Elvira's World 

Cassandra Peterson, pushing 60 and still Mistress of the Dark

Thursday, Sep 23 2010

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Post–Movie Macabre, Peterson launched Elvira video games, comic books, a microbrew, a pinball machine and a perfume (called — what else? — Evil). For 21 years, she performed a live revue every October at Knott's Scary Farm, for what she calls "an enormous amount of money — and I have to say, I deserved it because I worked three or four shows a night for practically 30 days in a row."

That gig ended when the park outsourced production to a new company that, according to Peterson, "couldn't afford my fee, and I wasn't willing to do the same show for, like, half the money."

On Halloween 1992, in between Knott's performances, she made a cameo on U2's Zoo TV tour, bantering with Bono via satellite. She shot a CBS sitcom pilot that never made it to air (Peterson told The Onion that after one network VP watched the show, he said, "Uh, we can't show those kinds of tits on TV.") She launched a line of Elvira-branded haunted houses. She narrated a series of documentaries about B-movies, as well as "Ketchup Vampires," an animated film about vegetarian bloodsuckers. She guest-starred on TV shows as diverse as Nash Bridges and Space Ghost. She hosted a special about Goth clubs for the E! Network. She wrote and starred in two Elvira feature films: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and Elvira's Haunted Hills.

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON - Cassandra Peterson, pushing 60 and still Mistress of the Dark

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"People think I have been retired, in a trailer in Pacoima," Peterson says. "But, in fact, I run a rather large merchandising and licensing business. Elvira has a lot of spin-off items and licensing and appearances to support the licensing. It's still year-round, full-time Elvira."

She laughs, incredulous that someone might have the impression that she's been taking it easy. "I don't do anything else!"

For most of her career, Peterson was part of a small team overseeing Elvira's full-time exploitation. From Elvira's TV debut through the mid-'00s, Pierson served as Peterson's manager, and together the couple built a business, "and were really running it, just the two of us," Peterson says. "It was a very mom-and-pop kind of thing." (They literally became Mom and Pop with the birth of daughter Sadie, in 1994.) When Peterson and Pierson split in 2003, Mom got custody of Elvira.

The new Movie Macabre meta-riffs on Elvira's assumed obsolescence, as well as the gamble Peterson is taking by going it alone. At the start of the first episode, Elvira picks up a newspaper and finds herself listed in the obituaries, presumed dead after having "faded silently into oblivion." ("She was more than just a great set of boobs," remembers her manager, "she was also an incredible pair of legs!") In order to prove that she's very much alive, Elvira comes to the conclusion that she must, after a 20-year absence, return to TV.

"It's kind of like Wayne's World — she decides to just shoot it from her basement. She says, 'If I am ever going to do this, I gotta do it myself.' Which is, actually, exactly what happened!" Peterson laughs. "I was never really shooting in my basement, but I was, like, 'If I'm going to do this show, I pretty much have to produce it, finance it and get it together myself.' And so I found this team of people, I took my savings and just paid for the whole thing, and I'm doing it.

"It's like life imitating art," she adds. "Or vice versa."

Today the Movie Macabre crew is taping the season's third episode, featuring the 1962 sci-fi turkey The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Elvira's interstitial comic bits nod to economic desperation: Flat-busted (wink wink), Elvira is in need of some quick cash, and so she appears on a number of game shows. Peterson rehearses a Press Your Luck spoof ("big busts, big busts, no whammys!"), reading lines off of a small teleprompter duct-taped to a cardboard box at her feet. A crew of 10, mostly young dudes, putters about. The director is half the star's age. In between takes, the sound guy plays Words With Friends on his iPhone.

Just out of camera range, one visitor points another in the direction of the video tap, where observers can watch what the camera is capturing on a widescreen computer monitor taped off to TV aspect ratio. "That's Cassandra," the first visitor says, "and that's her breasts."

Ted Biaselli, Peterson's writing partner, is practicing a lighting effect that involves waving two flashlights in circles. When the camera rolls, he'll point the flashlights at Peterson's face, but for now, he's aiming them at her cleavage. Peterson looks down and cracks, "It's like Tinker Bell just landed on my tits." The crew snickers.

  • Cassandra Peterson, pushing 60 and still Mistress of the Dark

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