Cassandra Gay Peterson[1] is an American actress best known for her portrayal of the horror hostess character Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Peterson gained fame on Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV in her stage persona as Elvira, hosting Elvira's Movie Macabre, a weekly B movie presentation. A member of the Los Angeles-based improvisational and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings, Peterson based her Elvira persona in part on a "Valley girl"-type character she created while a member of the troupe.

Cassandra Peterson
Peterson in 2011
Born
Cassandra Gay Peterson[1]

(1951-09-17) September 17, 1951 (age 72)[2]
Occupation(s)Actress, writer, comedian, television personality, author, dancer, singer
Years active1970–present
WorksFull list
Spouse
Mark Pierson
(m. 1981; div. 2003)
PartnerTeresa Wierson (2002–present)
Children1
Websiteelvira.com
Signature

The popularity of Elvira's Movie Macabre led to the 1988 film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, and later the 2001 film Elvira's Haunted Hills, both starring Peterson as Elvira. The television show was revived in 2010, featuring Elvira hosting public domain films, and airing on This TV until 2011. Elvira returned as a horror hostess in 2014 with 13 Nights of Elvira, a 13-episode series produced by Hulu, and again in 2021 for a one-night 40th Anniversary Special that aired on Shudder.

Peterson has made cameo appearances as Elvira in a number of films and television programs, including appearing as a guest commentator during WrestleMania 2 and as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, The Boulet Brothers' Dragula, and Halloween Wars.

Early life

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Peterson was born on Sept. 17, 1951 [3] in Manhattan, Kansas. When she was a toddler, she was scalded by boiling water, which required skin grafts to cover over 35% of her body to heal, resulting in her having to spend three months in the hospital.[4][5]

In a 2011 interview, Peterson stated that as a child, she was more fascinated by horror-themed toys while other girls were occupied with Barbie dolls.[6] In elementary school, she watched House on Haunted Hill, which was the first horror film she ever saw.[7] During her teens, Peterson worked as a drag queen go-go dancer in a Colorado Springs, Colorado gay bar[8] and as a go-go dancer at Club A-Go-Go, a nightclub in Colorado Springs, and for soldiers at Fort Carson.[9] She graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs.

Career

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Early career

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Inspired by Ann-Margret in the film Viva Las Vegas, while on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, during high school, she convinced her parents to let her see a live show where she was noticed by the production staff; despite being only 17 years old, she convinced her parents to let her sign a contract.[10] Immediately after graduating high school, she drove back to Las Vegas, where she became a showgirl in Frederic Apcar's pioneering "Vive Les Girls!" at The Dunes; there, she met Elvis Presley, with whom she went on a date.[11] She had a small role as a showgirl beside Shady Tree (Leonard Barr) in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and played a topless dancer in the film The Working Girls (1974).

In the early 1970s, Peterson moved to Italy and became lead singer of the Italian rock bands I Latins 80[12] and The Snails. After being introduced to film director Federico Fellini by the producer of a documentary on Las Vegas showgirls in which she had appeared, she landed a small part in the film Roma (1972).[13] When she returned to the United States, she worked at the Playboy Club in Miami as a showgirl in the 1973 revue Fantasies of Love au Naturel and later signed up with Hugh Hefner's Playboy Modeling Agency, working as a hostess and model.[14] She also toured nightclubs and discos around the country with a musical/comedy act, Mama's Boys.[15]

In her 2021 memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira, she writes, "Perhaps the biggest mistake I made in my twenties was posing nude for a husband-and-wife photography team, who bullshitted me into doing what they said was a 'test shoot' for Penthouse magazine. They guaranteed me it would never be seen anywhere publicly."[16] She adds, "I never saw or heard from them again, and as far as I knew, that was the end of that... until 1981 when I became famous. Those photos, pubic hair and all, appeared in every sleazy men's magazine on the stand and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it."[16] However, Peterson appeared in several adult magazines in the 1970s including Modern Man, Playgirl, and Swank, among others.[17][18][19][20]

In 1979, she joined the Los Angeles-based improvisational troupe The Groundlings, where she created a Valley girl-type character upon whom the Elvira persona is largely based.[21]

