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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Just one example of all the Elvira merchandise
on display at Stan Lee's Comikaze.

Long before there was "Mystery Science Theater 3000," there was "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark."  Or at least there was on Channel 9 in Los Angeles, back in the 1980s.  With her big black head of hair, her Morticia Addams-style dress, her smile, and her wit, she made Sunday afternoons interesting during my teenage years.  Family life on Sundays centered on church back then, so after the morning service, and lunch, there usually wasn’t much to do until the evening service began.  I suppose some might have argued that I should have spent the afternoon hours in contemplation, reading my Bible and praying.  (Some did).  But I filled those empty hours by listening to music, reading science fiction novels, and watching bad horror movies with Elvira.

I’ve never been one to mock Sci-Fi movies and TV shows.  I might critique them afterward, noting where they deviated from scientific principles, or noting character inconsistencies and plot loopholes, but I’ve never liked it when people criticize a Sci-Fi show for bad acting or poor production values.  Nor do I enjoy hearing a running stream of mocking by my fellow viewers, who of course would have made the show so much better, if only they had acted out the parts, made the props, written the script, or filmed the movie.  Science Fiction represents the theater of dreams.  As such, it hosts visions of futures that might await us.  Some of those we might actually want to live in.  Some of them we often fear are imminent.  Many explore our potential as human beings.  But no representation of what does not currently exist can ever be perfect.  Even with the largest budgets, the most imaginative talents, and the best tools technology has to offer, many of the best visions of the future can never be captured on film.  Each Sci-Fi program is a pioneering effort to capture the spirit of an idea with the time, people, and resources available.  To mock such efforts seems rather small-minded to me.  Perhaps that's why I never connected with “Mystery Science Theater 3000” like I did with “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.”

Perhaps such arguments could be applied to horror stories.  I’m not a great lover of the genre, so I don’t know about that.  What I do know is that Elvira sat down with me in her Victorian style settee on Sunday afternoons.  Because of her presence, her dialogue, and the sense of fun she injected into the programs, I watched movies I never would have watched otherwise.  I can’t remember those movies now, nor were they important to me then.  What I remember is Elvira, talking to me as if she and I were discussing the merits, or lack thereof, of the movie we were watching.  What I remember is how she made those Sunday afternoons fun.

The strong lighting certainly did Adam West
(pictured on right) no favors. 

Cassandra Peterson, who played Elvira, was a featured guest at Stan Lee’s Comikaze.  Interviews with the featured guests took place at one end of the exhibit hall.  Strong lighting washed out the guests’ faces, and attendees had to stand during their conversations.  I was curious what Adam West, who played Batman in the old TV show, might say, but after a few minutes of “Oh yeah, keeping fit, went to the beach the other day," and so on, I decided to focus more on what was going on in the rest of the exhibit hall.  Which was a shame, because I’m sure I would have enjoyed some of what the featured guests had to say, if only organizers had devoted more consideration to attendees’ comfort. 

How about an
Perhaps I should have stood around anyway, because people like Adam West and Cassandra Peterson were a part of my life during my teen years.  But at least I’ve got my memories of Sunday afternoons with Elvira.  I never saw her as a “mistress of the dark,” but rather as a light that illuminated the darkness, and a voice of levity and interest amid the otherwise drab and dull.  Come to think of it: aren’t those the very qualities we look for in companions and friends?

Thank you, Elvira, for sharing your Sunday afternoons with me.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Wikipedia page on Cassandra Peterson

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