‘Elvira: Mistress of the Dark’ remains a cult classic

By Marilyn MacLaren, Staff Writer

“Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” is a dark comedy directed by James Signorelli that follows the Queen of Halloween herself in her feature film debut. 

Elvira, played by Cassandra Peterson, travels to the small conservative town of Fallwell, Mass., in order to claim her inheritance left by her great aunt Morgana. Although an outcast from the moment she arrives, Elvira brings a new perspective to the residents of Fallwell with her vampy valley-girl comedy that also pokes fun at real-life critics who protested her character’s confidence and proud sexuality.  

The film stars Daniel Greene as Bob Redding, who serves as Elvira’s love interest and helps guide her around town, as well as Edie McClurg as Chastity Pariah, the religious zealot and busybody whose sole mission is destroying Elvira and the evils she represents. 

The personal connection Peterson has to the film is carefully crafted into every detail, culminating in a love letter to the character of Elvira herself. In the film, Elvira dreams of leaving behind her job as horror hostess and instead pursuing the glitz and glamor of becoming a Vegas showgirl. 

In real life, Peterson actually began performing in Vegas at 17 years old, inspired by the film “Viva Las Vegas,” becoming the youngest showgirl in Vegas history. Just shy of her 30th birthday, Peterson landed a job as a horror movie hostess for KHJ-TV studios in Los Angeles, and the character of Elvira was born. These events are the exact opposite of the dreams of Elvira’s character, yet elements of both were drawn directly from Peterson’s experience.

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Many of the actors in the film are played by prominent figures in Peterson’s life, such as Edie McClurg and Tress MacNeille, who were both a part of the same improv troupe as Peterson, the Groundlings. John Paragon, who makes a small cameo as a gas station attendant towards the beginning of the film, was another Groundlings alum and screenwriter for the film. Paragon had worked with Peterson many times before, even starring as a character on her show “Movie Macabre”. 

Another aspect of the film that draws inspiration from Peterson’s life is the many characters featured in the film who were based on real people that impacted the creation of Elvira — specifically Bob Redding. His name is directly drawn from Robert Redding, Peterson’s closest friend and fellow performer, who helped design the makeup, dress and iconic wig for the character. 

The film was ultimately dedicated to Redding, who unfortunately passed away during the AIDS epidemic in 1986. Peterson’s loving tribute to Redding, manifesting in the character Bob, brings a new emotional depth to their relationship, balanced by the campy shenanigans and physical comedy signature in“Elvira”.

Although the plot can feel cheesy at times, with wisecracks and seeming formulaic at times, the film has developed status as a cult classic. Elvira is seen as an outsider, judged by her appearance and unfairly persecuted — almost burned at the stake for simply being herself. 

Despite the reputation stirred up by the hypocritical figureheads of Fallwell, Elvira stands up for herself, is not ashamed of her body or of how she dresses and works hard at achieving her dream. Finding belonging within such a close-minded community can be an experience any audience can relate to, and Elvira does it flawlessly while still staying true to herself. 


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