Peterson was one of two finalists for the role of Ginger Grant for the third Gilligan's Island television movie in 1981, but was dropped before filming.[22] Shortly after that, KHJ-TV offered her the horror host position.[23]

Elvira

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Elvira begins: Movie Macabre

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Peterson as Elvira at the 2006 San Francisco Gay Pride parade

In 1981, six years after the death of Larry Vincent, who starred as host Sinister Seymour of a Los Angeles weekend horror show called Fright Night, show producers began to bring the show back.[24]

The producers decided to use a hostess. They asked 1950s' horror hostess Maila Nurmi to revive The Vampira Show. Nurmi worked on the project for a short time, but quit when the producers would not hire Lola Falana to play Vampira.[25] The station sent out a casting call, and Peterson auditioned and won the role. Producers left it up to her to create the role's image. She and her best friend, Robert Redding, came up with the sexy goth/vampire look after producers rejected her original idea to look like Sharon Tate's character in The Fearless Vampire Killers.[26] They created the Elvira look by drawing inspiration from a Kabuki makeup book and the hairstyles of The Ronettes.[27][28]

Shortly before the first taping, producers received a cease and desist letter from Nurmi. Besides the similarities in the format and costumes, Elvira's closing line for each show, wishing her audience "Unpleasant dreams," was notably similar to Vampira's closer: "Bad dreams, darlings..." uttered as she walked off down a misty corridor. The court ruled in favor of Peterson, holding that "'likeness' means actual representation of another person's appearance, and not simply close resemblance." Peterson claimed that Elvira was nothing like Vampira aside from the basic design of the black dress and black hair. Nurmi claimed that Vampira's image was based on Morticia Addams, a character in Charles Addams's cartoons that appeared in The New Yorker magazine.[29]

Peterson's Elvira character rapidly gained notice with her tight-fitting, low-cut, cleavage-displaying black gown. Adopting the flippant tone of a California "Valley girl", she brought a satirical, sarcastic edge to her commentary. She reveled in dropping risqué double entendres and making frequent jokes about her cleavage. In an AOL Entertainment News interview, Peterson said, "I figured out that Elvira is me when I was a teenager. She's a spastic girl. I just say what I feel and people seem to enjoy it." Her camp humor, sex appeal, and good-natured self-mockery made her popular with late-night movie viewers and her popularity soared.[30]

The Elvira character soon evolved from an obscure cult figure to a lucrative brand. She was associated with many products through the 1980s and 1990s, including Halloween costumes, comic books,[31][32] action figures, trading cards, pinball machines, Halloween decor, model kits, calendars, perfume and dolls. She has appeared on the cover of Femme Fatales magazine five times.[30] In 1984, she hosted her own six hour Halloween special on MTV, which included skits and music videos and returned to host another four hour Halloween special in 1986.[33] That same year, she also was a guest commentator at Wrestlemania 2 in the Los Angeles segments alongside Jesse Ventura and Lord Alfred Hayes. Elvira's popularity reached its zenith with the release of the 1988 feature film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, on whose script, written directly for the screen, Peterson collaborated with John Paragon and Sam Egan.[34] From 1989 through 1991, Peterson appeared as Elvira in a series of commercials promoting World Championship Wrestling's annual Halloween Havoc pay-per-view events.[35][36][37]

After several years of attempts to make a sequel to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Cassandra and her manager and then-husband Mark Pierson decided to finance a second movie. In November 2000, Peterson wrote, again in collaboration with Paragon, and co-produced Elvira's Haunted Hills. The film was shot in Romania for just under one million dollars. With little budget left for promotion, Cassandra and Mark screened the film at AIDS charity fund raisers across America.[38] For many people in attendance, this was their first opportunity to see the woman behind the Elvira character. On July 5, 2002, Elvira's Haunted Hills had its official premiere in Hollywood. Elvira arrived at the premiere in her Macabre Mobile. The film was later screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.[39]

In September 2010, Elvira's Movie Macabre returned to television syndication, this time with public domain films.[40] In October 2014, it was revealed that a new series of thirteen episodes had been produced, 13 Nights of Elvira for Hulu. The show premiered on October 19, 2014, running through to Halloween.[41]

As of September 2018, Peterson was working to develop a direct sequel to 1988's Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, as well as an animated Elvira project.[42]

