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D–E Entries
Simon Oakland
Arch Oboler
Charles Ogle
Willis O'Brien
George Pal
Gregory Peck
Cassandra Peterson
Walter Pidgeon
Jack P. Pierce
Vincent Price
Anthony Quinn
 
PETERSON, CASSANDRA
(aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark 1951– ). American actress and film host.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in as Cassandra Peterson: Fellini's Roma (Federico Fellini 1972); "The Shiekh/The Homecoming" (1978), "What's the Matter with Kids?/Island of Horrors," "God Child/Curtain Call" (1983), episodes of Fantasy Island ; "Westworld Destroyed" (1980), episode of Beyond Westworld; Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (Tommy Chong 1980); Jekyll and Hyde ... Together Again (Jerry Belson 1983); Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Tim BURTON 1985); Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (Gary Nelson 1986); Pledge Night (Paul Ziller 1990); Red Riding Hood (Randal Kleiser 2004); The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (animated; voice) (Rob ZOMBIE 2008); "Bite Me" (uncredited) (2009), episode of Medium; All about Evil (Joshua Grannell 2010).

Acted in as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Elvira's Movie Macabre (series of televised movies; host) (1981-1988); "Rock Devil Rock" (1982), "Things That Go Bump in the Night" (1983), episodes of CHiPS; episodes of The Tonight Show (1982, 1984, 1985, 1988); Filmgore (video; host) (Ken Dixon 1983); episode of The Richard Simmons Show (1983); The Paragon of Comedy (tv special) (Wayne Orr 1983); Last of the Great Survivors (tv movie) (Jerry Jameson 1984); "October the 31st" (1984), "October the 32nd" (1985), episodes of The Fall Guy; Bob Hope Buys NBC? (tv special) (1985); WrestleMania 2 (video) (1986); Elvira's Halloween Special (tv special) (and co-wrote with George McGrath, Michael Sardo, and Julia Sweeney) (Mark Pierson 1986); MTV 3rd Annual Music Video Awards (tv special) (1986); episode of Saturday Night Live (1987); Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (and co-wrote with Pierson) (James Signorelli 1988); Heavy Metal Heaven (tv series; host) (1989); episode of Just Say Julie (1989); episode of Totally Hidden Video (1989); "Mommies Curse," "The Ghoul of My Dreams" (animated; voice) (1989) episodes of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show; "Fathers and Lovers" (1990), episode of Thirtysomething; Elvira's Midnight Madness (tv series 1990); "Boy Meets Girl II" (1992), episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose; The Elvira Show (tv series) (1993); Attack of the Killer B-Movies (tv special) (1995); episode of Strange Universe (1996); "Switcheroo" (1996), episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast; Superstition (short) (Mix Ryan 1997); "Sniper" (1997), episode of Nash Bridges; episode of The RuPaul Show (1998); Encounter in the Thrid Dimension (Ben Stassen and Sean MacLeod Phillips 1999); Elvira's Haunted Hills (and co-wrote with John Paragon) (Sam Irvin 2001); Scares and Dares (tv special) (2001); episode of The Tony Danza Show (2004); I Love the Holidays (tv series) (2005); I Love the 80s 3D (tv series) (2005); "Girls Will Be Ghouls" (2006), episode of The Girls Next Door; "Comic Con" (2006), episode of The Electric Playground; The Search for the Next Elvira (tv series) (2007); Her Morbid Desires (Edward L. Plumb 2008); Zombie Killer (voice) (Bobby Ciraldo and Andrew Swant 2008.

Video host for: Dead of Night (tv movie) (Dan CURTIS 1977); Carpathian Eagle (Francis Megahy 1981); Rude Awakening (1981); Guardian of the Abyss (Don Sharp 1982); Natas: The Reflection (Jack Dunlap 1983); many others.

