Interview: Horror Icon Barbara Crampton
I really don’t think I need to introduce the subject of this interview. Any horror fan worth their salt knows Barbara Crampton and the important contribution she’s giving to the genre. Beginning her career in 1983 on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, her talent and drop-dead gorgeous looks landed her in her first feature length film, FRATERNITY VACATION (a popular teen-sex-romp that was so popular in the 80’s). But that same year, 1985, Barbara Crampton would be thrust into the horror archives for her role as “Megan Halsey” in Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR, a genre-defining film that blew away horror fans around the world. Then after the hugely entertaining CHOPPING MALL, Barbara Crampton teamed up again with Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs to make FROM BEYOND, another classic horror film that gave fans both a fantastic story and mind blowing special f/x … practical f/x.
I originally got in touch with Barbara Crampton through twitter and she was nice enough to agree to doing a interview for anythinghorror.com. So after I calmed to hell down I sent her over my questions and here we are. So enough of my rambling … here’s my interview with my all time favorite Scream Queen, Ms. Barbara Crampton!!
Anything Horror: Tell us a little about your upbringing. I read somewhere that you travelled a lot growing up because your father was a carnie. Is that true? Did that life style in that environment draw you closer to the world of horror? What, if any, effect did it have on you?
Barbara Crampton: Yes, I grew up on a carnie lot. Rides, games, and cotton candy at my fingertips daily. We travelled in the Summer when we were off from school. There were many types of people who are drawn to that way of life. Transients and drifters being very common. I’m not certain it drew me to the world of horror, but it certainly exposed me to the type of individuals who are on the fringe of society and afforded me a kind of acceptance for ALL creatures horrible and not!
Who are some of the directors, actors, and actresses who’ve influenced your horror performances? Were you drawn to horror roles or did you approach them pragmatically like your other roles? What are some of your all time favorite horror films?
My favorite actors growing up were Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins and Danny Kaye. I used to love to watch old black and white movies after school on the daily ‘Million Dollar Movie.’ Those actors were fearless, strong and always made bold choices. I was mesmerized with them! The fact that they always took risky chances was what I loved about them. I’d like to think they have influenced my performances whether it actively shows or not…in my own mind they do.
I have always loved horror movies and anything that scared me from a very young age. The adrenaline you feel from watching a great horror flick is like taking a very good drug without the annoying after affects. I was raised on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS and DARK SHADOWS. I just loved vampires!…but who doesn’t.
I was very lucky to be cast in Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR. It was just a part I auditioned for and booked. I didn’t have any evil or otherwise plan to have a horror career. It just happened, as Stuart cast me again in a couple others…and a few other directors did too. Lucky me.
I like the classics: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, DAWN OF THE DEAD, POLTERGEIST, THE SHINING, THE FOG, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, NOSFERATU, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST. Yet I am very fond of the Slashers, for their it’s spine tingling cringe inducing feelings. I was shocked and absorbed watching PIRANHA 3D. I can’t wait to see the next one! Some really scare me and disturb me on a very deep level and I have to look away from the screen. So I can’t say that I’ve seen the original HELLRAISER and SAW in it’s entirety. Or THE ENTITY or THE DEVIL’S REJECTS… or that I ever will. I will go to the bathroom or linger at the fridge until the ‘bad’ parts are over. I just can’t stick my eyes to the screen, I’ll have nightmares!
Thank you for that moniker. I’m not sure if I deserve it…I was fortunate to be in some terrifically written movies with some great roles for woman. RE-ANIMATOR was delicious! Funny, creepy and weird. Meg Halsey was written strong and I played her that way. That was in the writing. And how much more poignant and tragic…spoiler alert!!…that she dies at the end. How much more meaningful. If she had been just some bimbo or a nagging B**ch, you wouldn’t have cared that she was strangled by a dead guy and Dan was grief stricken. But you care because she’s a real person. I was given a great part…already on the page.
In FROM BEYOND Katherine stands out as a strong person too. And In CASTLE FREAK Susan must bear the burden of holding onto a crumbling family. Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli gave me strong roles. These are complex stories with characters who have layered personalities with desires and fears. Yet there are plenty of heroines in this genre who have had strong roles who are great screamers…I can’t even list them all! Sigourney Weaver in ALIEN. Linda Hamilton in TERMINATOR Nicole Kidman (love her) in THE OTHERS… Faye Raye, Gloria Stuart, Patricia Neal, Beverly Garland, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dee Wallace, Ashley laurence, Rose McGowan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Karen Black, Danielle Harris, Amber Heard. There are many slasher movies with less developed characters who get offed…and you don’t care. But you’re not supposed to. That’s not their point. There are many great scream queens out there who get killed in all sorts of fun and cool ways and their characters are not developed cuz it’s not in the script. I’ll let you tell me who they are!
Did you have any idea when filming RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND that they would have the following and popularity they do today? These aren’t just genre-defining films; they’re modern-day classics in every sense of the word. Characters from each of those films became instant house-hold names and as iconic as Jason and Leatherface. What do you attribute the longevity of these roles too?
