It's hard to say what they bode for the world, or even which is more startling, but here are two astounding facts: Elvira, the vampy, campy...

Share story

It’s hard to say what they bode for the world, or even which is more startling, but here are two astounding facts: Elvira, the vampy, campy horror hostess with the enormous, um, following, envisions an America ruled by an army of her clones, one in every shopping mall and car wash. And when she held tryouts, 2,000 women (and men!) applied for the job.

“It was insane!” she recounts of the tryout — (or “open casket call,” as she put it) last summer. “We started at 11 a.m. and we ended at about 2 in the morning the next day, interviewing just a few of them.”

The results can be seen tonight at (of course!) midnight, when “The Search for the Next Elvira” starts a three-week run on the Fox Reality Channel that ends on (of course!) Halloween. (Fox Reality Channel is channel 159 on Comcast Digital Cable.)

Bizarre is pretty much the norm for Elvira, who’s spun an entire career out of a swooping Goth minidress, double-entendre wisecracks (her dream date: “the guy with the biggest bulge — I’m referring to his wallet, of course”) and an undying affection for scruffy little horror movies.

From a gig hosting movies such as “Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks” and “Werewolf of Washington,” she leveraged a 26-year career as the uncontested Queen of Halloween and turned her name into a haunted-household word.

It all started as a spare-change-on-the-weekend lark for a struggling young actress and former Vegas showgirl named Cassandra Peterson. When a local Los Angeles TV producer saw her do a couple of comic sketches in 1981 with the Groundlings, an improv-comedy troupe that included, among other stars, future “Saturday Night Live” players Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman, he invited her to audition for a job hosting horror movies at his station.

Back in the three-channel universe of those days, practically every city in America had a local show of schlocky horror movies with a weird host who wore fangs or popped out of a coffin. But when Los Angeles’ Sinister Seymour died — really died, not just climbed into a casket — station KHJ auditioned hundreds of potential replacements without success.

The KHJ producer asked Peterson to try out for the job in one of her Groundling characters, a clueless Valley Girl actress-wannabe.

“I was like, ‘Oh, whoop-tee-doo,’ ” recalls Peterson — oh, the hell with it, Elvira. ” ‘Cause I was actually looking for a real gig. I went in and auditioned, and I got the part. Then he said, ‘Come up with a spooky look.’ … I’m going, ‘This is so lame. OK, whatever — I’m getting paid $300.’ “

The look — black wig, moonbeam makeup accentuated with panda eye shadow and the tiny dress, undergirded by an industrial-strength bra, that showed off those Vegas legs and cleavage — was Elvira’s. The movies were KHJ’s, backlot quickies with cheapie zombies and vampires that came packaged with the more expensive films KHJ wanted to buy.

Her formula worked. In two beats of a bat’s wings, her show was nationally syndicated as “Movie Macabre.” It lasted until 1993, when the mushrooming number of cable channels did in many of the independent stations. Elvira is frustrated that she’s never been able to strike a deal to host horror movies on cable.

“I have been approached to do it,” she says, “but generally they weren’t the kind of movies that I wanted to do. I don’t want to do the modern slasher flicks — I am really very anti- those type of maniac-kills-girl-with-a-knife kind of movies, that slasher stuff. I really like the oldies but ghoulies, the cheesy good-bad horror movies of the past … To do the modern stuff wouldn’t be very Elvira-y.”