 
A revised look at Cassandra Peterson, previously examined under the heading of her alter ego Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is long overdue, in light of the apparent collapse, and surprising duration, of her long career. She remains historically important as the person who temporarily revived a dying tradition, having an onscreen host introduce science fiction and horror movies shown on television. Why such figures arose remains open to debate, but they might suggest that, in earlier and more innocent times, there was a strongly felt need for an additional mediating presence between the mundane world of the viewer and the outré worlds of science fiction and horror. It might also be that many television station managers believed these movies were so relentlessly awful as to require a supplemental entertainer to encourage viewers to sit through them. For whatever reason, it is clear today that our society no longer requires such hosts to make science fiction and horror films more palatable; but many viewers of a certain age first saw numerous genre films within the frameworks imposed after the fact by these introducers, and their critical attitudes may have been shaped by their influence.

For a long time, television hosts fell into two categories: those who strived to genuinely mimic the horrific mood of their films, such as Vampira, well known to Los Angeles television viewers of the 1950s, and the unseen sepulchral voice that introduced Chiller movies to Minneapolis viewers (like myself) in the 1960s. Then there were others, like John Stanley of San Francisco's Creature Features, who sought to be serious and informative. No one would have imagined that Cassandra Peterson would someday follow in their footsteps, after a decade-long acting career that singularly included an encouraging word from Elvis Presley while she worked as a Las Vegas showgirl, a sojourn in Italy and an appearance in a Federico FELLINI film, and several other small roles. But she achieved fame by taking a new and innovative approach to the task of introducing genre films: she was openly contemptuous of the films she presented and constantly made fun of them.

Calling herself Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and dressed like a standard vampire (much like Vampira, who unsuccessfully sued her for copying her act), Elvira steadily projected a flip and disrespectful attitude towards her films; she was watching them, she told viewers, only because she was paid to do so, and she really didn't understand why anybody else would want to watch them. At the beginning of her vignettes between scenes of the films, she was often observed sleeping, apologetically waking up upon realizing that the camera was on her again. At first she made jokes about the films only during breaks; later, anticipating the format of Mystery Science Theater 3000, she began intruding upon the films themselves, displaying her face in a corner and making comments while scenes proceeded. Eventually, Elvira came to display a complete lack of interest in the movies, with skits focused on unrelated subjects like an obscene phone caller, Breather; in a way, ignoring the movies displayed even more contempt than her jokes. Soon, others were imitating her approach, most notably Laraine Newman, the host of  her own film series entitled Canned Film Festival, and of course the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Although I initially enjoyed her act, I began to find her irritating, inasmuch as I was genuinely interested in and appreciative of many of the films she was showing, yet Elvira remained determined to regard all of them only as worthless time-wasters, even when a genuine classic like Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) was offered up for her wisecracks. And that is why I only watched Newman when she was showing a film I really wanted to see, such as Robert A. HEINLEIN's Project Moonbase, and why I have never been able to sit through Mystery Science Theater 3000, since its constant, inane intrusions make it impossible to watch and evaluate a film on its own terms. Why so many science fiction fans were fond of this series remains, I must say, a mystery to me.

But instead of make her entry a pretext for such general commentary, I am now trying to focus more on Cassandra Peterson herself, and how she has dealt with the cancellation of her film series and the apparent end of her hosting career. Responding to the situation with admirable energy, she soldiered on for two decades, sometimes in straight acting roles, but more often appearing in character as Elvira, since many people in the business retained some affection for the role and she always made for an attractive addition to any Halloween or horror-based production. Since Elvira was officially a vampire, her various performances in that role brought many unusual venues, ranging from The Tonight Show to Thirtysomething, temporarily into the genre of horror. She also launched several of her own productions, uniformly unsuccessful, including two films that she also co-wrote, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) and Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001), a disastrous situation comedy, The Elvira Show (1993), and a brief reality show, The Search for the Next Elvira (2007), wherein contestants competed for the chance to don a black dress and take on Peterson's most memorable creation. But there was seemingly no need for such a replacement, since Peterson's Elvira still seemed charismatic and energetic. Now, as the culmination of this long campaign to effect a remarkable comeback, Peterson has announced, at the 2010 ComicCon, that Elvira's Movie Macabre will soon be returning to television, with new movies for her to ridicule. Thus, it seems, Cassandra Peterson functions as proof that both vampires and actresses can indeed return from the dead.

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