"I don't ever get tired of doing Elvira; I get tired of going out at midnight dressed up as Elvira," laughs Cassandra Peterson, whose alter ego is the celebrated Mistress of the Dark, over the phone. "Oh, yeah, I'm just, uh, you know, hmmm."
You keep waiting for her to say "la-de-da." You get more Annie Hall than Mistress of the Dark out of the sweet, scattered voice that's distracted by a 7-year-old daughter who's just come in the room ("Go out, honey, cause I'm on an interview. Outoutout. Shooshooshoo now"). She says her idea of perfect happiness is "a muumuu and no makeup."
Peterson has been doing her Elvira shtick for 20 years now—the pale face, the black fright wig, the tight gown, the good-natured sexual irreverence, and, of course, the breasts. She first appeared as a horror film hostess on local L.A. TV station KHJ. My brother and I watched it every Sunday afternoon as teenagers. We thought she was a riot. She'd mock the schlocky movies they ran, cracking boob jokes, even famously going 3-D (you had to get the glasses at 7-11, I recall). But the syndication market for such scrappy ventures went kaput with cable.
"There's nothing I'd rather do more than those shows, but it's impossible to get the movies," she sighs. "They've all been bought up by the giant conglomerates, you know—the Universals, that are owned by the whatevers and the whatevers. It's a bummer, isn't it?"
She continued her career with the help of her devoted husband/manager Mark Pierson: live Elvira appearances, books, records, merchandising. Their first film, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, made for New World Studios in 1988, had modest returns at the box office yet continues to pull in bank with video sales and Halloween screenings. They made nothing on it ("I got net points," she explains wryly. "Ha ha, big joke"). The couple—he produced, she wrote—is hustling Elvira's Haunted Hills, a new spoof of cheesy '60s horror flicks, on their own. The miniscule budget—and the ridiculous Transylvanian shoot—gives the film (which plays midnights this weekend at the Egyptian) whatever pleasures it has; the movie's best joke—the obvious dubbing of her love interest—came out of complete necessity.
"We couldn't afford Fabio, because, I guess, he's so wonderful he demands these unbelievable prices," she explains. "So we ended up having to get an actor in Romania. He was the only guy we could find with muscles and long hair in Romania, but the only little glitch was he didn't speak English. So then we got this great idea to just dub him. I mean, if we would've had all the money in the world, we would've had Fabio—which would've been pretty sick, too, but, uh, I don't think it would've gotten as big a laugh as this."
So how long does she plan to keep up this kind of desperate invention? "Um, I don't know," she replies casually. "What time is it right now? Every year I say I'm quitting, and then every year I still need money, you know? I'm having a good time. But, obviously, it'd be nice to retire."