2021 is the year one of the most iconic characters in modern horror and pop culture celebrates her 40th anniversary: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. As played by Cassandra Peterson, the character has become synonymous to the concept of horror hosts and an irreverent, humorous personage of the usually serious horror genre.
As part of the celebration of the goth goddess’s 40 years, Netflix and GOG are joining in on the festivities. Check out the details below for more.
Who is Elvira?
Los Angeles-based TV station KHJ-TV has a weekend horror show called Fright Night hosted by Larry Vincent (who played the character of Sinister Seymour). After the death of Vincent, the show’s producers sought to revive a version of the show with a new host, this time a female.
Initially, the producers approached 1950s horror hostess Maila Nurmi (who played the character of Vampira). However, as things did not work out, a new character was created to be played by actress Cassandra Peterson. Peterson had appeared in other TV and movie projects before, including roles in the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever and Fantasy Island.
Elvira's design was derived from the earlier Vampira character, as well as The Addams' Family's Morticia Addams and The Munsters' Lily Munster. Unlike the Vampira character, Elvira had a more humorous personality, with valley-girl mannerisms and speech patterns. Elvira’s campy humor and self-aware satire, as well as her sex appeal, have become synonymous with the character.
For the look, Cassandra Peterson was given pale makeup and a beehive jet-black wig. She was also given a very revealing black gown, which showed off the actress’s legs and ample bust. The character’s look has changed very little over the years, retaining this basic template, with some minor additions, such as a dagger-buckled belt and spiked bracelets.
Elvira was a virtual overnight hit. Her show Elvira’s Movie Macabre, which mixed Elvira segments with B-movies, ran from 1981 to 1986, and had multiple revivals on This TV (2010), Hulu (2014), and Shudder (2021).
Aside from her popularity as a horror hostess, Elvira’s fame expanded from the cult demographic to the mainstream audience. Peterson, as the character, was often the guest of many other TV shows and movies. She also endorsed products and her likeness appeared on comic books, costumes, pinball machines, calendars, perfume, action figures and dolls, and the covers of magazines.
Her popularity would eventually lead to a full feature film. Titled Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, the movie was released in 1988. Although the film was a box office and critical failure, partly due to the distribution company closing the day before the film’s release, the comedy horror film has since become a cult classic. A pseudo-sequel was produced and released in 2001 titled Elvira’s Haunted Hills as a direct-to-video production.
After many years playing the character, Cassandra Peterson released her memoir last September 21, 2021. Titled Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, the book revealed details previously unknown to the public about the actress and entrepreneur’s personal life, including her 19-year relationship with Teresa Wierson, with Peterson coming out as bisexual.
Prescribing Netflix & Chills
"Netflix and chill" has been a slang term for a number of years, referring to the habit of watching popular movies on Netflix and just relaxing at home. But let it not be said that the streaming giant does not have a sense of humor.
For 2021, it is unveiling Netflix & Chills with Dr. Elvira. Every Sunday for October, Cassandra Peterson as Elvira will be taking over the social media of Netflix, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The iconic horror hostess will be making suggestions on what to watch on Netflix every week, with a specific theme.
As Dr. Elvira says to her patient (and to the audience):
Horror and thrillers are actually here to improve your wellbeing. Don’t believe me? Well, restlessness is caused by stress and fear. That means heart-pounding thrillers can combat stress because they’re designed to elicit a shock response. This releases hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine resulting in a mood boost. After the credits roll, the brain calms itself down with some tasty serotonin, relieving tension and giving you a sense of well-being.
Seems like an intellectual and logical reasoning to indulge in a series of horror and suspense films. Of course, the legendary horror-host with the most is just toying around, and inviting everyone to watch Netflix’s Halloween-themed lineup of films for the month of October. The first of these is Stress Slashers, beginning October 4, 2021.
GOG brings back the Elvira games
But that’s not all Elvira has in store to celebrate 40 years since her creation. Longtime fans of the character will no doubt be aware that Elvira, as a brand and image, has graced not just television and movie screens, but also video games. Two of the most famous of these are Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark was a 1990 video game developed by Horror Soft and published by Accolade. It is a first-person adventure and roleplaying game which follows the events of the 1988 movie of the same name. Players are tasked by Elvira herself to stave off the impending doom of the world through the ancient sorceress Emeralda. The game was released on March 1990 for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and MS-DOS computers.
Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus came out in 1992 and is a sequel to the first game. This time, the main character is Elvira’s boyfriend who has to rescue her from the demon Cerberus. The game takes place in a movie studio and has a more dungeon crawl RPG-style gameplay than the first game, with similarities to Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder and Ultima Underworld. Both games were well-received at the time of their release, although they had a notorious reputation for their high difficulties.
GOG.com had received multiple requests to add these Elvira games to their library for years. And it appears the company formerly known as Great Old Games has finally been able to negotiate the license with Cassandra Peterson and her Queen B Productions to do just that. Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus are now both available at the GOG.com store, individually and as a bundle.