Elvira on home video

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In 1985, Elvira began hosting a home video series called ThrillerVideo, a division of International Video Entertainment (IVE). Many of these films were hand-selected by Peterson. Choosing to stay away from the more explicit cannibal, slasher and zombie films of the time, these were generally tamer films such as The Monster Club and Dan Curtis television films, as well as many episodes of the Hammer House of Horror television series. Since she had refused to host Make Them Die Slowly, Seven Doors of Death, and Buried Alive, however, the videos were released on the ThrillerVideo label without Elvira's appearance as hostess. After this, several extended episodes[43] of the British namesake series Thriller (i.e., The Devil's Web, A Killer in Every Corner, Murder Motel) were also released without an appearance by Elvira; in some, such as Buried Alive, the cast replaced her.

The success of the Thriller Video series led to a second video set, Elvira's Midnight Madness, released through Rhino Home Video. In 2004 a DVD horror-film collection called Elvira's Box of Horrors was released, marking Elvira's return to horror-movie hostessing after a ten-year absence.

Unaired pilot for The Elvira Show on CBS

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In 1993, she filmed a pilot for CBS called The Elvira Show. An expansion of the 1988 film with a sitcom setting, the premise had Elvira and her family moving into a new neighborhood with her older aunt and dealing with nosy neighbors and uptight conservatives who all want them to move out. It also starred Katherine Helmond, Phoebe Augustine, Cristine Rose, Ted Henning, Lynne Marie Stewart, Claudette Wells, John Paragon, Laurie Faso, and Basil Hoffman. It was not picked up by a TV network.[44][45]

Unrealized film projects

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In an interview with Josh Korngut on Dread Central's Development Hell podcast, Peterson revealed cancelled plans for an Elvira "buddy comedy" where the Mistress of the Dark took a road-trip to hell. She also detailed plans for an Edward Scissorhands-inspired animated feature film revealing Elvira's origins with the holiday of Halloween.[46]

Non-Elvira career

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Peterson has also portrayed non-Elvira roles in many other films, most notably Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985 alongside friend and fellow Groundling Paul Reubens, who starred as his Pee-wee Herman character; Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, released in 1987, which starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone; and 2010's All About Evil, as a mother named Linda Thompson who says not to go to the old theater to watch scary movies. Peterson also appeared in Rob Zombie's The Munsters movie in 2022.[47][48]

Personal life

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In the 1970s, Peterson had a liaison with Jon Voight as well as with Robert De Niro during the filming of The Godfather Part II.[49] Peterson married musician Mark Pierson in 1981, and he soon became her personal manager. They had one daughter, Sadie Pierson (b. October 12, 1994), and were divorced on February 14, 2003.[50]

Peterson released her memoir, Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, on September 21, 2021. She revealed in the book that she has been in a relationship with a woman, Teresa "T" Wierson, since 2002. They began their romantic relationship following Peterson's separation from her husband.[51] In the book, she also accused basketball player Wilt Chamberlain of raping her during a party at his Bel Air mansion in the 1970s.[52][53][54]

Peterson was a vegetarian for many years; as of 2021, she continues to maintain a "mostly vegetarian" diet.[55]

Filmography

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Discography

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Peterson recorded several songs and skits for her Elvira Halloween albums in the 1980s and 1990s:

  • Elvira and the Vi-Tones: 3-D TV: "3-D TV (Three-Dimensional)" b/w "Elvira's Theme" (Rhino Records 1982)
  • Elvira Presents Vinyl Macabre: Oldies but Ghoulies (Volume 1) (Rhino Records 1983)
  • Elvira Presents Haunted Hits (Rhino Records 1987)
  • Elvira Presents Monster Hits (Rhino Records 1994)
  • Elvira Presents Revenge of the Monster Hits (Rhino Records 1995)
  • Elvira's Gravest Hits (Shout! Factory 2010)

She also performed on a track called "Zombie Killer" for the band Leslie and the LY's, released in February 2008. The music video for the track features Leslie and the LY's performing to a sold-out audience of zombies in a fictional venue called "Elvira Stadium". A 7" single was released. In 2018, she collaborated with singer Kim Petras on the title track of Petras' EP Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 and subsequent mixtape Turn Off the Light.

