.

.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Elvira - Queen of Halloween!






The One Woman Double Feature!






(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).








Unpleasant...drinks...










 In addition to the perfume and beer gigs, she also put Elvira on a brand of decorative Halloween lights.




I still own the cup on the upper left. Not that one, this isn't my stuff. One like it.




See?








Cassandra Peterson made merchandising deals anywhere she could find one - and more power to her - here are just a bare few of the many, many items you could get with a stamp of approval from the Mistress of the Dark:






Yes, she has even graced a collector's plate.

How about collectible figures?



This is my fave of the bunch - Christmas wish list, anyone?






This runs a close second.







This one is extra cool, because the little Elvira figure here comes with her own littler Elvira figure!





Here's the ultimate collectable of this sort to own - how about a full size wax figure?






Elvira attends the unveiling of her figure - but then, she always did...





And of course - scads of T-shirts!





 



There was also a brief series of paperbacks featuring the character co-written (as pretty much all Elvira material was back then) 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. 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 random
stories hosted by her. Two stories per issue, and a photo cover.
Very nice!






   I have learned that in 1992 or 1993 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 languished away on that shelf of mostly forgotten TV pilots. 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 back in the day. However, now, thanks to the fine folks at YouTube, I managed to watch it in three conveniently timed chunks! It's a cute show, with some very funny moments - and it really shows that Cassandra Peterson has the chops for even a network sitcom - it's even similar to the later success Sabrina the Teenage Witch - goofy aunts, young witch niece, talking black cat (real cat here, no mangy looking puppet) - so if CBS hadn't been such chickens, maybe this would have run on Friday nights for a few seasons.



 





   












 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.
This is the original DVD release.


Here's the brand new loaded special edition just
released any minute now, with commentaries,
bloopers, interviews, etc. Guess I need to make
some more room in the video vault...










    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.



Cassandra Peterson meets Pat Fears from the horror punk rock band
Saturday Night Shockers from San Antonio
who may not know art, but knows what he likes - her face tattooed on his back!
Thanks to a blog commenter for identifying Mr. Fears - and also
advising that the autograph you see just added here was also inked in shortly after.



    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.




    In 2007, 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 for this show. 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 2007 was crowned the "next Elvira."






A Queen of Halloween and her Pumpkin Princess.







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. 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.

After the show April went in for a big promotional photo shoot with the lady herself guiding the way.






April and Cassandra - friends to the end!

So, when Halloween 2008 rolled around - people contacting the Elvira camp for personal appearances were given two options - the original herself, an option that would have been marked in a travel guide as $$$, or you could opt for April Elvira to come to your event, and that would have been in the travel guide as $. It turned out that very few wanted a replacement, even at a much lower cost, and even the few who did book April seemed confused when the real Elvira didn't show up, so the idea of a multiple bodied presence to cover twice the venues each October never really came to pass. April has held on to the gear, and had made yearly appearances at Comic Con in San Diego and the Playboy Mansion each Halloween since, but that's been the extent of her life as April Elvira.



 The next couple of years were relatively quiet on the Elvira front - she was still making her convention appearances and was booked solid each October, but not much else was happening. Then in the spring and summer of 2010, this little graphic appeared online:






Yep, Cassandra Peterson was back in the TV game - and the newly titled Elvira's Movie Macabre appeared in syndication on TV screens across the country in the fall of 2010. She put together 26 episodes - on her own dime, with a new Sofa Macabre set, a terrific new opening sequence with a great new theme song, and even guest stars like the old Movie Macabre had! The movies were those notorious public domain horror flicks that have been turning up on VHS first and now DVD in bargain bins and dollar stores everywhere for years and years.




But no matter how terrible the movie, they always go down better with Elvira goofing on them! And I've got to say, the writing for this series, shared this time by Cassandra and her partner Ted Biaselli, is sharp; using new satiric barbs and pop culture references that are pretty up to the minute - ranging from Twilight to Sarah Palin! Elvira is truly back - looking mind bogglingly wonderful, and as cute and as funny as ever.




 Here's the opening sequence to the new show:




In the new series, she also uses our improved TV technology to appear more than just going to and coming from commercial. She also will pop in for sardonic comments throughout the movie. Check this out:






Shot right off my own TV - pretty fancy, eh? Here's Elvira commenting on Teenagers from Outer Space.
The blue tone is all from my smartphone camera - the movie onscreen looked just fine in crisp black and white.

And with the show being sometimes hard to find due to obscure syndication deals putting it on in the wee hours on stations way up the dial you don't even realize are a part of your cable package - the entire 26 episode series - 6 of which did not air, as the season was cut down to 20 after the premiere - are being released on DVD in double features!































And that brings us up to date - for now, anyway - on the incredible career of Elvira - and the woman who plays her - Cassandra Peterson. All part of the service - just part of my neverending love affair with the Mistress of the Dark! As she always signs off - Unpleasant...dreams...



As I always sign off - until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

5 comments:

  1. Wow, Elvira sure gets around! Cassandra is stunning. I didn't even know that cute redhead was the witchy Elvira diva! Pop culture at its best. Nice job, Craig.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Elvira. She saw me through many a cheesetastic film with her style and wit. It's a toss-up for who I love more. Elvira or the bots from MST. Huzzahs for you on this incredible post for the venerable Elvira/Cassandra. There can be only one as the Highlander says, but I do wish April well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Luana - yes - apparently Ms. Peterson can appear just about anywhere in public as herself and never be recognized - until she opens her mouth and Elvira's voice comes out of this gorgeous redhead. Thanks for the kind words!

    MB - me too - although I do put her ahead of the bots...for a couple of reasons...(cue rimshot) If you haven't seen the new show - try to get a few of them on the DVDs - they're really well done and funny - it's wild that I now own Elvira hosting I Eat Your Skin on VHS, and again in a different show shot 20-ish years later on DVD. She is timeless. Through a complicated set of circumstances involving stuff as wide ranging as Dawson's Creek and the Make-a-Wish foundation, I actually share a mutual friend with April and have gotten to know her a bit - she is a sweetie - and if Ms. P ever does decide to hang up the dress - she could take over and do a good job keeping the character going another couple of decades - can you imagine Elvira still going strong after 50 years? Boggles the mind!

    ReplyDelete
  4. hey great job on this. really well written and informative. if this were a book report youd get an A+. and the guy with the elvira back tattoo is actually a buddy of mine, Pat Fears from the excellent misfits-esque horror punk rock band Saturday Night Shockers from San Antonio. She autographed it herself and he went straight to the tattoo shop after to get it permanently inked in!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! I also appreciate the identification of Mr. Fears - I have updated the post accordingly. Cheers!

      Delete