Re-Animator, From Beyond, Body Double… the list goes on and on. In the 1980s, Barbara Crampton solidified her position as horror royalty in roles in films in and out of the horror genre, making her, to many of us, one of the most beloved actors around.
After taking an extended break from acting in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Crampton returned in a big way in 2013’s You’re Next. From that film on, Barbara has simply never slowed down. Having appeared in over twenty (!) films since You’re Next, Crampton is a force to be reckoned with and, after many films in front of the camera, she’s stepped into the producer role with films like Beyond the Gates, Road Games, the upcoming Castle Freak remake, and the Travis Stevens-helmed Jakob’s Wife.
We thought we’d catch up with one of horror’s best and talk about the journey back into the genre, from You’re Next to her upcoming Norwegian cosmic horror flick, Sacrifice. Read on!
Dread Central: I’ve had the privilege of interviewing you a decent amount of times by now and I was thinking how the first time was right before You’re Next came out and you had mentioned then how it was surprising but welcoming to be asked to be in that film after taking a long break. Since then you have worked on over twenty five projects!
Barbara Crampton: Really? Has it been that many?!
DC: I was looking at it today and including the shorts, yeah! You really have zero desire to slow down.
BC: Yeah, my husband said I’m busier now than I’ve ever been, since he’s known me. It’s true, and I’m getting into the producing aspect of things too and I find that I really enjoy that more than I thought I would, when I was younger. I really love acting so much; I love telling a story through the eyes of a character, understanding why people do the things they do, and working on the psychology of that. That was something that was just so compelling for me. I never imagined that I would go on and want to work in an area of the business, on actually developing a project, but I find that I love that even more maybe, which sounds crazy.
I’m developing some projects now that I love so much and there are not even any parts for me in them, but I just really want to work on the story, help the director, try and raise money for projects that I really believe in. I love it as much as acting so I want to continue to do both. The nice thing, Jerry, is getting older. I did take a break for a while and I realize now that I can continue acting until the end is nigh, I mean, I can just keep doing it and play grandmother parts. I want to grow into those too. I want to play them all. I’m just really pleased at the amount of work that’s been coming my way and work that I’ve been able to start to generate on my own.
DC: From the days of Re-Animator, Body Double, From Beyond, Chopping Mall and your work on soap operas, to when you came back with You’re Next, all this stuff you’ve done since then, has the landscape changed at all, after coming back from that break?
BC: Yes, in talking about staying in your lane. I feel like when I came back with You’re Next, and especially working on that movie, it opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of the young filmmakers are doing everything. They are acting in their movies, the DPs of their movies, the producers of their own movies and they just knew how to do every job and they were doing it. I was working with Amy Siemetz playing my daughter and she’s a director, writer, and actress. The same with Ti West: he doesn’t often act in movies but I met him as an actor in that movie and he’s a director and writer himself. Then you know, working with Joe Swanberg, who was doing everything himself, from creating the films to acting in them to actually being the sales agent and selling them to places.
It was really my good fortune to work on that movie, to be asked to work on it, because it opened my eyes to what the possibilities were in this business and how much more fun it felt to be collaborative, working on a project together. When I was younger, especially working on soap operas, you are handed your dialogue and they say, this is what you are saying. You have very little time to accomplish your task for that day, get the eighty pages of dialogue in for that day. With You’re Next, I walked on set with Simon Barrett and he comes up to me and says, “Do you like what you’re saying in this scene? You don’t have to say it, if you want to say something else or want to talk about it or add anything, you’re very welcome to do that, we’re open to that….”
That was my introduction to that Mumblecore movement that lasted for a while, just being uber natural and that was something that was actually quite good for me, because I worked on a lot of soap operas and I worked with Stuart Gordon on all of his movies and this felt very highly stylized, more operatic, bigger in tone feeling. And then working with these new filmmakers was like, “Let us into your headspace, let us into your lives, let’s see how you’re really living in your skin.”
I think my approach to acting changed a little bit as well, working with a lot of younger filmmakers, with just the flavor of the movies that were coming out and just the naturalness of the tone of the films, the films that were coming out during that time and beyond. It’s been like another wave of my career and I feel like I’m learning stuff everyday now, things I didn’t even know I needed to learn or wasn’t able to learn. It’s just been fascinating learning how to work on different kind of stories and also, learning more about developing a story, where you can sell the movies too.
