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Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Scares Up Some Answers

Cassandra Peterson was a struggling actress in the '70s with a few small roles on 'Fantasy Island,' 'Happy Days' and 'Cheech And Chong's Next Movie,' but in 1981 that all changed when Elvira was born.

Peterson donned a tight cleavage-enhancing black gown and a large black wig and transformed into Elvira, the host of the nationally syndicated horror movie show 'Movie Macabre.' Each week, Elvira provided her unique comical commentary on these low budget cheesy movies; think a Valley girl vampire. Six of those films with Elvira's original commentary and new crisp transfers are now out on DVD.

In an exclusive interview, Elvira let AOL Television editor Sean Doorly into her crypt of terror and cackled about her spooky '80s TV show, being Susan Sarandon's doppelganger and getting advice from the King himself, Elvis.



For those who were not familiar with your show in the '80s, what was it all about?
We would show a crappy -- I mean -- classic film horror film from the '50s, '60s, early '70s. I would introduce the movie and tell the truth about it. What everybody else was thinking, I was saying. We broke into the film about 10 times, including the beginning and the end, and commented on what was going on in the movie.

And the new DVDs?
They are the first show I did starting back in 1981. Some of them are old and incredibly embarrassing. These DVDs have my original wraparounds and the films that we were able to find. I have been asked to do this a million times through the years. My fans really wanted me to re-release them, but it was a difficult process.

They were all bought up by a lot of big studios and put in packages where you will get one horror movie, three cowboy movies and four detective movies. So if you want to get that one movie you will have to buy a $100,000 package of movies you don't want.

What do you love about being Elvira?
I can get away with murder. I can say the most idiotic comments to people. I can say anything. The private thoughts that you are generally thinking, but you would not say to people because you are a decent person, I can say them. And they don't just sit there, they laugh. They get hysterical. It is a very freeing feeling. You can really be honest.

Do you think it's because you are in the costume?
Yeah and also, I figured out that Elvira is me when I was a teenager. She's a spastic girl. I just say what I feel and people seem to enjoy it.

What is involved in becoming Elvira?
That is the part of being Elvira that I don't enjoy because it's a lot of makeup and an incredibly uncomfortable outfit. A lot of hair and hair spray issues because trying to get that hair up there is not easiest thing in the world. It's high and it needs a lot of hair spray and that takes a lot of work to get that going. That part of it is really the most difficult part. If I would have started out wearing a muumuu and flip-flops, I would be so much happier today. After all this time squeezing myself into that incredibly tight dress I still have the same thighs, the same pattern, I had when I started. This is actually my 25th anniversary of being Elvira this October.

When you first played Elvira, did you think it would last 25 years?
I didn't think it would last 25 minutes. I was an actor so I was desperate for jobs, so when I got the audition, $300 was OK. The fact that it went more than one episode, I'm still shocked. It was so insane because they wanted me to be a character that was from this comedy group I was in -- The Groundlings. I did a character that was a sexy ditzy Valley girl actress. The director of a local television show loved the character and he said, "You should do that while hosting these horror movies." And he said, "You will wear something all black, something scary." And I say, "I do? Doing that character? OK, whatever." It was the most insane thing I ever heard. I thought is was not going to happen, but it really took off and I am still in shock and 25 years later, I am still doing it.

I understand Elvis gave you some early career advice.
My early career advice came when I was a showgirl in Las Vegas when I was 17. I got together with Elvis, believe it or not, and I thought I had made the big time. I was a showgirl and that was my goal up until then in life. And Elvis convinced me that I should get out of Las Vegas and that I should pursue singing, which I immediately went out and got singing lessons. He and I actually sang together and he said I had a good voice. He didn't say Vegas was a bad thing, but that it was bad for me to stay there for the rest of my life. I started off as Vegas' youngest showgirl and, if it were not for Elvis, I might be Vegas' oldest showgirl. Thanks to Elvis, I moved and got my career going in a different direction and it really had a big impact. I don't think any other person could have told me to leave Vegas and quit being a showgirl that I would have listened to.

I have heard that when you are out of makeup you have been mistaken for Susan Sarandon.
Yes. I was asked for an autograph one day, which surprised me, because I'm never recognized. I signed my name and started to hand it to the person and he said, "Thank you so much Mrs. Sarandon." I grabbed the paper back from him and said "Oh just a second," then resigned and handed it back to him.

So someone out there has Susan Sarandon's autograph -- kind of.
Yeah, with Elvira scribbled on the back!

Do you ever get sick of Halloween?
Halloween has been my favorite holiday since my earliest memory. It's the best holiday. It's a completely nonreligious holiday. You don't have to get together with any relatives for dinner. You don't have to buy gifts. You get to dress up as your fantasy. If you're a secretary, you can dress up as Pamela Anderson and nobody thinks you're a ho. It's a wonderful selfish holiday, and I've always loved it. And my mom ran a costume shop, so I grew up in the Halloween business. So short answer: No, I never get sick of Halloween. I wish I could dress as something else once in a while though.

What do you have lined up for this year?
A lot of promotion for these DVDS. I'm doing a NASCAR race for NBC, which is something I've never done. I'm doing a lot of difference appearances around the country at various horror conventions and haunted houses, which I always did. I'm giving a big giant AIDS benefit. It's a big Halloween costume show for AIDS healthcare and a quite a few other charity benefits in between that too. I'm doing QVC. I just did a Halloween episode of the 'The Girls Next Door.'

I understand you have a new reality series in the works?
We're still in the pitching phase but hopefully we'll be doing it next Halloween. It's a fun project. It's eight episodes and every episode is a parody of another reality show. I pick out 13 Elviras -- men, women, whatever. They have to go through a series of tests to see if they can actually be my favorite helper, like the Elvira I send out to various appearances I can't really get to. I get a lot more appearance requests than I can actually make, so I only take the best ones. I choose my little Elvira clone and she gets a year contract being Elvira.