Horror Host Retrospective: Elvira

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Real name: Cassandra Peterson
Years active: 1981-present, California and world-wide

Moving towards perhaps the biggest horror host, in more ways than one, Elvira was one of the few hosts who left the confines of the television studio and appeared in more forms of mass media than any other host before or since.

When the Los Angeles-based KHJ TV-9 decided to bring in another host to replace the late Seymour, the producers decided on a female host. Answering the casting call, Cassandra Peterson was selected from roughly two hundred applicants and history was made.

Donning a black beehive wig and a low cut dress, the character of Elvira was an instant sensation. Frequent appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson only helped, and soon Elvira was one the few horror hosts to be syndicated across America.

Elvira captured America’s heart, mind, and wallet. Cassandra Peterson was savvy, and retained the rights to Elvira. From there she marketed the character. Elvira was everywhere, from beer bottles to calendars. She even found time to star in several comic series, first taking over as host for the House of Mystery series, and then in her own series from Claypool comics. Two feature films have been produced as well: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and Elvira’s Haunted Hills.

There were efforts to create a new Elvira, with a themed reality show of all things, but the public seemed less interested in someone new wearing the famed slinky dress. Horror host succession will be covered later, but for now, there is only one true Mistress of the Dark.

Elvira’s Movie Macabre aired for five years starting in 1981 on KHJ TV-9. From 1982 through 1984, Elvira’s Movie Macabre was syndicated across the country and worldwide. There were also nearly a dozen specials, both on KHJ TV-9, MTV, TBS, and several for Australian television and the BBC. The revival of Elvira’s Movie Macabre aired from 2010 to 2011 in syndication. Her fan club can be reached through her website.