Elvira, Mistress of Our Hearts

by:   |   Oct 31 2014

Happy Halloween! Are you afraid of the dark? It’s an inaccurate question (and the title of a GREAT Nickelodeon show from the ‘90s), since it’s really the unknown things hiding in the dark that scare us. As a kid, my personal monster wasn’t hiding under the bed or in the closet, it was on my wall: A poster of a clown with bright red Cupid’s bow lips and black grease paint “lashes” that made her already-big eyes even wider. I liked her alright during the day, but at bedtime my waking nightmare would begin—the second my mother turned out the lights, the thick Kabuki brows slashed high across the clown’s forehead would start to waggle up and down. Her eyes would roll in opposite directions, and her lips would move from grimaces to taunting smooches. Even the perfect curl on her forehead turned sinister. I’d fight to keep my eyes open, blankie tucked tightly around my neck to protect from jugular attacks, breathlessly waiting to see if this was the night she’d finally step out of the poster and murder me.

I have no idea why endured the torture instead of just asking my mother to take the poster out of my room but, refusing to remain a victim, I did develop a coping mechanism. I decided if I could imagine myself as a creature just as scary as she was, she couldn’t prey upon my fear—we’d just be two creeps hanging out in the shadows, and Smooches the Clown would lose interest in me. So I practiced glowering right back at the poster until my fear waned into disdain, and eventually indifference. (I finally tossed that fucker in the garbage when my mom and I had to move less than a year later.)

This is how I went from being a child in the dark to Child of the Darkness, and my tiny-goth-baby strength helped in the daytime too as my parents’ impending divorce shifted the ground under my feet.

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As a young weirdo going through a rough transition period, Pippi Longstocking was my idol: A fellow ginger living the dream of total independence and monkey ownership. But Pippi was bumped to #2 the day I first watched Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

​A plot summary, in case you haven’t Netflixed it yet(!?): Elvira, a late-night TV host, travels to a puritanical Massachusetts town to claim an inheritance left by a great aunt she’s never met. Her aunt leaves Elvira a poodle that she renames Gonk and a house, which she plans to sell to finance her one true dream of a show in Las Vegas. (incidentally, Cassandra Peterson, the actress behind Elvira, used to be a Vegas showgirl.) Elvira develops a crush on a beefy local, becomes an inspiration to the town’s teenagers, and her creepy evil uncle plots her downfall. It also turns out the house isn’t the only thing she inherited from Aunt Morgana. (Powers! She inherited witchy magical powers, FYI.)

Elvira has bulletproof self-confidence and a license plate that says “KICKASS.” She doesn’t have time for creeps, and when scary men and/or monsters come her way she handles it like a boss. She has many gifts, including, of course, her formidable and celebrated rack.

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From youngassoul.tumblr.com

 

elvira cheech

 

But Elvira didn’t become an icon by boobs alone, and that’s not why she fascinated me so much as a kid. It was more about the incongruous charm of her Morticia-chic look and her weirdly vaudevillian sense of humor.

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Her ambition was a revelation too, as was her general lack of concern about being well-liked. Female antiheroes have become a pop-culture staple in the last few years—Olivia Pope wades through moral ambiguities and rigged elections on Scandal, while Hanna Horvath and Mindy Lahiri explore every angle of their shameless self-involvement on Girls and The Mindy Project. But when Mistress of the Dark was released in 1988, you were hard-pressed to find another movie or TV show about a strong woman unapologetically working to achieve something other than marriage or motherhood. Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist were the only other exceptions that year, if you don’t count movies about children and teenage girls (the disappointing Pippi movie, Hairspray).

Elvira pisses off the small-town folk around her because she does what she wants, dresses how she wants, and refuses to hide her sexuality. Those were incendiary qualities in the movie—literally, they try to burn her at the stake—and we all know that being a badass female still brings out plenty of torches and pitchforks. I’ll admit that her breasts did fascinate me. They were always RIGHT THERE for the looking—but not for the touching, as several men in the movie find out. She has masterful control over her body, and I can’t believe I’ve never scrounged up some nipple tassels in an attempt to recreate the grand finale of her Vegas act. I must have watched this part a thousand times.

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from caeric-arclight.tumblr.com

​I’m dressing up as Elvira this year for Halloween (I even bought a stuffed poodle to decorate like Gonk) and I think it’ll be the closest I’ll ever be to understanding cosplay. Now that I’m an adult, I kind of wish I had an Elvira version of my possessed-clown poster: a much cooler lady with sheet-white skin and black hair forever winking at me in the dark. That would be awesome, and not scary at all.

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Samantha Vincenty

Samantha Vincenty

Follow Samantha Vincenty at @shermanther
Samantha Vincenty

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