Even out of costume, Cassandra Peterson can evoke the aura of her alter ego, Elvira.

‘Elvira’ still presents
a haunting persona

By Jason Genegabus

After 20 years of wearing the same black wig and low-cut black dress, Cassandra "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" Peterson is still able to shock with a single detail about her costume. It's still the same size.

"Same dress, same pattern," insists Peterson, who looks at least 10 years younger than the 50 years she admits to. "I won't let them let it out, because once the dam breaks, I'm like Roseanne Barr!"

Elvira's sexy outfit and outrageous personality first appeared on television screens in 1981, when Peterson took a role as host of a late-night television show in California. "They had this other host there for years named Seymour, and he died," she explained. When Peterson was chosen to replace him, Elvira was born.

For 12 years Elvira hosted "Elvira's Movie Macabre," her popularity growing as the show became nationally syndicated. She also appeared on Australian television and England's BBC, along with hosting specials on U.S. networks MTV, TBS and NBC. In 1988 Elvira became a movie star when "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" hit theaters around the country. Add a book deal, merchandising agreements and five music releases to the mix, and its easy to see how Peterson's character has become part of America's Halloween culture.

Even when she's not in the dress and makeup, get Peterson talking and you'll soon recognize Elvira peeking through. Even though she hasn't been on television for about a decade, Peterson continues with a busy appearance schedule that takes her around the country to shopping malls, college campuses, conventions and military bases. And Halloween season is almost like Christmas -- except this Santa Claus has cleavage and a sack full of one-liners for presents.

"Every year the holiday comes back and so do I," says Peterson of the craziness that surrounds Halloween. For 15 of the last 18 years, Elvira has appeared at "Knotts Scary Farm," a Halloween tradition at the Southern California theme park. While her schedule of four live shows a night for 30 days straight was definitely grueling, it also helped to develop a new generation of fans.

"That's kind of a trip for me ... they think of me as this type of Halloween icon," she said.

"A lot of my fans never knew I had a television show, so anybody that wasn't around when my show was on kind of thinks of me as Santa Claus.

"I've just always been around since they were born, you know?"

Although she won't be appearing as Elvira (it is a bit too early for Halloween), Peterson is in town this week for the Hawaii premiere of her new movie, "Elvira's Haunted Hills." She'll be joined by close friend Richard Chamberlain at the Hawaii Theatre tomorrow night, with all proceeds going to Gregory House Programs, a transitional housing program for people with AIDS. A VIP cocktail reception will take place at 6 p.m.

For Elvira's fans who remember the television show and saw her first movie, "Elvira's Haunted Hills" should be an entertaining romp with the gothic vixen. The setting is Europe in 1851, with the film's cast poking fun at the style of classic Vincent Price horror movies from the early 1960s.

Funded completely by Peterson and her husband, Mark Pierson, "Elvira's Haunted Hills" is almost like the family's pension fund. Even though the movie was shot in Romania and costs were cut as much as possible, it still cost more than a million dollars to produce.

Peterson hopes that "Elvira's Haunted Hills" becomes a seasonal type of flick, with its popularity peaking every year around Halloween. After showing the film at more than 35 charity events nationwide, she plans to release the independently produced film on DVD and video through her Web site ( in October.

Until then, the Hawaii Theatre benefit will be Hawaii's only chance to catch a glimpse of what Peterson describes as, "pure Elvira; if they like Elvira, they like comedy, they like horror, they're into that whole trip - then they're going to think this is a very funny movie, I think."

'Elvira's Haunted Hills'

Hawaii premiere, a benefit for Gregory House Programs

Screening: 8 tonight

Place: Hawaii Theatre

Cost: $20, $75 for 6 p.m. VIP cocktail reception and silent auction

Call: 528-0506

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