Going to film festivals, that was another aspect of coming back with You’re Next. I mean I never went to film festivals when I was younger. Like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Chopping Mall… those things, because we’d already sold most of those movies, they already had a distributor. And then I came back with You’re Next and we make this movie that has to be sold. How do you sell a movie? Well, you take it to a film festival and go on a film fest tour. So I went on a film fest tour with You’re Next and everyone knows it sold to Lionsgate for a very good amount of money. I was then asked to be in a few genre movies since then and people were asking me to go to film festivals all over the world. I’ve been to Mexico, all over the United States, London, Spain and I just keep getting asked to go to these film festivals. I’ve met a lot of younger filmmakers from all over the world who are developing films, trying to make films and I’m seeing how it all works now, it’s really exciting.
DC: What’s really great about it is the horror community and not just genre directors, independent directors on their own, these are a lot of people who grew up on films from the seventies, eighties. They were the ones going to conventions, buying Fangoria, all of that stuff and now they have such reverence for the genre that they take that kind of punk rock, DIY aesthetic that you’re talking about, wearing these multi-hyphenate hats, and turn the genre on its head in such a great way.
BC: Yeah! They really get it. They really understand it and the people making films today are film lovers. They are cinephiles, they eat, breathe, and love film. They grew up in the business watching movies I was in, that was the eighties, now they are making movies and it’s really exciting to see this. I don’t think these film festivals would have risen without the deep love and respect for the genre that people have now. It’s been wonderful, people coming up in the business, making their own films and putting people together, and that’s how Keith Calder and Adam Wingard (producer and director of You’re Next) met, at a film festival, with Simon Barrett, they all really liked each other and just decided to work together, make something together, and I think it brought the film community together, in a broader sense.
DC: You touched on producing a bit and I was really curious how you got into that because you’ve helped push up and coming filmmakers towards achieving their vision, whether it’s Jackson Stewart and Beyond the Gates or this upcoming Castle Freak remake, a remake of a film you were in, or Jakob’s Wife. What inspired you to take on that producer role?
BC: It’s really just a love of the story and I felt like, as an older actress and somebody in the business for a long time, I just felt like I had something I could use to serve others. Evan Dickson and myself, you may know him, he was a writer at Collider for a few years, he gave me this script. This was maybe six years ago now, and it was called The Wildness. I read the script and I loved it so much. It’s about werewolves in Aspen, Colorado. I told him, “I want to help you make this,” and he said, “Okay, you can help me.” And I said, “But I’m not really a producer,” and he said, “You can do it. You’re Barbara Crampton!”
I thought, “Huh, I AM Barbara Crampton. Okay, let me try!” I got that project set up at a production company after knocking on doors and sending a lot of emails for a few months, I got it with a company called BRON Studios and it was set up for two years and we ultimately didn’t make it. But I went through the development process with their executive there and I met Aaron Gilbert and talked with him about the project. He did get a director involved for a time before he dropped out. Ultimately they dropped the project but I had worked on it for a couple of years and was schooled on it with all the steps we had to go through to put the movie through pre-production.
So when it didn’t happen I was already working in that arena. Jackson Stewart called me and he said, “I have this script and I really love it. I’d love for you to read it. Would you read it, because I really need some help making it; would you consider coming in and helping me?” I was really busy on The Wildness but I read his script and I loved the story too, this wonderful story about these two brothers who are sort of estranged from themselves, each other and their dad, they have to find their dad, come together and release their dad, to come back to themselves. It was an amazing story of brotherhood, love, loss and acceptance. I said “I love this, I want to work on this too!”
So he already had a lot of the money raised for it and he just wanted me to come in and produce it and then I said, “You know, I could play that part of Evelyn. I think that’s a good part for me.” He said, “Well, I have somebody else in mind for that.” So I said “Okay, fine, I’m still going to help you produce it.” We shot some stuff with the other actor and it didn’t work out; the footage didn’t look good. It was nothing to do with the actress at all, and she had flown somewhere and gone out of town, and he said, “You have to come in and redo it because we’ve lost her and this footage is just not going to work,” so it was like a blessing in disguise.
I think it was a good idea that I played that part because it felt like a throwback movie and I’m a throwback so it kind of worked (laughs). That being said, I was with that film through the beginning, middle and end. I helped bring it to a sales agency, went to all the film festivals, helped make the deal to sell it, was involved with casting and the script, on set working on it, and I thought jeez, this is great, I love doing this, it was really fun. It was really enjoyable and also satisfying to help a young filmmaker realize their dream, and we won best film at the LA Film Festival when it premiered there. I was like, “Maybe I’m onto something; maybe I could continue doing this.”
