Gaming tech is advancing at such a rate that it’s a pretty safe assumption that today’s generation will be oblivious to the real lifeblood behind Jackson Stewart’s directorial debut Beyond the Gates (review). Co-writer Stephen Scarlata’s original pitch was clearly inspired by one of the ’90s guiltiest of pleasures, the VCR game Nightmare, which featured the dodgiest of dialogue and most outlandish of insults yet went on to spawn a whole new wave of new wave board games. And whilst those who shared a nerdy penchant for the game way back when will most likely relate that much more to Stewart’s love letter, those of you with a lack of appreciation for said ’90s fad will be hopping straight onto eBay in search of the long-revered board game as soon as Beyond the Gates’ credits roll.
With the film all set to release this December 9th in select theaters, on VOD, and via digital platforms, we adjusted the tracking and rolled the dice with Barbara Crampton when she paid a visit to this year’s SITGES International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia to present the film and also pick up an honorific Time Machine Award….
DC: You’re here in Sitges to collect the Time Machine Award in honor of your life achievements. One thing is to receive an award for one particular role, but this particular award must obviously mean so much more.
BC: It’s just overwhelming. Also, I’m in really good company with the other guests the festival have invited for awards this year. These are some wonderful actors that I have long admired. It just makes me feel that I have made a contribution in a way that makes people feel something. And then genre cinema is really meaningful to me. In my early career, I worked as an actor whenever anybody would ask me: I’ve worked in commercials and movies of the week and genre cinema and soap operas. I’d worked a few times with Stewart Gordon of course, but it was only really more recently – when I came back with You’re Next – that I decided that I really loved genre cinema. It’s full of passion, deep emotions, universal truths and living, dying and loving. It has such depth to it. Because of that, and because I had such a great time filming You’re Next, I realised I wanted to rededicate myself to my career and genre cinema in general.
DC: So what was your outlook on life and your career before the You’re Next opportunity came knocking?
BC: I was being a mom. In my late thirties, I wasn’t getting a lot of roles so I began thinking about not acting anymore and maybe going into a different profession. Then I met my husband and we decided to get married and he got transferred with his job and asked me if I would move from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was important for his career so I agreed and then we wanted to start family and because of my age we had to start right away. Thankfully, I was able to have children right away – I had two, back to back. And then I just concentrated on being a mom for a number of years and really didn’t think I was going to work in genre cinema any more or even be an actress. I was working as a volunteer at my children’s school, helping with the PTA and things like that. And then I got called out of the blue to act for You’re Next and I was surprised my agent hadn’t lost my number (laughs).
DC: Ultimately who was behind bringing you into the mix for You’re Next and helping resurrecting your career?
BC: That was the writer and producer, Simon Barrett. He had met Stuart Gordon at Fantastic Fest a number of years ago and he said, “We’re doing this movie and we need a genre actress to play the Mom. What’s Barbara Crampton doing?” He said that I’d retired but thank God Simon didn’t take no for an answer and he tried to reach out anyway. Any time somebody asks me, I feel that if he hadn’t asked me to be in that movie and the movie hadn’t done as well as it did, I don’t think I would be sitting here with you now. And it was so inspiring to be on set with all those talented people. It was like magic to me and it reignited my passion. I didn’t know if that film was going to do well or not but I told me agent to call me again and to keep submitting me for things because I wanted to work again. I got a couple of calls but not as much as I did until after the movie came out and did really well. It ended up on everybody’s radar and soon I was on people’s radars and they started saying, “Oh, Barbara Crampton! She’s not dead. We can call her.”
DC: Aside from receiving an award here at Sitges, you’re also here with director Jackson Stewart and actress Brea Grant to present Beyond the Gates.
BC: That’s right. Initially really I had been working on – and I’m still working on – a movie called The Wildness that’s going into production in February. In the middle of that, Jackson – who I had known as he had worked as an intern for Stuart Gordon – saw that I was a producer on The Wildness and called me and asked me to read his movie. Jackson is just such a charming guy. Now that you’ve met him here in Sitges I think you know what I’m talking about. So when you meet him, you feel like he’s your best friend in about five minutes.
