Grande Dames of Goth #2 – Christine McConnell, Femme Fatale of Pastel Spooks

Like pastels? Good. Like creepy? Even better. Like elaborately-crafted confectionary? Then this lady is someone to look out for.

Or, chances are you’re a member of the lolita community looking for inspiration for your next tea party.

Christine pulls off styles from the Victorian and burtonesque to the candy-floss dresses that inspired the Rockabilly chic, playing at the dainty 50’s housewife image with a creepy, menacing twist.

She is the epitome of a low-key-scary, crafty woman with a glamorous, goth twist to her creations. The point of her videos – as of her Netflix series – is more to inspire people to get creative than to give step-by-step instructions on, for example, how to make a Haunted Gingerbread House. These semi-tutorials start out simple, then quickly take a turn towards the crafting equivalent of participating in the Olympics without any sort of prior training – leaving the audience to essentially go “Wait, what?” while on screen, another combination of cardboard and spiced dough has magically turned into a miniature witchy dream resort. The seemingly effortless perfectionism in which everything Christine creates is presented easily fills one with envy – and awe, and like with any good brew, you keep coming back just to marvel at the beauty of coffin-shaped shelves, spookily repurposed upholstery and cute gothic aprons with embroidery so elaborate that merely looking at them will make your fingers bleed. Then, there’s the downright spine-tingling creations, such as a lifelike cake edition of the H.R. Giger Alien and tea party treats straight out of Alice: Madness Returns.

Yes, that alien head is a cake. And no, that is not Sigourney Weaver, but one can barely spot the difference in badassery.

The audience is awe-struck – and still clueless

No, Christine, I still don’t know how to make my gingerbread castle NOT look like the Cabin In The Woods.

Christine puts a homely, sugary-sweet spin on the goth theme – only edging the subject with all the pastels and pinks and off-white lace – until you take a slightly closer look. She stylizes and mashes the goth aesthetic with the detailed sugariness of a 50’s French patisserie, and, much like other goth icons, the Instagram-famous model herself is very much part of the exhibit. Just look at the promotional photos at her website, which feature images that sometimes read like a pastel counterpart to Elvira – without the sharp-tongued sass.

Enjoy with a cup of rose tea – and a grain of salt

We’ll float, too.

Christine is no actress – there is no goofy mischievous “oh la-la” witchery á la Elvira or mystic charme akin to Morticia Addams emanating from her – she really goes through the notions of focusing on the presentation of the craft itself, and shines in the calm and focus she radiates throughout.

What works well in her YouTube videos kinda falls flat in the Netflix equivalent, where she has to interact with plush puppet characters and an overarching witch comedy plot that feels very much stilted due to her over-professional demeanor that just isn’t quite cut out for delivering comedic lines. If you can look past the performance itself, here are some fun ideas in it, and the creations remain as stunning as always – but overall, From the Mind of Christine McConnell is a weird mix of cooking show, scripted reality and sitcom-esque comedy, and therefore best enjoyed with a grain of salt and a honey-sweetened cup of rose tea on a dark, rainy afternoon. To hide the suspiciously bitter taste lurking beneath…

Grande Dames of Goth #1 – Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Cheap? Who are you callin’ cheap? What’s that perfume you’re wearing, Catch of the Day?

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)

If you’ve ever been into anything Halloween-related, then chances are you’ve stumbled across the inevitable “Who is better? Morticia Addams, Lily Munster or Elvira?” posts you can find all over the internet. Well, don’t be alarmed – this isn’t gonna be one of those.

As the title of this post suggests, we’ll be focusing on Cassandra Peterson’s dazzling, over-the-top and smashingly iconic late-night horror hostess character Elvira.

“Unpleasant dreams!”

Not just skin-deep

It would be way too easy to write off the character of Elvira as a “sex sells” cash grab. What differentiates the character from other over-fetishized goth chicks is that Elvira is refreshingly self-ironic, and, to put it simply, genuinely fun. Rather than being just eye-candy to fill in the gaps between reruns of old and obscure horror movies, she is a comedy icon with a distinct voice, style and enough screen presence to make even the most ludicrous B-Horror flicks bearable to watch.

