Saturday, October 30, 2010

31 Days of the Macabre!

Elvira - Queen of Halloween! 
(Part 2 of 2)

    As the 1990's got going, Cassandra Peterson showed her business acumen as well at this time by branching the Elvira character out in all kinds of directions for merchandising. I thought two of the products Elvira lent her name to were pretty interesting. Elvira's Evil perfume and Night Brew beer. I searched high and low for both, eventually finding a bottle of Evil that I displayed until its loss in one of my moves.

You too could smell like a Mistress of the Dark.

I never did find any Night Brew, though I guess I could track some down on EBay these days as long as I wasn't planning to drink it. (I'm not much on fifteen year old beer no matter how well it's been stored).


 In addition to the perfume and beer gigs, she also put Elvira on a brand of decorative Halloween lights. There was also a brief series of paperbacks featuring the character co-written (as pretty much all Elvira material is) by Cassandra and her good friend John Paragon.

John of course played the Breather character on the old Movie Macabre shows, but he is a little more known to audiences for playing Jambi the genie on Pee Wee's Playhouse and for making several appearances on Seinfeld as an easily angered neighbor.
The books were fun, very much in vein with the first movie where Elvira is not a character per se, but instead the actual person who hosts the bad movies and is Elvira 24/7. I managed to get ahold of all three books that were released, and wished they had done better so more could have been written.

    In addition to the paperbacks, around this time Elvira expanded into another printed medium with a second comic book series, this one coming from smaller comics company Claypool. Written and drawn by a variety of people over its publishing life, this series was like the paperbacks and the Elvira movie showing our fave ghostess as she works for Podunk station K-WHA hosting Movie Macabre and otherwise getting into scrapes and adventures living as the Mistress of the Dark all the time. This was a fun series, surrounding Elvira with an ongoing supporting cast and building on the movie at least a little by continuing the character of the shape changing familiar, though changing his name (probably due to licensing issues). I read this series for several dozen issues from late in the 30's and on into the 70's (issue numbers, not years) through my third round of regular comics reading, finally giving it up with all the others when the cover prices went up one time too many and became overall too high. The comic ended up running 166 issues (!) into early 2007. I'm sorry I stopped when I did! And you have to give the creators props: any comic that makes it to even high double digits at 12 issues a year has done a fabulous job surviving.

Claypool's Elvira comics were stories about her, instead of other stories hosted by her. Two stories per issue, and a photo cover. Very nice!

   I have learned that in 1992 Elvira got a television pilot produced for a Mistress of the Dark TV show that would have starred Cassandra and Katherine Helmond (first known as ditzy Jessica from Soap and later as feisty Mona on Who's the Boss). Apparently the humor was a little risqué for CBS and they turned the show down, and the pilot now languishes pretty much unseen on a shelf somewhere. In the past I have caught some one-shot failed pilots I wanted to see when the network would "burn it off" by throwing it into the schedule unexpectedly, usually during the summer months as a small relief from all the reruns. Unfortunately I don't know if CBS ever showed this one, but I did not manage to see it.

    All during this period I kind of kept up on Elvira's doings through her website and the Claypool comic which kept a page devoted to upcoming events for the Mistress of the Dark. One of the items that kept catching my eye was Cassandra Peterson's desire to get a second movie off the ground. I guess the first movie only did a fair amount of business, so it was not automatically sequelized in the year or two after its release. However, the movie was not a Waterworld sized production, so I imagine after a US theater run, overseas theater bookings and home video release it must have at least made some profits. However, it was obvious to me as I kept reading little blurbs about a possible second movie online or in the comic that it was difficult to find financing for the production despite the character's longevity and high profile. Finally the movie went into production according to the new tidbits. I know now that Cassandra and her then-manager/husband Mark Pierson apparently put the money up themselves for the new movie. After a while I saw through the usual channels that the movie had been completed and was being shopped around for a distributor under the title Elvira's Haunted Hills. That took some time, and I then read that the movie was being screened as part of charity events to benefit the charity and get some word of mouth going about the movie. This actually went on for a couple of years, and then finally I saw the movie was going to be released direct to DVD.

Pair this up with the first movie for a truly double feature.

    It was starting to be a yearly event that I would arrange to be off work on Halloween day and I would put together a film festival of some scary movies I hadn't seen to watch as a marathon on Halloween Day. In late October of 2004 I was gearing up for this again, and haunted my local Blockbuster on the 29th or 30th to line up my weekly rentals for viewing on the 31st. That year I watched the classic Peeping Tom, one of the later and lesser Wishmaster movies and Elvira's Haunted Hills. I enjoyed the movie, which this time puts Elvira in the mid 1800's as she is diverted to a creepy castle owned by Richard (Rocky Horror's Riff Raff) O'Brien while on the way to Paris to perform in a Can-Can show. I was (and still am) a little put off by the time frame, dropping the modern day character into the 1800's period sans explanation, but realize now Cassandra and the producers were following in the footsteps of such movie greats as Abbott and Costello who would go from film to film in different time periods, from the 1940's (Buck Privates) to the late 1800's (The Naughty Nineties) with no explanation or real changes to their character or shtick. I'm still not entirely sure keeping the opening of the movie as modern day, then having Elvira notice she's either really or seemingly in the past with her usual droll commentary would not have been funnier, but I guess we'll never know.

