This is the third in a special Overthinkers series, Critical Analysis, which focuses on interviews with online content creators who concentrate on pop culture. Our earlier interviews include Q&As with creators Brad Jones and Tony Goldmark.
Video producer and writer Elisa Hansen is better known to her online audience as the Maven of the Eventide, hostess of the analysis series Vampire Reviews. The Maven looks at bloodsuckers in all media, from movies and TV series to web series and graphic novels, and how they have evolved.
Before launching Vampire Reviews, Hansen was a recurring actor and writer on the review series The Nostalgia Chick, often playing Dr. Tease and the “Makeover Fairy,” and a recurring performer on the review series Music Movies.
I recently spoke on the phone with Hansen, where we discussed vampire trends, meeting friends through fan fiction and the eternal question of Vampira vs. Elvira.
Where did your love for darker media begin?
When I was a kid, my mother used to read me Edgar Allan Poe stories for bedtime. A lot of it’s from my mom, and [Phantom of the Opera] was the first thing that really got me into darker stuff, I discovered that in middle school. I was in kindergarten, I was 5 years old, and there was this girl who had just seen the musical Phantom. She’s telling us all about it on the playground, and I thought, “That sounds so cool!” I had it in my head that Phantom was the epitome of all things. So when I got to middle school and was reintroduced to it, I thought, “Oh, this is that thing I remember from when I was really tiny, and it was the epitome of all things!” And when I got into it, I went to the library and read the book and just got obsessed. I was into vampire stuff, definitely not as much as Phantom, but when it came to making a show it seemed like the more interesting thing to explore.
You began as a member of Team Nostalgia Chick, where you were a writer and an actor. How did you meet the rest of the group?
[Lindsay Ellis and I] met online. I was 17 or 18 at the time, I was just finishing high school, and she was a couple years younger than me, and we were writing Phantom of the Opera fanfiction on fanfiction.net. From there we went to these little chatrooms they had back then. I moved to New York City for college and a year later she did the same thing and so did [Nella Inserra, a fellow writer], and, being friends on the internet, we became friends in person.
And when Lindsay began doing The Nostalgia Chick, how did you end up getting involved?
[Lindsay] had just finished college and had moved away from New York and was out of town, living someplace else. And she messaged me one day and said, “I got a job, I’m making a web show.” At the time, I had no idea what that was [laugh]. And a few months later, she moved back to New York and she was living with our friends at the time, sort of apartment-hopped a lot. She was doing the Anastasia review, she called me up and said, “Can you do a Russian accent?” I said, “I think so,” and she said, “Can you record these lines?” It was things like that, she’d come to me if she needed something fast. At one time, she was living with me and she was working on the Top 11 Villainesses review. And I was like, you have to include Damona, because I was obsessed with the show Gargoyles when I was younger. I didn’t write that part, but I definitely consulted with her. At from then on, if she needed someone on-camera for a visual gag, since we were roommates, she called me or Nella. We started getting more involved with the writing organically as the show went on.
How are you and the Maven of the Eventide as a character different from each other?
I think I’m a lot nicer than she is [laughs]. She’s definitely self-obsessed and vampire obsessed, passionate about her fandom. She thinks she’s superior in that she is a vampire fan and anyone who isn’t is inferior. She’s more of a childish personality. While I dove more into her personality in earlier reviews, I haven’t abandoned that but I don’t think I’ve explored it too much, because I don’t have a lot of people to use in skits now [laughs]. I do try to keep a little bit in there. I do go a little more extreme, because when you are making a video essay, you’re making a point.
You take a more analytical approach to your reviews than most. How did you develop the show’s identity?
When I was working with Lindsay, I did want to do my own thing, mainly because I have a lot of ideas that I wanted to do on her show that she wasn’t interested in. It got to a point of, “Well, just do your own and help me write the ones I am interested in.” Because I was like, “Lindsay, we should do Dracula,” or “Lindsay, we should do this,” and she was like, “No thanks.” So I originally wanted to start a show where I was comparing books to their movie adaptations, and I was making a list of all the ones I really wanted to do, and I looked at the list and thought, “Half of this list is vampire movies! [laughs]. Maybe I should just do a show about vampires and talk about anything I want about them.” I was inspired by a friend of mine who does a show about Phantom of the Opera, and he only talks about movie versions of Phantom of the Opera, it’s called Phantom Reviews. He hasn’t done it in a while, but back then he had it going, and so I thought to steal his idea and do vampire reviews. As far as the analytical stuff, that comes out of the whole “comparing it to the book” idea. I’m not a filmmaker, so I don’t really focus on the filmmaking or the effects, but I was a theater major, and I spent a lot of my theater career working on character analysis and writing and really picking apart a script, thinking “Where is this character coming from? Where are the motivations here? Why is this script good? Why does this script feel shallow or weak?”
What’s been the biggest trend you’ve noticed in recent vampire media?
The whole sympathetic vampire, vampire-who-hates-being-a-vampire thing started back in the 70s. Nowadays you get vampires who are sympathetic and complex, and also really bad, which I think is a marriage of two qualities of the vampire that originally weren’t possible together. A vampire can have a heart and feelings, can be conflicted about who he is and yet still be bad. There are some examples of this in the past, but I think we’re seeing this a lot more nowadays. It’s probably due to better writing, we just get better and better at this as it goes on.
As a fan, I have to ask: Vampira or Elvira?
Elvira, because of how fun she is. Vampira took herself too seriously but Elvira was all fun, and also, she was a lot more of a role model, I think. Maybe that just has to do with the era. Vampira couldn’t really be one in hers, but in the 80s, Elvira was more popular and there was a lot more she could do with that “sexy lady” image that was powerful and things that girls could look up to and say, “You are a cool person who is powerful and in control.” Vampira did her stuff, too, but since I also grew up with her, Elvira is definitely my favorite.
What’s the best piece of advice that someone gave you for your professional life?
Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants about the rules of improv and how to apply them to professional situations, and the rule of “yes, and…” – which is, when you’re in improv and someone says “Now you’re lost in a ditch,” you have to go with it, you have to say “Yes, I am now lost in a ditch and there’s a bowl of Jell-O over there,” – take what’s given to you and add to it. You never say no, because when you say, “No, I don’t want to improv that,” you ruin the joke and the moment. The show must go on. Especially when you work in a performance environment, that’s when you have an audience that is present. Take what’s given to you and add to it. If you can do that instead of ranting or throwing a fit, make something positive out of it and grow from it.
Let’s say you find this interview ten years down the line. Do you have any questions for your future self?
Did you keep writing? Did you not give up? Did you keep doing it? It’s so easy to let months go by without writing. And I need to hold myself accountable for that.