Friday, October 7, 2016

Elvira, the Queen of Halloween

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

The After Movie Diner is now running my appreciation for the one, the only, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I'm excited to be included as part of their "Horrortober" series this October, and doubly excited that I got to write about the Queen of Halloween herself. It's been thirty-five years since actress Cassandra Peterson first donned the bouffant wig and low-cut, high-slit black dress and became Elvira, our most cherished of horror movie hosts and icons. Through Peterson's good humor and easy charms, Elvira has become a national treasure. I was originally intending to simply share the link to that article, but Elvira is so iconic that a little more fawning from this fan is not only warranted, but practically necessary. How can you ever say enough about Elvira in just one article? I can't, so here's a little bit more for the truly devoted.

But you love guys without hairy chests too, right?!?
Asking for a friend.
Elvira, the cult movie horror host know for her rather large, um, personality, first introduced countless other kids (including yours truly) and young adults to the weird worlds of horror and b-movies. Elvira's Movie Macabre ran movies most of us had never heard of before, and we quickly became fans—of both cult movies and Elvira herself. Her self-deprecating and campy style continues to endear her to legions of fans. She never takes herself or the films she's presenting too seriously. She's in on the joke, and she wants you to be in on it with her. It's those qualities that make her as popular as she remains today. Of course, some of her other, um, attributes also attract fans. Her sex appeal is a huge part of her act, of course. You first notice Elvira because of her looks and that body, but you keep coming back for her wit and style. Okay let's be honest, you come back for the body also. Men, women, children, family pets, garden gnomes: everyone and everything takes notice of Elvira. But let's try to set aside her physical assets for a moment—good luck!—and get back to what fans love most about her: the sense that she's welcoming you into her living room to watch movies together, chat about them, and have a few laughs along the way. We watch horror movies to experience frightful and dangerous events in a safe and controlled manner on screen. It's a healthy way to process our daily feelings of fear and anxiety. Peterson understands this and as Elvira acts as our constant and cheerful companion through the twisted and strange landscape of horror.

Elvira, speaking for legions of horror fans.
Peterson's crafting of that magnetically accessible personality over the years has made fans feel like they know Elvira personally. Spending time with her is always entertaining and uplifting. It's hard to watch Elvira doing her thing and not walk away with your spirits lifted. Some might groan at her puns and campy humor, but those of us who appreciate it do so because of how it makes us feel. Life is hard enough, sometimes relentlessly so, and we turn to entertainers like Elvira to help us find comfort and relaxation. Of course most of us don't really know Peterson or Elvira, but growing up watching her has helped us to feel like we do. It's like I say in the article, she has the same gift that Fred Rogers had, which is to make people feel at home, and safe. Her style may be vastly different than Mr. Rogers', but the substance behind both of these icons is very similar. Elvira accomplishes the same things that Mr. Rogers did, which is to make her audience feel welcome and in the company of someone who enjoys spending time with them. She simply does all of this while wearing stilettos and showing enough leg and bare flesh to make a Vegas showgirl seem conservatively dressed.

Elvira is our guide through the darkest depths of horror every October.

October has long been my favorite time of year for a number of reasons, including the crisp, cool, and comfortable autumn air; all manner of pumpkin treats; and the countdown to Halloween that begins October 1 and intensifies as the month progresses and horror movie marathons start to dominate cable TV. It's during this time of year that Elvira is most in the popular culture spotlight, and this October Peterson is releasing a thirty-fifth anniversary celebration "Coffin Table Book" titled, fittingly, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It appears to be an over-sized monster of a book, containing more than 350 photographs, including various pieces of art and ephemera. It will look splendid on your coffee table, right next to that enormous art history tome you like to leave out to impress guests. You'll separate the wheat from the chaff with Elvira's book: people with a good sense of humor, who enjoy pop art that takes the piss out of life, will nod in recognition at a fellow connoisseur of culture. Others will be appalled, and hopefully these visitors will never darken your door again. The folks who get it are in on the joke that Elvira has been in on for thirty-five years now: life is too short to take all of its accompanying nonsense too seriously. Long Live Elvira!

Frighteningly great: The back cover of Elvira's new book.

1 comment:

  1. Elvira! You cannot miss her. Did you know that she and Phil Hartman started in the Groundlings together? That is where she came up with the character. I remembered being in LA when Phil was killed and a couple of media outlets interviewed her because apparently she was still close with Phil. Have you ever met her? I know she goes to Cons and she is very fan friendly. That is hard to come by these days. I do remember there was some controversy about her look and that she stole it from Vampira? Great job, Michael!