Interview: Barbara Crampton Talks PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH and Horror Comedy

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I grew up in the eighties and that’s when I first began to embrace horror movies, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn that if Barbara Crampton is in a horror movie, I need to make plans to see that movie. From eighties classic horror films like Re-Animator and From Beyond, Castle Freak in the nineties, to more recent films like You’re Next and The Lords of Salem, Barbara Crampton has more than earned her place as one of the most well known and loved women in horror. She stars as unshakable police officer Carol Doreski in the new film Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich where she ends up fighting to stay alive, thanks to some terrifying and cute, in an evil sort of way, Nazi puppets. Dread Central was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Barbara Crampton about Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, horror comedy, dedicating herself to genre film, and a lot more! Read on to find out what we talked about.

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich is in theaters and on VOD and digital HD now.

Dread Central: You had a cameo in the original Puppet Master in 1989. Why did you want to play the character Carol Doreski in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and what made you want to be a part of this film?

Barbara Crampton: I think It’s nice for me to come full circle and come back in a film that’s being done as a reimagining of the original. And having been just a very small part of the original Puppet Master, a brand new universe coming back is, you know, kind of cool and fulfilling to me. Also, I wanted to be a part of this film because I was excited about working with Dallas Sonnier and S. Craig Zahler. I had seen their movie Bone Tomahawk and I was aware of the movie that they did with Vince Vaughn, Brawl in Cell Block 99. I had met Dallas at a film festival in Estes Park, Colorado a number of years ago. I really liked him and we hit it off. So, when he called me and said, “I’m doing a reimagining of the original Puppet Master and it will be a completely different universe.” He also explained to me that Charles Band still retained the rights for the whole universe and he was going to continue with his movies. I’m quite good friends with Charles and I thought, “This all sounds really good.”

A lot of the time when I say yes to a movie, it’s because of the people that are involved and I just had a great feeling about these guys and wanted to work with them. When Dallas called me and said, “Would you want to do this?” I said, “Well, I’ll read the script, but I’m probably going to say yes. I can’t imagine that it’s not going to be great.” So, I read the script in a day and I loved my part. It felt kind of like an eighties throwback, but also with the foundation of mirroring some stuff that’s going on in today’s world. And getting the opportunity to work with awesome comedians like Thomas Lennon, Charlyne Yi, and Nelson Franklin was also really exciting to me. I come from a background of horror comedy having been in Re-Animator, so that also appealed to me that this was a horror comedy and everything clicked. People ask you to do things and you have to look at the whole picture and say, “How does this work for me?” I couldn’t imagine not saying yes. Everything was just offered to me in such a nice way and I was grateful that they asked me and so happy to do it.

DC: This film is full of dark comedy that I think works really well. I also really enjoyed your role in Dead Night, which has a twisted comedic element to it as well. How different is it to do a horror comedy as opposed to a straight up horror film?

BC: Thank you! Well, that’s a really good question and I think it’s terribly difficult to do a horror comedy. I think it’s one of the most difficult and I think people can often get it wrong. I talked to a lot of friends and colleagues about this and I kind of feel like the horror has to come first and the comedy has to be secondary.  I know people are going to tell me I’m wrong if they read this (laughs). Unless you’re doing something like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, I don’t know, that’s over the top comedy first and the horror is second. What about Evil Dead? I mean, is that first a horror or is that primarily comedy? I think this is a question that we can keep asking ourselves. For me, I guess I feel like the horror has to be the strongest element and then you can comment on it with the comedy and there’s different ways.

There is outlandish comedy that is being commented on with horror like in Evil Dead, but in a movie like Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich it’s not over the top; it’s very subtle, it’s very dry. We took our cue from Thomas Lennon playing the leading role of the puppet killer. He was a completely worthy opponent to this absurd, dark tyranny of puppet takeover. He was funny and he was dry and absolutely real and honest. He’s a comedian and he knows how to land certain things (laughs), so I think we all took our cues from him. He was playing it that way and we all sort of leaned into the way he was playing it. I think it worked. But there’s so much going on in this movie and it’s so over the top and really visceral and really bloody and gory and in- your-face. If we played the comedy the same, it wouldn’t have any foundation; it wouldn’t have any meat; it needed something to anchor it. I think the comedy, the dry sensibility, and the way that it was approached worked for this film. But can we keep talking about this forever (laughs)? I think this is a never- ending question and it’s a really good one and a really interesting one.  I think it’s very difficult to do horror comedy. I think it’s very difficult and very few movies really get it right.

DC: I completely agree with you. Horror comedies don’t always work, but this one works really well.

BC: Oh, Thank God! Thank you.

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DC: How crazy is it to work with killer puppets and what was it like to film the more violent scenes?

BC: Well, it’s insane, right? You have to act as if everything is real and true and it’s really happening for you. That’s the only way you can do it. It’s crazy, right? Acting with a puppet (laughs) who’s coming after you with a blade or we having a whirling dervish puppet. Some of the puppets look very fun and silly, but they’re killer puppets and you have to really believe in the danger. It’s so completely batshit crazy and fun, and also a big challenge to just come at it with honesty and truth. It’s awesome. I love acting with creatures and puppets and I have a lot of experience with that. It was super fun and cool and also the actors were all completely different. They were talking about how there was a dry sensibility about it. Everybody had a completely different character and just working with all the actors in the movie was awesome, too. There was a lot going on in the movie, a lot of puppets, a lot of actors, and a lot of action. It was like a three-ring circus on that set to put it all together, but it was super fun (laughs).

DC: What made you want to work in the horror genre all these years?

BC: I think it’s something that just sort of happened to me that I really feel like I’ve only embraced in the last number of years. When I was younger, in my early career, I took the roles that were offered to me. I got soap opera roles, I got some horror roles, I did commercials, and a bit of television here and there. It seemed, even in my younger days, that people were casting me in horror movies and I was getting a lot of work in them. Only with coming back, six years or so ago, with working on You’re Next and that movie doing so well, that was when I really realized, okay this is my home. This is where I belong. These movies are always going to be made.

You can tell any story with a horror movie. You can tell a love story or a crime heist movie or a thriller or a comedy. And you can tell it through the lens of a horror movie. Because I have a background in it and because I’ve worked in it for so long, I’ve come to appreciate the genre that has embraced me and rededicated myself to it. I really feel like in the past five years I’ve been like, “Okay, this is it. I’m back working after having kids and a family. I’m going to rededicate myself to this genre, learn more about this genre, go to film festivals, catch up on all the movies that I never watched that are the classics, and I’m just going to work on horror movies, because I really love them and I’m having a blast.”

Written by Michelle Swope

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