. Maila Nurmi (who had retained the rights to her Vampira character) had worked with producers in creating a “new” Vampira for the 1980’s. She shared the design of her black costume, details of her former set, along with her famous walk down a dark corridor to a Victorian couch. A short time later, the producers kicked her out of the project and created “Elvira.” This, naturally, caused great stress to Ms Nurmi who unsuccessfully tried to sue Cassandra.
Regardless of what your thoughts are on this matter, there are two things I believe; 1) those television producers definitely screwed over Maila Nurmi and 2) while Elvira was obviously modeled after Vampira, it was ultimately Cassandra’s personality that made the role so successful – particularly for an 80’s audience. I bumped into a fan of Vampira’s at Horrorhound and asked him, “What do you think Maila Nurmi would say if she knew Elvira was participating in her tribute.”
“Oh…,” the man said while removing his glasses to wipe a lens, “I imagine she’d be in her grave doing a complete 180 degree spin!” He then placed the spectacles back on, giving a faint smile. While some chided Elvira for being “disrespectful” for not attending the tribute with the rest of the hosts, I believe in lieu of the circumstances she was being more respectful by bowing out.
For my part, meeting Elvira remains one of my Horrorhound highlights. I am also thrilled at the news that Elvira will be returning to hosting movies with all new episodes of her “Movies Macabre” later this year. We can also look forward to new “monster” music courtesy of “Elvira’s Gravest Hits,” and see her appearance in a film called ALL ABOUT EVIL. Regardless of her roots, Cassandra Peterson is a force to be reckoned with, and the success of Elvira must be credited to her.