It’s hard not to love the attitude, verve, humor, longevity and physical attributes of Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a., Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Beginning as a local horror movie hostess on KHJ TV in Los Angeles in 1981, the former Vegas showgirl and Groundlings company member has gone on to become the contemporary equivalent of Santa Claus for Halloween, lending her corny humor, pallor and cleavage to every manner of media — national TV, film, recordings, commercials, books, computer games and comic books — and is still going strong after 23 years.
Elvira is well nigh ubiquitous this Halloween: she was on the Today Show this morning, hosts Scream Queens: The E! True Hollywood Story tonight on E! (clip here), looking at the history and evolution of horror film babes, last night she hosted Hollywood’s Creepiest Creatures on Animal Planet (clip here), and she is hosting Lifetime’s ongoing Halloween Film Fest right now.
I found her first movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, at the bottom of the $5.50 bin at Wal-Mart last night, and after climbing out of the vicious pit of cinematic effluvium, my prize clutched between my teeth, and we gave it a whirl when we got home. Tone is everything in a spoof by a spoofer, and Elvira managed to stay on or near the fine line between actual fright and campy humor, and even conveyed gentle messages of female independence and acceptance of difference buried amidst a serviceable but creaky plot involving the Mistress inheriting a creepy old house and a special “cook book” from her great aunt in a conformist Massachusetts town suspiciously near Salem.
Peterson’s genuine sexiness seeps through the faux-sexiness of her Elvira character, and she is a far more supple actress than I had anticipated. Most important, she was able to cross the barrier between outside commentator and participant in the cinematic action with no little panache – in all, it’s a fun Halloween flick.
Making it all-Elvira-all-the-time yesterday, we had our daughter’s fifth birthday party in the afternoon, and we did it up Halloween style with costumes, full decorations and lighting down in the Basement of Extreme Little Girl Horror. Needless to say, key to the ambiance was appropriate musical accompaniment: we played Elvira’s Haunted Hits straight through (three times) as the soundtrack to the party. It’s an extremely well-curated (Mark Pierson) combination of standards and interesting surpises.
On the standard side is “Monster Mash” (the lasting popularity of which is attributable to a perfect combination of camp, monster lore, and backbeat rock ‘n’ roll), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’ “Haunted House,” Ray Parker Jr’s “Ghostbusters” theme, Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You,” and Vi Mizzy’s “Addams Family Theme.”
Surprises include the deadpan hilarity of “The Blob,” Australian glam-pop greats Skyhooks with “Horror Movie,” Oingo Boingo’s (with Danny Elfman) wavey classic “Dead Man’s Party,” Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’s jazzy, harmonic “Halloween Spooks,” and “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” by the Cramps.
Long may the Mistress of the Dark reign.