    After that year, I decided that all of my Halloween film festivals would have to include the Queen of Halloween in some way. I took the next year off, because I spent late October in 2005 in Illinois visiting my father. I put the film festival on hiatus as my pop's not into horror movies and my time to watch stuff is severely curtailed. In 2006 it got a lot easier to add Elvira to the Halloween film festival because a home video distributor called SHOUT Factory started issuing some of the original Movie Macabre episodes on DVD with the Elvira material popping up throughout some of the original movies she showed as though going to commercial, though of course it then goes right back to the movie. And these DVDs were really cool, because the films themselves were the uncut editions, not the edited for TV versions Elvira was showing in the early 80's. Awesome! I think 8 movies were issued in the first batch, and I scooped them all up, programming one into the next four Halloween film festivals.

Like taking a ride in the DeLorean with Doc Brown back to the 80's.

    And that brings us to 2007. I try to keep up on pop culture news, so somewhere back in the spring or summer of that year I hear that Elvira is going to launch a search for her successor and turn the quest into a reality TV show. I was saddened to hear that Cassandra would be hanging up her long black dress, but could understand if she wanted to do that. After a small blurb about this I didn't hear much else about it and kind of forgot, instead turning my attention to the 2007 SHOUT Factory DVD release of three more double feature Movie Macabre DVDs.

    However, as time marched on into October I was thrilled a cable channel called Fox Reality was going to be airing The Search for the Next Elvira, a four part reality series.

    I set the Tivo for it as the first three episodes were airing often, with the fourth and last episode to be broadcast live on Halloween night. I caught those first three and watched them among my Halloween scary movies. I thought the show was terrific, with Elvira at the top of her game putting these would-be Mistresses of the Dark through the reality show paces. And Ms. Peterson seemed to be having such a good time, and still looks absolutely amazing in costume. In fact my wife walked through the room as I was watching, and stopped a moment. She watched a brief bit of the show and commented "Oh, using old footage of Elvira, are they?" I told her no, this was all new and had been shot this year. My wife's jaw dropped at how awesome Elvira was still looking.

Here's the whole gaggle of contestants, with one man, and one Girl Next Door
(identifiable due to slightly different hair from the others) amongst the crowd.

As far as the contest itself went, in the first episode there was a brief interview with one contestant named April outside her audition, and I pegged her right away as the outright frontrunner in the race. She had not shown up in full Elvira mode, but she did have a black wig over her blonde locks and sexy goth clothes as a lot of the competition did, and she was gorgeous, and funny, and just had that "this is so much fun" sparkle while being interviewed that made her stand out.

April Wahlin.

There were a couple of other young ladies who gave her some competition but I had April picked as the best right off, something I'm very proud of.

The finalists - April (l), Jenny (c), and Kitty (r) in full Elvira gear, with Mini Elvira Helga down in front.

    And thankfully, she made it through each successive elimination round, and on Halloween night was crowned the "next Elvira."

A man could get killed. And what a way to go!

The live show was a lot of fun, and it really came down to the wire, as both Jenny and Kitty would have made wonderful Elviras. But April just had that little extra spark.

The newest Mistress of the Dark. She now calls herself April Elvira when in character.

    Elvira 1 also made the happy announcement in the post show interviews that she herself was not hanging up the dress, but had recruited April to be a secondary Elvira presence in the Halloween season, allowing for double the dark fun. I am really looking forward to next October to hopefully get a chance to see both ladies in action in whatever venues they appear in and continue my neverending love affair with the Mistress of the Dark!


  1. Yet again I find myself dazed and amazed by your knowledge of all things media macabre. So is the new Mistress of the Night touring the country? Where is she now? And how 'bout the original Elvira--still up to her old tricks, but in new venues?

    It takes work and perseverance to turn a gimmick into a franchise. She did it.

    Your assignment for 2011, should you choose to accept it: Find the media character/niche/phenom you love most, do the market research to see if it's viable, and write a non-fiction book proposal.

    You should be writing books on this stuff. Seriously.

    Thanks for turning Halloween into a season. I look forward to the finale!

  2. She is no doubt best known for being the queen of Halloween. The always bodacious, Elvira, my namesake Cassandra Peterson. Her amazing looks cant compare to her quirky wit and valley girl personality.