Actress Barbara Crampton developed a keen interest in theatre from a young age, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre Arts from Castleton State College before moving to New York and L.A. where she would go on to appear in the cult horror films Re-Animator and From Beyond. Although not exclusively a horror actress, Crampton would continue to return to the genre earning her a place in the Scream Queen hall of fame.
After retiring from acting to spend time with her family, Crampton marked her return to the genre appearing in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem. For her latest genre project she has teamed up with Director Ted Geoghegan to star alongside Andrew Sensenig and Larry Fessenden in the supernatural chiller We Are Still Here.
Ahead of the film’s upcoming US release this Friday we sat down with Crampton herself to talk about her horror career and the role she plays in the film.
SCREAM: Thanks for taking time to speak with SCREAM we’re big fans of your work. Let’s kick things of by starting at the beginning, what made you want to become an actress?
Barbara Crampton: I love the art of storytelling and, more specifically, of investigating why people/characters do what they do. In a finished film you also get the beginning, middle and end of a story. There is a sense of completion to working on a movie that you don’t often get in life… where there seems to be no finish line. Movies inform us how to live, what to fear and what to love. To be able to give voice to a character’s ambitions, dreams and desires is very creatively fulfilling. I feel as if I learn a lot about other people’s perspectives of their lives from the mind of the writer of the story to how the audience reacts to the material. So it’s a pretty fun and often enlightening profession!
SCREAM: As an actress with 45 credits to her name, you have worked over a wide range of genres. Our readers will know you best for your roles in such films as RE–ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND. What is it about the horror genre that excites you?
BC: I didn’t choose horror as my main home genre, but it is a genre which I have grown to appreciate and really love working in over the years. In horror one works with the biggest theme of them all: Life and death! A life or lives are usually at stake. The hero has to surmount huge obstacles to save someone. Often you will see someone die in a dreadful, shocking way! Horror movies can help prepare you for your own death and also allow you to perhaps giggle at it from afar to make it less threatening. After all, at the end of the thrill ride which is a horror film… YOU have survived even though others haven’t. You get to experience the worst as a VIEWER only. In a strange way…this can make you feel better.
SCREAM: Speaking of your acting past, you played Dr. Katherine McMichaels in FROM BEYOND, Suze Lynn in CHOPPING MALL and Megan Halsey in RE-ANIMATOR. Out of these roles which was your favourite to play and why?
BC: Most people may prefer me for say RE-ANIMATOR as that is the best known and most highly revered of Gordon’s work. But I would say Katherine in FROM BEYOND afforded me the greatest opportunity to play a wide range of emotions in the course of 90 minutes. I went from being a repressed Psychiatrist to a yearning, sexually charged and awakened woman to…being a hero! It was quite a journey and one where Jeffrey (Combs) and I almost reversed roles from what we played in RE-ANIMATOR.
SCREAM: Were you ever concerned about being typecast as a Scream Queen or did you embrace the title?
BC: Being called that has not really affected me either way. There are many wonderful actresses out there who are in the same category, so I have good company: Fay Wray, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Barbara Steele, Adrienne Barbeau, Danielle Harris etc…But it is also a moniker that is widely used today to refer to countless other wonderful and entertaining and accomplished actresses. So who decides these things? And what is the criteria? I don’t know!
SCREAM: You’ve worked with some incredible directors including Brian De Palma, Stuart Gordon and Rob Zombie. Who was the best and supported you the most as an actress?
BC: That’s fairly obvious I think…Master Gordon! I’ve worked with him on four movies! He is fantastically talented, has been both a mentor and friend to me and has given me amazing and multi-layered characters to play. I adore him and am forever grateful. I think he is personally responsible for my career for Pete’s sake!
SCREAM: A personal favourite director of ours is Adam Wingard whom of course directed the fantastic home invasion horror YOU’RE NEXT. How did you get involved with the project?
BC: I had actually almost given up on acting, hadn’t worked very much for about 8 years and was concentrating on raising my two children, now 12 and 13 years old. Simon Barrett had met Stuart at a screening of A Horrible Way To Die at Fantastic Fest down in Austin, Texas a few years ago. I think that prompted him to think of me for the mom role in You’re Next. Simon, Adam Wingard and producers Keith Calder and Jessica Wu wanted someone with a horror background for either the mother or father role. My agent sent me the script and I thought it was quite good. I decided to do it just for fun. I had no idea that this little indie, low budget horror film would go on to make amazing waves at top film festivals around the world and get bought by the giant Lionsgate. It’s a very good film I think, with a terrific ensemble cast, wonderful scares and a bit of a cautionary tale too!