Bibliography

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  • Elvira; Paragon, John (1996). Elvira: Transylvania 90210. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 9781572971790.
  • Elvira; Paragon, John (1997). Elvira: Camp Vamp. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 9781572972261.
  • Peterson, Cassandra; Paragon, John (1997). Bad Dog, Andy: A Parody. General Publishing Group. ISBN 1575440377.
  • Elvira; Paragon, John (1998). The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Berkley Boulevard Books. ISBN 9780425164907.
  • Peterson, Cassandra (2014). Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Tweeterhead. ISBN 9780692678183.
  • Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark. Hachette Books. ISBN 9780306874352.

Awards and nominations

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Awards

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Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards

  • 2011 Favorite Horror Host
  • 2017 Monster Kid Hall of Fame

Silver Lake Film Festival

  • Spirit of Silver Lake Award: 2001[56]

Hollywood Horror Festival

  • Vincent Price Award: 2018

RuPaul's Drag Race

  • Giving Us Lifetime Achievement Award: 2024

Nominations

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Saturn Awards

Golden Raspberry Awards

See also

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Footnotes

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  1. ^ a b Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira. Hachette Book Group. p. 4. ISBN 9780306874352.
  2. ^ https://nationaltoday.com/birthday/cassandra-peterson/
  3. ^ https://nationaltoday.com/birthday/cassandra-peterson/
  4. ^ "Elvira: 'Burns Made Me What I Am Today'". Contact Music. August 24, 2005. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  5. ^ Yours Cruelly, Elvira. Page 3. copyright 2021 Hachette Book Group, New York, NY
  6. ^ "This Week in Horror - Summer Spooktacular: Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark". YouTube. June 28, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013.[dead YouTube link]
  7. ^ Miska, Brad (October 28, 2019). "Elvira Reveals the First Horror Film She Ever Saw [Exclusive]". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  8. ^ Del Mar, Pollo (January 21, 2009). "Elvira Was Raised By a Pack of Wild Drag Queens". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Archived from the original on August 7, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  9. ^ Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark. Hachette Books. pp. 38–42. ISBN 9780306874352.
  10. ^ Lambert, Molly (October 31, 2017). "How Elvira Became the Queen of Halloween". Vulture.com. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  11. ^ Okura, Lynn (July 7, 2014). "'Elvira' Actress Cassandra Peterson Dishes on Her Dream Date with Elvis Presley". HuffPost. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  12. ^ @TheRealElvira (April 30, 2015). "#TBT From my days as a singer in the band, 'I Latins 80'. Italy, 1972. Dig the outfit! XX" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  13. ^ Bayard, Louis (September 28, 2021). "Remember Elvira? The Mistress of the Dark Is Still Here, and She Has Some Bombshells to Drop". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  14. ^ Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark. Hachette Books. pp. 117, 156. ISBN 9780306874352.
  15. ^ Whittington, James (November 20, 2008). "Exclusive interview with Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira". Horror Channel. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  16. ^ a b Yours Cruelly, Elvira. Cassandra Peterson. Page 157. Hachette Book Group New York, NY 2021.
  17. ^ "Modern Man Magazine May, 1975". WorthPoint.
  18. ^ "Rascal Magazine, August 1975". WorthPoint.
  19. ^ "Swank Magazine, December 1974". WorthPoint.
  20. ^ "Game Magazine, June 1975". WorthPoint.
  21. ^ Collings, Scott (October 31, 2021). "Company Town: Ghoul Crazy: Think Elvira Has One Foot in the Grave? Think Again". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  22. ^ Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira. Hachette Book Group. p. xviii. ISBN 9780306874352.
  23. ^ Femme Fatales, 1:3, Winter 1992/1993, p. 6
  24. ^ Boone, Brian (October 23, 2018). "What Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Looks Like Today". Nicki Swift. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  25. ^ Wax, Alyse (December 11, 2019). "This Day in Horror: Happy Birthday Maila Nurmi aka Vampira". Dread Central. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  26. ^ Pierce-Bohen, Kayleena (June 2, 2020). "Elvira's Movie Macabre: 10 Things Fans Never Knew About The Horror Show". Screen Rant. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  27. ^ Stardust, Lisa. "Cassandra Peterson on Elvira's Legacy, Goth Glam, and Feminine Power". InStyle.
