INTERVIEW: Shedding Light on the Mistress of the Dark

It is a rare occasion when a single character can become the embodiment of an entire genre of films, much less a holiday. As unlikely as it may be, it is exactly what Cassandra Peterson did when she brought Elvira from the small screen to horror icon. Today, Elvira is one of the most notable figures in the horror genre, pop culture, and Halloween scene. We all know and have come to love the character, but what about the person behind the creation?

Cassandra’s past may not be quite what you expect when you imagine someone in the Horror Hall of Fame. Her career began as a go-go dancer when she was an early teenager. Finding a knack for the spotlight, she soon signed a contract to work as a Las Vegas showgirl at the age of seventeen. It was there that she received some life altering advice from one of America’s greatest pop icons, Elvis Presley.

"When I met Elvis, I was the youngest show girl in Vegas. It was Elvis that told me that Vegas is really no place for a young girl to begin. He convinced me to take singing lessons and get the heck out of Las Vegas. I thought that I had made it and reached the pinnacle of show business success by becoming a showgirl, something that I had wanted to do since I was about thirteen of fourteen years old. If it hadn’t been for him telling me to keep going, I really do think that I would be the oldest showgirl in Vegas."

It did not take long for her to follow his advice and travel to Europe to pursue her career. Cassandra continued her learning there before moving to California in order to try her hand at the film industry. She discovered an audition for a small role as a horror host on the television and the rest was history. After creating a costume design and personality for the character, Elvira was born.

"A lot of it had to do with Halloween, the holiday. Ever since 1981, it has been growing by leaps and bounds. I kind of hitched my wagon to it and became known as the Queen of Halloween. Having a national holiday each year where you are queen of it really helps your business. There are different 'parts' of why people are obsessed with Elvira. Some people really enjoy the humor, others the scary horror element, a lot of them enjoy the sexy part, and some of them enjoy all three parts together."

In the eyes of the public, Cassandra became Elvira. She wasn’t just an actress, she was the icon. The recognition came, but did Casandra see herself in the character?

"I didn’t really for a long time, but I suddenly realized one day that Elvira’s personality is pretty my personality when I was as a teenager. I was a smart aleck, know-it-all. You know how teenagers can be. I think Elvira is that part of me that never grew up."

Elvira was a household name by the early 90s. She leapt from the silver screen to find herself in movies, books, Horror Hall of Fame, and even the Call of Duty video game franchise. There truly seemed to be no boundaries that confined Elvira. She was here to stay.

"I have had a lot of really great highlights. It is probably a tossup between becoming a pinball machine and doing my movie Elvira Mistress of the Dark. I always was a pinball fanatic. Those two things really furthered my career and were really exciting points in it. The movie certainly helped cement my career and longevity."

After over thirty years in the spotlight, you would think that the character’s appeal would have diminished by this point. Somehow, Cassandra has found a way to market Elvira and keep her relevant through multiple generations. With another recent surge in popularity one can only ask, “What is next for Elvira?”

"I have an amazing amount of stuff coming up that I am working on. Of course, everything that is in the works doesn’t mean that they will happen for sure. I am working on an animated project that has been going on for a while, I am finally putting my autobiography together after years of working on it, and I am working on another Elvira feature movie with a couple of writers and producers. I am also working on a television show that I have been asked to do. I have a lot going on. I am even going to be doing a live show in Vegas, believe it or not. All of these awesome projects are in the works, but which of these will come to fruition you never know. I have more going on now than I think I have ever had going on at one time; it’s rather bizarre."

There are definitely countless projects in the works, however, we do know that the next place you can find Cassandra will be at Texas Frightmare Weekend here in DFW. She is scheduled to appear at the area’s premiere horror convention on May 4th and 5th. Anticipation for Texas Frightmare Weekend is already growing amongst her fans and it doesn’t take much to see why. Her admirers span generations and are made up of a largely diverse group of people, which can result in some rather peculiar interactions.

"It is always strange when people like Michael Jackson come up to you and tell you how big of a fan they are. It is pretty amazing when somebody that is an icon tells you that they are a fan. Those are always nice. I would say the weirdest fan encounters would be people getting my image tattooed on their body. The first time it happened I was blown away. Now, it is an everyday occurrence that I meet someone with an Elvira tattoo when I am at a convention. I literally have thousands of pictures of people with Elvira tattoos on them. Some of the stranger encounters are when people want me to sign them and they have them tattooed in really bizarre places. Sometimes I get a peek of a lot more than I am counting on. I always wonder how they have a relationship with something like that in a place like that. You can use your own imagination on that. In one strange encounter a fan came up to me and said, 'My father was your biggest fan in the world. He loved you so much and was just waiting to meet you someday, but he unfortunately passed away. These are his ashes. Could you please sign his urn?' So, I signed his urn 'Better Late Than Never' and his son was very happy with that. I have since signed a lot of urns with ashes. At first it was weird but now it has become the norm."

You will not want to miss this opportunity to meet one of the largest horror icons that has ever graced the cinematic world. Texas Frightmare Weekend will be held May 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport. You can find more information, tickets, and schedules to Texas Frightmare Weekend here.

Still wanting to find out more about Cassandra before Texas Frightmare Weekend? See what her favorite horror movie is, find out her guilty pleasure, and what her biggest fear is in the full interview transcript!