It’s taken me four years to make Jakob’s Wife and we’re almost finished with the final post on the film; we’re almost ready to deliver it and that’s been an amazing experience too. Getting a script, loving the material and realizing maybe I could be in the lead role, in the very early days of the script, but if we get an actress that’s even more popular than myself, someone we feel in the marketplace could be even more valuable to us, I’m willing to not play the role. I developed it with Bob Portal, at AMP, this company out of the UK, and we worked on the script for a number of years, worked on getting a director and finally got Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor), the financing and it all came together. I did end up playing the part and I’m glad I did because it’s one of the best parts I’ve ever played in my life. It’s very meaningful to me because it actually relates to my own life in a lot of ways, the journey I’ve been on in my life.
I just love it so much, I’m going to continue to do this I think Jerry, develop projects and bring directors together with writers and try to find the money to try to make some more movies. I’ll also continue to act. I love acting. I have this other movie coming out, Sacrifice; it’s premiering at Fright Fest at the end of the month, the 22nd of October I guess, so I’ll never not do acting. I’ll always do that, but I don’t think that will be the thing that ultimately defines me. I think for me it’s just about being able to help others tell a great story about human nature. Even though we work in the horror genre with things that are scary and tension-filled, it’s really important to me to tell stories about humanity, what drives us and moves us all and I feel like the projects I’m attracted to have that theme in them.
DC: I wanted to ask about Sacrifice, it just sounds so enthralling, everything I’ve read about it. How did that one come to fruition?
BC: It’s kind of a cult movie in a way. I don’t know how much they’ve been talking about the plot overall. A husband and wife come to a remote island that the husband was born on and he and his mother moved away from there. So he comes back to his childhood home and there are some things happening in the town that are strange and threatening to him and his wife. My character, I’ve lived in the town all my life and some odd things happen that are really going to threaten these people’s lives. What happened was I worked on a movie called Replace with Sean Knopp, he’s an actor that produces as well and he called me and said we’d really like you to be in this film that we’re shooting in Norway, it’s a really great part. I read the script and I loved it. They wanted me to have a Norwegian accent and I’m sort of the constable of the island, more like a sheriff would be, and I thought this sounds like a real challenging role for me and I’d love to do it. So I worked for a couple of months with a language teacher and she helped me with my accent. It was an opportunity to go to Norway and shoot in a beautiful place. I really liked the script, I thought it was cool. I really loved working on that movie. I thought it turned out really well, I’m so happy about it, and also I was attracted to it because it has a Lovecraft veneer to it. It’s not really based off any Lovecraft story but it is definitely Lovecraft inspired and I love anything Lovecraft.
Then working on the Castle Freak remake, of course, my relationship with Stuart, I feel he gave me my career in a way and I just wanted to honor him, it was part of my legacy to work on the film, so I was really happy to work on that film as well.
DC: With how insane 2020 has been, the world being literally on fire in some parts and quarantine, all of this wild existence. The horror genre excels when we are all put in these real-life monstrosity-like happenings. Do you see the horror genre creating really wonderful and complex stories because of all this stuff we’ve been in this year?
BC: I do because I think all of us who work in the horror genre, we’re used to dealing with tragedy, so I think we’re perhaps handling the pandemic probably better than a lot of other people that work in comedies or other genres. I do feel like, as I was saying earlier, I think at its core the best horror movies deal with humanity more than just scaring people. It has to be about people you care about, it has to be about something that resonates with you on a deep, soulful level, and I feel like all the best horror films do that. I feel like with the tragedy of the pandemic and what’s happened to us, it’s brought us together in ways we didn’t realize and made us find ways of communicating with each other, working independently and coming together as a people and supporting one another emotionally and I feel like people who work in the horror genre are more self-actualized than a lot of other people are that work in other areas of life. I feel like we have it within us to really understand others and come together, to help one another and to tell stories that are going to have deep meaning. In the next couple of years to come we’ll see what everyone was making during this horrible time of the election, the presidency and I don’t know what people’s politics are but for me it’s been horrific to see what’s been going on for the past couple of years. A lot of great horror films come out during times of strife and crisis and I feel like it makes us dig deep down within ourselves and really try and tell stories that are about hope so I feel the best horror stories are going to come out and give us hope in the next few years.