Most of you already know of Elvira, be it from her cable show Elvira’s Movie Macabre her or 1988 feature film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, but what most people aren’t familiar with is her 2001 follow-up movie Elvira’s Haunted Hills. It’s not quite a sequel but is loosely based on the Elvira character and with the knowledge most viewers have already watched Mistress of the Dark.
Elvira, real name Cassandra Peterson, got her start in entertainment with small jobs as a showgirl, go-go dancer, background singer, and model for men’s magazines. The Elvira character was born in 1981 when Los Angeles based late-night weekend cable show Fright Nights auditioned for a new host to introduce older B-rated horror movies. Elvira quickly caught on with audiences with risqué and sarcastic commentary using a California staple… the “Valley Girl” speaking pattern. Personally, I don’t think her cleavage-exposing tight-fitting black dress didn’t hurt, but all jokes aside, Elvira herself deserves the credit for her own success. Her campy double entendres and one-liners won over audiences creating a nearly 40 year run as the “Mistress of the Dark.”
Peterson appeared over the years in several different venues to promote herself and the Elvira gimmick (if I may steal a pro wrestling term.) She was spoofed famously on The Simpsons as “Boob-a-rella” and even made an appearance, albeit not as Elvira, in one of my favorite childhood movies Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure as the biker mama that manhandles Pee Wee at the biker bar.
After trying for several years to get a sequel made for Mistress of the Dark, Elvira, and manager Mark Pierson (and at that time husband) decided to finance the movie on their own. Elvira co-wrote and produced Elvira’s Haunted Hills throughout late 2000, alongside Mistress of the Dark co-writer John Paragon. It was filmed in Romania for just under $1 million USD of her own money and at long last her vision for a sequel/follow-up film had been put to film. There wasn’t much money left over for advertising, so they creatively launched a series of free premiers around the United States at AIDS charity fundraisers. In 2002 it would have a proper Hollywood premier and later be featured at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Elvira’s Haunted Hills was set in 1851 following Elvira and her maid Zhou-Zhou (played by Mary-Jo Smith) traveling to Paris for Elvira’s “big break” starring in a can-can style musical revue. Having no money, the pair get kicked out of an inn for non-payment and begin a long trek on foot across the Romanian countryside as they escape the law. Just as it looks like all hope is lost, Dr. Bradley Bradley (Scott Atkinson) rescues them by stagecoach and whisks them away to Castle Hellsubus in a hysterically raunchy scene. Upon arrival at the castle, it’s revealed Elvira looks exactly like Count Hellsebus’ deceased wife which causes several uncomfortable situations. Through the movie, some spooky, funny, and a few eye-roll-inducing events occur as Elvira tries to escape the haunted Castle. I won’t ruin the predictable twist at the end but I think it fits well with the story.
It’s often described as a “follow-up” and not a sequel because it doesn’t directly continue the story of Mistress of the Dark but uses the same main character as if it’s just another adventure in her lifetime, regardless of the fact it takes place 100 years prior. Occasionally during the movie Elvira “breaks the 4th wall” and talks directly to the audience, one time even acknowledging how low budget the special effects were.
One interesting tidbit I found during some research was that Lord Vladimir Hellsubus was played by Richard O’Brien, who you may know was responsible for writing the stage show “The Rocky Horror Show” which of course went on to international fame and is still in production all over the world today.
Haunted Hills doesn’t disappoint Elvira fans as this movie is full of her trademark sexual innuendo, double entendres, and lousy one-liners. All in all, it’s a fun watch for those who like silly low budget slapstick movies. It’s hard to call it a comedy in the same vein that it’s hard to call it horror. It’s a fun blend of both although it never drifts too far into either category.
Today as I write this in 2019, it’s reported Cassandra Peterson is shopping a 3rd Elvira movie that will be a true direct sequel of Mistress of the Dark. She also has an autobiography coming out in 2020. Elvira can still be found in nearly everything from comic books to computer games and she frequently pops up at pop culture conventions. Peterson also still makes guest appearances as the character Elvira, most recently as a voice-over actress in 2019’s Scooby Doo’s return to Zombie Island.
Elvira’s Haunted Hills is an annual watch in my household during Halloween season as we get into the mood for the holiday. My wife prefers Haunted Hills to Mistress of the Dark, while I prefer the former.
If you’re a fan of Elvira, you can find several great features here at The Retro Network focusing on Elvira, her 1986 Halloween Special, and her hit movie Mistress of the Dark to learn more about the horror film hostess.