Cassandra Peterson has been playing Elvira, the self-proclaimed Mistress of the Dark and horror movie hostess, for 35 years, and she's been attending Comic-Con as the character for longer than she can remember.
“I was going through my records trying to find the first Comic-Con I came to, and it was in the basement of some motel or hotel or something,” she says. She used to attend almost every year, but this year likely will be her last, at least as Elvira. She’s here now to promote her upcoming coffee table book, which features commentary and photos spanning Elvira’s 35-year history (including a few behind-the-scenes shots, like one of her in full costume, seven months pregnant).
Reflecting on her years at the convention, she’s enjoyed meeting her idols, like Forrest Ackerman, a prominent figure in the sci-fi and fantasy scene, and running into colleagues. “I saw Gene Simmons last time I was here, a couple years ago, and that was awesome, because I don’t often run into him, and he was in his KISS drag, I was in my Elvira drag, kind of scary. We were both going, ‘How long are we going to be doing this?’”
But what sticks out the most is a memory of her first Comic-Con, where she was one of the very few women in attendance. “When I was there, I was really the ‘odd man out,’ being a woman,” she says. “And now, I am positive that it’s at least 50 percent women [here] that are interested in the whole genre, whether it’s horror, fantasy, sci-fi. And I’ve seen that, in my 35 years, just completely change.” She adds, “I was one of those geek girls who was into that stuff when I was a kid, so to see it catch on, for me, is pretty thrilling.”
It’s also the part of her legacy that she’s proudest of. “You cannot imagine the amount of people who come up to me — girls, guys, it doesn’t matter — who come up to me and say, ‘You made such an incredible change in my life. I felt like a misfit and I was bullied all the time, and I was just a geek and an outsider, and after seeing your movie, Mistress of the Dark, you made me feel like I could be different and it was OK, it wasn’t bad, and you gave me the courage to stand up for myself.’ I cannot get over how many times I hear that story now, it’s just amazing,” she says. “If I can make somebody who feels like a loser feel like they’re OK, that’s my job.”
Though this year is being billed as her last time attending Comic-Con, she’s not sure if that will be the case. “I said it was going to be my last year when I was 40, when I was 50, when I was 60,” she says. “It’s not really my last Comic-Con, but it’s probably my last Comic-Con in Elvira drag, because really, how long do people want to see that?” she asks, half-joking.
“I do have to draw the line. I’m turning 65 this September, I’m trying to keep it together, I’m not sure how many years I can keep this working out,” she says, gesturing to her body. She’s worried about how she’s perceived — she doesn’t want to wear out her welcome.
“I don’t think women should have an expiration date, [but] unfortunately, some things don’t hold up as well as others, so there is a thing about playing a particular character — my character is based very much on the sexy, so continuing to try to be really sexy until you’re really old might not work,” she says. “Humor definitely takes the edge off of it, because if you’re self-deprecating, you can still be sexy, and it’s sort of OK, as long as it resonates that way with the fans.”