I was quite busy back then and I hadn’t gotten around to reading it but when he finally pinned me down he said, “Look, I’ve gotten most of the money together and we’re going to shoot in about a month and I really want you to work on the movie as a producer.” He had done a few shorts and this was his first feature and he was a young guy so I really wanted to help him. When I finally read the script, I loved it. It’s really his personality: It’s charming; it’s cool; it has some darker elements but told in a fun way. It’s just a charming love letter to ’80s horror with new characters and some updates for a modern audience. And I loved the relationship of the two brothers who are estranged from one another and looking for their dad. Movies to me, and especially genre movies because of all the scares and blood, have to have a foundation and good characters and I felt like this had all that.
So initially I was just going to help him produce it and be a financer and they shot some footage with another gal who was going to play the part that I ultimately play. To no fault of hers, the footage didn’t turn out very well and they had to do some reshoots for it. At that time, the actress was out of town so they asked me to play that part. And when I’d read the script initially I’d wanted to play the part. But, since it didn’t work with her, I stepped in and I was totally happy. I feel for the project that it probably worked out very well anyway because I’m kind of ’80s and this has a throwback ’80s feel so it all worked out.
DC: So you recorded these scenes before the protagonists even started shooting. Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper and Brea Grant told me that to help them you read them a letter before they got to work.
BC: That’s very interesting that they remember that actually. I did write a letter to them and I read it at our cast reading. As an actor I know that you want to feel appreciated and loved and you want to feel like a family. So I wrote them a nice letter just telling them how much I thought of their work and that I already knew they were going to put in a great performance so they don’t need to try any harder on this movie than they do on other movies. I already believed in them and I wanted them to feel like they were embraced and loved because that’s something that I would want to hear. As a physical producer on the movie I just wanted them to know that I was there for them. I guess that helped them but, like you said, they acted to me on a television screen because I film all of my stuff beforehand. I was the one that just shot my stuff and Jackson played their parts and he told me what to say and what the other actors were saying and I had to react to them. But I think it all worked out. We did actually have to go back and do some additional footage with me and also with the other actors because in the film there’s a story happening and then there’s the playing of the game. It was the playing of the game where we had to do a little bit of extra work because, once we’d shot the movie, we realized we needed to make that part a little bit clearer. So we did all get to see one another and we were able to go back and work on it in a deeper way. I think that was helpful because we were then able to work off of one another.
DC: One of your more recent roles is in Joel Novoa’s Day of Reckoning.
BC: I was very excited about that which screens on SyFy whilst I’m here in Sitges. There’s a lot of special effects and VFX in there and we have a lot of creatures so we had to react to things that weren’t there that they put in later. We had to shoot a lot of what they call plates so that they could insert the monsters later.
DC: I’m guessing that, despite the years you’ve been in the business, working with CGI was a newish challenge for you as most of your roles have been in films that mostly involve practical effects.
BC: Yes. Pretty much all my work with effects has been practical. It just meant you had to use your imagination a little bit more. But it’s funny because sometimes even when you’re doing a closeup with somebody on a set, if the actor can’t be there for some reason they’ll put a piece of tape close the the lens and they say, “Look at the tape and those are the eyes of the character you’re talking to.” I’ve had to act to a piece of tape a lot because the actor can’t get close enough or they’re going to be in the way of the focus puller or something so I guess it’s probably not that different. It’s always better to have another person there but I was quite excited to do something that was a lot of VFX so it will be interesting to see how that all plays out because I haven’t seen the film yet.
Apart from that I have a bunch of things happening. I have a role in Death House soon and then I also have another film I did with Brea Grant called Applecart which I’m really excited about. That was produced by Don Coscarelli and directed by Brad Baruh.
Beyond the Gates opens this December 9th in select theaters (see list below), on VOD, and via digital platforms from IFC Midnight. In the meanwhile, roll those dice and enjoy the latest trailer together with a mind-melting retro commercial which finds Crampton resuming her role, this time enticing a new (but very familiar) ill-fated group of players to roll those dice: Alex Essoe (The Neighbor, Starry Eyes), Samantha Robinson (The Love Witch), and Alena von Stroheim (Found Footage 3D).