Her titular role in the first (and arguably best) of two movies explored Elvira’s natural clash against a suburbian world, and, while still heavily featuring her by no doubts impressive decoupage, did a wonderful thing with her: Portray her as a thouroughly sympathetic misfit who never loses her optimism. Despite all of her associated fanservice, she became a symbol for simply not giving a f*** about what the world thought of her – while always banding up with the ones who are outcasts as well: the bunch of awkward kids who help her fix up her house grow more confident by learning from Elvira’s ability to improvise and, despite her dark getup, focus on the bright side of things. The Mistress of the Dark has a contagious sort of warmth under all the wicked sass she emits that it makes her likeable beyond the looks and the lines.

Partying hard – for over 35 years!

Reframing the Misfit Label

Also, Elvira has real problems most kids growing into their goth phase probably can relate to: She does not see herself as all that different from everybody else, but her inability to “tone it down” and fit in at the straight-laced TV agency she works for finds her quitting her job after being molested by her boss. Moving into the spooky old house on the hill she has just conveniently inherited, the suburbians are immediately suspicious of her – the men leering at her, the women despising her, making her a target for the conservative town council who later accuses her of witchcraft and, yes, will try to burn her at the stake by the end of the film. This is a horror parody, after all.

Ridiculous? Yes. Fun? Also yes, even though the cleavage gets in the way of things now and then.

Instead of sulking about her outcast state, she turns the refurbishment of her new home into a community project for local kids, revives the arts and culture by – a throwback to her origin – hosting and commenting B-horror movie nights at the abandoned local cinema, fixes quarrels between neighbours – but still sticks out like a bejewelled crow in a henhouse. Her wandering from shop to shop enquiring for a job in her floaty black gown, toupé hairstlye and heavy make-up, a ritual dagger casually sheathed in her belt, hits home for everyone looking a bit alternative trying to get a “serious” job. Not everything in the film is being played for laughs, and makes you think about both the perks and challenges of being a misfit – with a positive outlook:

Elvira never settles for being a victim of gossip and ill tidings. Instead, she teaches resilience, turning being different into an opportunity for unbound potential and to practice self-love and self-confidence, without glossing over the obstacles it brings not to fit in anywhere. Also, she doesn’t settle for ith all her optimism, she does get pissed off at certain people who cross her, and enacts her just revenge, never missing an opportunity to teach her adversaries a lesson about true superficiality and hypocrisy. That she gets to do all that while delivering more than tongue-in-cheek one-liners, wearing a high-split, low-cut dress ultimately works – Elvira is all about sass and confidence, without crossing the line to being portrayed as stupid or bitchy. If anything, she is fearless, daring and always one step ahead of everyone else, which adds to her outcast state. That combination of outspokenness, wit and charisma keeps her from falling into the “only good for her sex appeal” trope that may come to mind if people only knew her from the (admittedly spooky-gorgeous) pin-up posters featuring her. Her appearance isn’t an obstacle to her being taken seriously, it’s a weapon she expertly knows how to wield, but isn’t too high on to not make jokes about it:

Vincent Talbot: I must apologize for my behavior in the office, it’s just that your appearance was a bit of a shock to me.

Elvira: It’s OK. My appearance is kind of a shock to everybody.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Spooky, silly, has a point

Needless to say, Elvira eventually finds out that she is descended from a line of witches – explaining both her unchangeable apperance as well as her ability to use magic (and, apparently, break iron chains with the power of her almighty breasts. Wonder Woman and She-Ra’ve got nothing on her).

While everything that features her may be silly, and over-the-top (then, try imagining her in something like Underworld), it always addresses being comfortable with oneself and standing up for the weird and outcast.

While I am not normally a fan of sitcoms (I’ve been too thouroughly traumatized by their horrible German dubs and crude humour as a kid to get as much as a chuckle out of them), but the only produced and never-aired pilot episode of The Elvira Show (1993) is crackingly funny and full of endearing characters. Had it not been dead in the water, it might have easily won the same cult following fellow witchy sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996) was able to garner. While being easily-digestible comedy, it doesn’t miss out on a chance for Elvira to, on being once again arrested for witchcraft, deliver the following motivational speech:

Preach, Gothmother.

Also, back when text adventures were still en vogue, they even made a text adventure game about Elvira. I haven’t played it myself, but, for the time, the graphics and menus looked pretty damn solid.

Check out that UI design!

If I ever get around to playing it, this game will get its very own entry in my “Games from the Crypt” series.

But now for the tough questions:

Why is Elvira? Will be discussed in Part 2, because this post has been going on too long and there’s just that many GIFs I can throw at you without needing to add age verification to this blog.