Come sundown, as party ghouls across the country pour themselves into Elvira's low-cut black dress, they are sure to raise hell, wondering how the voluptuous vamp fills out the form-fitting costume's dangerous curves. At the same time, in a dressing room at Knott's Scary Farm in Southern California, the mistress of the dark herself — Cassandra Peterson — might also let fly a curse or two, for she'll be submitting to 90 minutes in the make-up chair prior to performing her Vegas-style revue for a packed house of thrill-seeking tourists. And if the Manhattan, Kansas, native is feeling a little, er, witchy, well, who could blame her? It has been two decades since the ex-showgirl first squeezed into her signature shmata and had her skin painted the color of moonbeams. "By now, I've probably spent two years just getting into drag," she marvels. "That's a scary thought." Even more chilling, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, she works as hard as Santa Claus does before Christmas — and he doesn't have a website to haunt, a film to finish, or a killer case of laryngitis to threaten his status as "the Madonna of the macabre." Yet, despite the frightful burden that goes along with her calling as a creature of the night, Peterson is in high spirits as she reveals to TV Guide Online the aspects of her double life that have made all her "unpleasant dreams" come true.

TV Guide Online: The Elvira costume is the best-selling female get-up of all time. Does it surprise you that so many girls would attempt to fill your... um...?Cassandra Peterson:

... bra? (Laughs.) No, it doesn't surprise me. Before I was Elvira, I always enjoyed dressing really, really sexy at Halloween because it's the only time you can get away with it without anybody thinking you're a tramp. So what better for women to dress as than Elvira, who's a character that people know doesn't take herself too seriously, but is sexy and can flirt and have fun with guys?

TVGO: I heard you lost your voice recently. How horrifying was it to have that happen so close to Pumpkin Day?Peterson: (Groans.) It's been really bad. This is the first time in 14 years that I've missed a whole night of shows. I always get sick this time of year — I think it's the stress, and also the seasons are changing. But I've always made it through all the shows before.

TVGO: When fans catch your stage act, are they surprised to find out that you have a great set of, er, lungs?Peterson: (Laughs.) Yeah. A lot of people don't know that I sang and danced before I was Elvira. It's fun to be able to do that again, but it's tougher now. I do one show for a month, then I don't perform again for a whole year, so I get out there and start huffing and puffing. It's not like Madonna, who jogs, like, 80 miles a day.

TVGO: You recently lent Elvira's name and image to an electric guitar. Why haven't you ever released a rock-and-roll album?Peterson: I kind of did. I have three CDs out, and I sing one or two cuts on each one, and the rest are classic Halloween songs. And when I presented Alice Cooper with one of my guitars, he talked to me about doing a duet like Sonny and Cher. But we could change our names to, like, "Bony and Scare." I thought it would be pretty wacky to do "I've Got You, Babe" with him.

TVGO: That's putting it mildly. By introducing Z-grade spine-tinglers as the "hostess with the mostess" of the 1980s Movie Macabre series, you were set up as an authority on awful horror flicks. In your expert opinion, what's the worst one ever?Peterson: My favorite worst one is Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, which isn't really a horror movie, but it's pretty horrific. No one will ever top that. I mean, when the director's a guy wearing a dress, you know you're in trouble.

TVGO: Since there's no shortage of lousy flicks these days, is there any chance that you'd ever raise Movie Macabre from the dead?Peterson: We've tried and tried over the years. It's mostly a problem getting the films. When I was doing Movie Macabre, they were practically giving the damn things away. But, I really think partly through my popularity hosting horror movies, those films got to be more expensive. Now they've been bought up by a lot of the big film conglomerates, and they're difficult to get a hold of as a whole package of movies. The only place I can get a job [hosting] is with... one of the big guys who owns the pictures. Otherwise, you can't afford them. So I'm trying to talk one of those people into doing that. It looks good, but until it happens, I don't want to jinx it.

TVGO: Speaking of horror flicks — not bad ones, of course — tell me about your upcoming movie, Elvira's Haunted Hills.Peterson: My movie's kind of good-bad, too. It's a parody of the old gothic horror films of the early '60s, particularly the Roger Corman/Hammer [Studio] films that starred Vincent Price. I like to hope that what Austin Powers was to '60s spy movies, this is to the early-'60s gothic films that I grew up with.

TVGO: One of your co-stars is Richard O'Brien, aka Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Please, tell me that you two perform a duet.Peterson: No! I wrote the film before I knew Richard was going to be in it. Actually, who we had in mind — and who we had — was Richard Chamberlain. But another project came up for him at the last minute, and at the very last minute, Richard O'Brien came in. By then, the script was already done, and, try as we did to see if we could put [a musical number] together, it just really didn't work. When you see his character, you'll understand — it's hard to imagine him singing.

TVGO: After 20 years, do you ever regret being known almost exclusively as Elvira?Peterson: No. In the first couple of years, I thought, "I should be doing other fabulous, more artistic things." But I realized pretty soon that I was nuts. I have the best of both worlds: I have a character who people really recognize, and when I want to be anonymous, I can. I can go anywhere I want with no one noticing me, and I love it that way. And as this character, I get to write books, I record music, I work on films and TV shows, I do voiceovers and live shows... I do a million different things. So it's not a boring job.

TVGO: Which of your career achievements has made you the proudest?Peterson: Well, one of the great things about being a celebrity is that you can use your celebrity for different causes. So I do a lot of work for animal rights, and I also do a lot of gay-related things. I can't imagine somebody getting to any point where they're a celebrity and not using [their popularity] to help out. That's almost like what it's for... the raison d'etre for being famous. I'm also very proud of this movie that we just made — that we were actually able to write it, produce it and do everything on our own. Let me tell you, that is a huge, huge job.

TVGO: Any big plans to celebrate following your All Hallow's Eve performance?Peterson: Boy, I wish. The next day, I'll be flying to Palm Springs to ride in a gay-pride parade as Elvira, and that night, we're doing an AIDS benefit screening of the movie. So that'll be kind of like celebrating — gay audiences are always very appreciative of my character. I just wish I didn't have to put on the make-up again. But after that, I hope to stay in Palm Springs and lay in a spa for about three days without getting up. That'll be my celebration.