  28. ^ Peterson, Cassandra (September 24, 2021). "How the Iconic Late-Night TV Character of Elvira Came to Be". Literary Hub.
  29. ^ "Nurmi v. Peterson". Vampira: The Movie. March 25, 2007. Archived from the original on October 3, 2021. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  30. ^ a b "About Cassandra Peterson". MovieWeb. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  31. ^ Elvira's House of Mystery DC Comics (11 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
  32. ^ Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Claypool Comics (166 issues) at the Grand Comics Database
  33. ^ "Be Kind Rewind: 1986 MTV Elvira's Halloween Special".
  34. ^ Pierce-Steinmetz, Johanna (September 30, 1988). "'Elvira' True to Star's Deadpan Humor Trademark". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  35. ^ "Elivira's Halloween Havoc '89 promo". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021.
  36. ^ "NWA Halloween Havoc 1990 Promo feat. Elvira V.2". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021.
  37. ^ "WCW Halloween Havoc 1991 Promo (Chamber of Horrors Version)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021.
  38. ^ Ryon, Ruth (November 17, 2014). "Like Night and Day". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  39. ^ Assunção, Muri (September 25, 2021). "Cassandra Peterson, aka 'Elvira: Mistress of the Dark,' Says LGBTQ fans' Reaction to Her Coming Out Has Been 'Fantastic'". New York Daily News. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  40. ^ "Elvira Returns to TV with Elvira's Movie Macabre". Movie. July 27, 2010. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
  41. ^ Turek, Ryan (October 2, 2014). "Elvira Heads to Hulu for All-New Series". Shock Till You Drop. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  42. ^ Cavanaugh, Patrick (September 13, 2019). "Elvira Actress Clarifies Reports of Streaming Project, Teases New Movie on the Way". Comicbook.com. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
  43. ^ "Thriller Videos & DVDs". Markmcm.co.uk. July 18, 2005. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  44. ^ Vasquez, Felix Jr. (July 25, 2018). "[TV Terrors] "The Elvira Show" Was Cancelled By CBS Before It Even Aired". Bloody Disgusting!. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  45. ^ "A Look at "The Elvira Show" Pilot |". October 11, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  46. ^ Korngut, Josh (October 31, 2023). "'Elvira Goes To Hell': The Queen of Halloween Discusses Her Unproduced Film Projects [Exclusive]". Dread Central. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  47. ^ Collis, Clark (March 11, 2022). "First look at Cassandra 'Elvira' Peterson in Rob Zombie's reboot of 'The Munsters'". EW.com.
  48. ^ Squires, John (March 11, 2022). "Rob Zombie Shares First Look at Cassandra Peterson in 'The Munsters' Movie!".
  49. ^ Peterson, Cassandra (2021). Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark. Hachette Book Group (published September 22, 2021). pp. 125–157. ISBN 9780306874352.
  50. ^ Anderson, Jenna (September 21, 2021). "Elvira Actress Cassandra Peterson Comes Out, Reveals 19-Year Relationship With Woman". Comicbook.com. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  51. ^ Shatto, Rachel (September 21, 2021). "Elvira, Cassandra Peterson, Comes Out, Talks 19-Year Relationship". The Advocate. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021. Retrieved September 21, 2021.
  52. ^ Garner, Glenn (September 23, 2021). "Elvira's Cassandra Peterson Accuses NBA Pro Wilt Chamberlain of Sexual Assault: 'I Kept That a Secret'". People Magazine. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  53. ^ Brisco, Elise. "Elvira actress Cassandra Peterson Accuses Wilt Chamberlain of Sexual Assault in New Memoir". USA Today. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  54. ^ "Elvira Accuses Basketball Legend Wilt Chamberlain of Sexual Abuse". The Toronto Sun. September 23, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  55. ^ Cusumano, Topher. "Elvira Talks Halloween, Being an LGBTQ Icon and Selling a Haunted House to Brad Pitt". Marriott Bonvoy Traveler. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  56. ^ "Los Angeles Silver Lake Film Festival (2001)". IMDb.
  57. ^ "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA (1990)". IMDb.
  58. ^ "Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards. Archived from the original on May 12, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  59. ^ "Razzie 1988". Razzies.com. Archived from the original on May 5, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
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