BC: It was! A gift from the gods to come back to acting and work with so many talented young filmmakers. Many of the people in the cast had known each other for a few years, having all met on the festival circuit. Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz are all writers and directors too and they took this acting job from their friend Adam Wingard because they all love and respect one another. During scenes in which we all worked together there were so many ideas being thrown around and bold choices taken. A great collaboration among us all. It was heady and many times I felt drunk with excitement working with this new wave of young people. During the now famous dinner scene, Joe and AJ Bowen added some dialogue and riffed off each other in amazing ways and created a very memorable scene. Ti and Amy both suggested things for their characters and Simon was always talking to people on set about their actual words and if they felt comfortable with the dialogue and did they have any ideas? For my biggest emotional scene, I was in a corner preparing. Adam spied me, turned the camera on and started shooting me in close-up, lest he should miss anything he could use later that he hadn’t thought of!
SCREAM: I would’ve loved to have be on the set. Your latest project, We Are Still Here, is inspired by The House by the Cemetery and the works of Lucio Fulci. It premiered at the South by Southwest Film Fest in Austin Texas. Can you tell us a little more about what the film is about and the character you play?
BC: At its heart We Are Still Here is a supernatural ghost story somewhat influenced by people like Fulci and Stuart Gordon. There are strong dynamic characters and a seemingly malevolent force at work along with some crazy townspeople who call to mind the dangerous folks who inhabit the island of Summerisle in The Wicker Man. My character Anne has recently lost her only son in and auto accident. She and her husband Paul, played by the irresistible and marvelously quirky actor Andrew Sensenig, decide to move to a small New England town to forget and start anew. At once we see that this will be impossible as there are forces at work determined to do very bad things! This gives way to murderous acts, all-out gore and …violence. Yet the ending is something YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE and I am quite excited by the choice in storytelling that Geoghegan makes here which affects my character in surprising ways. I am fired up for people to see this film. I don’t think there is anything quite like it out there!
SCREAM: What was it like to work with Ted Geoghegan?
BC: I love Ted. We met during publicity for You’re Next. That had been his day job for many years, although he is quite a prolific screenwriter and producer. We clicked instantly working on You’re Next and had stayed in contact sharing stories about our life and careers. He sent me the script originally to get my take on it. I thought it was excellent! He subsequently put it in the hands of Midas touch producer Travis Stevens (who makes any project he works on better). They brought it to Dark Sky Films who pretty quickly responded positively to the material and gave them the money they needed to start production. Ted has an unbounded encyclopedic knowledge about genre films. He knows what’s out there. He also knows what people like, having worked so long as a publicist. He has been a writer and a producer. I think he thought it was time to put it all together on this film as he found that after writing it he had a deep affection for the material. This is his first directing gig. He is a strongly convicted person but also a very genuine and gentle creative soul. I think his personality is very good for a director. He is strong but very kind and collaborative. He allowed us all to do our best work on this film. We all felt completely at ease and also very supported by Travis and our director of photography, the great Karim Hussain. The crew was amazing with many being local people whilst some were brought in from LA. The weather in January in Upstate New York (doubling for New England) was bitter cold which added greatly to the overall atmosphere of the film.
SCREAM: What do you think about its current festival performance and the strong praise it has received?
BC: Well we premiered at South by Southwest and have played The Stanley Film Fest in Colorado (where Stephen King FIRST got the idea for The Shining), Fantaspoa in Brazil… and I have word of a least three more festivals unannounced at present, that would like to screen it. So of course I am very grateful and excited that people are responding to it in such a positive way. It’s very difficult to secure a slot at a fest these days. I heard there were thousands of submissions for 10 slots in the midnight section of South by Southwest. That’s crazy! We open in limited theaters in the US on June 5th and also on VOD and iTunes. I am very eager to hear the responses of a wider audience. It’s thrilling to be part of such a strong debut.
SCREAM: What can our readers expect from the film?
BC:A slow burn beginning, good characters…then quick surprises and scares…and an interesting and bloody finish!
SCREAM: Sounds right up my alley! Up next I understand that you will be appearing in the highly anticipated Tales of Halloween. Can you tell us anything about the project?
BC: It’s an anthology. I am in a segment written and directed by Axelle Carolyn (Soulmate). There are many genre favorites in the movie: Adrienne Barbeau, Lin Shaye, Barry Bostwick, Pollyanna McIntosh, Pat Healy, Alex Essoe, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon and more! The directors are some of the most talented working in the U.S. today with Axelle, Neil Marshall, Mike Mendez, Darren Lynn Bousman, Lucky McKee and others. The entire movie takes place on the same night on Halloween. Some segments are scary, some are more fun and there is a “wrap around” segment to tie it all together. I believe it may be released this Halloween.
SCREAM: What about Death House? From the sound of it I can only describe it as the Expendables of horror which to us sounds fantastic.
BC: That has been in development for 2 years now. They have a part for me but that’s all I know! We did just wrap production on Beyond the Gates, written and directed by Jackson Stewart. This is my first time producing so I’m looking forward to delving into post-production. I did another movie in England last summer called Road Games with Abner Pastoll. That will hopefully hit the festival circuit soon!
SCREAM: Brilliant. We will keep our eyes out for them. Thanks again Barbara for taking the time to talk to SCREAM. I look forward to watching you in We Are Still Here and watching you in all your future projects.
BC: Thanks for all your lovely questions. Cheers!
Words by Jon Dickinson (@marvelguy)