RE-ANIMATOR was Stuart Gordon’s first film. He had been active in theatre in Chicago for a long time. His pals from that era included William Macy, George Wendt, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. He was already a very creative guy working with some top notch talent. Jeffrey, Bruce and I also had theatre backgrounds, so we rehearsed for three weeks prior to filming. When does one do that on a low budget movie? The script was great and fun but we had no idea whatsoever that people would continue to watch, love and talk about this movie some 25 years later. All the elements just seemed to come together. The score by Richard Band is so memorable. Makeup by the now known greats: Anthony Doublin, John Naulin and John Buechler. Mac Ahlberg, photographed the movie and worked very closely with Stuart, and taught him about the camera. They forged a deep friendship and went on to make many movies together. It was a magical script. Jeffery is of course fantastic and he is the heart of the movie. Yet the longevity of this and FROM BEYOND really come from the single minded and laser focus of Stuart. He has a passion and a strong force of will to bend others to his thinking! His movies are full and cohesive, and he knows what he wants. He gets the performances he wants out of everyone. The behind the scenes people and the actors in front. He will tirelessly push you in a very calm yet energetic way. He is the movie.
You’ve starred in some of my favorite genre films: RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, CASTLE FREAK, CHOPPING MALL, and PUPPETMASTER. What has been your favorite genre role, and why? What’s your personal favorite role out of all the various films and TV shows you’ve been in?
I loved playing Katherine in FROM BEYOND. There was so much range in that character. Repressed intellectual, sassy seductress, and heroine all in the space of 86 minutes. We filmed the movie in Italy, my first time there, on the old De Laurentiis lot. It was a lovely shoot. I also had a very juicy part in THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS for many years. “Leanna Love” was her name. She was a borderline personality and had a very tortured relationship with men. So that keep me going for a long time. It’s also nice in an actor’s life to have a regular gig once in a while. It made me feel safe and I was able to put some money away for the lean times.
In total you’ve starred in over 30 projects in everything from soap operas to comedies, to dramatic-thrillers. Why do you think the horror genre is most connected with your name? What is your favorite genre to work in? Do you have a favorite film that you worked on?
I’ve just been lucky enough to have been in some terrific horror movies and to have worked with a great director. I definitely have a soft spot for horror movies. It is my favorite genre. So much energy and thrills!
RE-ANIMATOR is my personal favorite movie. It has become so iconic, and I get to keep talking about it and reliving it. We had a 25th reunion at a horror convention last year. Everyone was there! So many fans came out to talk to us about the movie and it was so satisfying to see how people are still talking about it. New fans too, from a new generation.
Tell us about your new film YOU’RE NEXT. Can you give us any exclusive news about it? When do you expect it to be released? What drew you back to the horror genre, and more importantly, are you staying?
YOU’RE NEXT is a thriller horror piece. It was written by Simon Barrett (one of the funniest people I have ever met) and directed by Adam Wingard. What happens when a family comes together for a reunion at a somewhat remote old house and they come under attack from some unknown forces? That’s the basic premise. I have been sworn to secrecy and cannot reveal any more than that! Oh…I can tell you, I play the Mom.
I had such fun working on this movie. So many very talented people. Sharni Vinson and AJ Bowen [from THE SIGNAL] are terrific. Some friends of Adam’s who are film makers themselves came out to play roles in the movie. Joe Swanberg, the amazing director who has a one page idea for a movie and has his actors improvise the story. He sells all his movies to IFC. They eat him up. He is astoundingly facile with nuance and invention. It was amazing to watch he and AJ Bowen (my new favorite person on the planet) improvise together at a dinner scene in YOU’RE NEXT. Sheer brilliance! Ti West, director of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and THE INNKEEPERS came out to play a role. He is friends with Adam and others on the movie. Amy Seimetz who makes her own movies makes a lovely appearance in the film. All these other film makers came to be a part of it. I was amazed by their friendships, and their desire to help each other out. Such creation lovers! Adam and Simon are great collaborators. YOU’RE NEXT is very character driven. They love to work with the mind of every performer. If Adam heard one wrong or phony note on the actors part. We would stop. Discuss. Try again. Perhaps change a piece of dialogue with Simon’s aid. Discuss, film. No one working on this movie had any ego. I’m certain Adam got some great performances out of his actors. he wouldn’t settle for anything less or move on until he got something great.
It’ s noteworthy that different directors work in different ways. The creative challenge is to stick what works for you and see it through. Adam and Stuart worked differently but I felt so comfortable with both of them as they believe in their own style and vision, and work with commitment to that end.
I was skiing In Tahoe with my family when I got the call about YOU’RE NEXT. I was in a professional slumber. Not having worked very much in the past few years, I was busy raising my two children, now 8 and 9. I wasn’t thinking about movies or my career. I had taken up gardening and was happily working in their school garden part time 20 hours a week, and doing general ‘Mom’ stuff. I read the script on my IPhone and loved it. So I went to Missouri a week later. I had the best time. So, I guess I have the bug again. I’ve been hounding my agent ever since! I joined twitter so I could keep up with what’s going on! Now that my children are a bit older, I feel better about leaving them for little spurts. Yes, I’m looking. I’m available. I would love to work more….If you’ll have me. [I think I speak for everyone here Barbara that we welcome you with open arms!! -- AH]
Here’s a question I ask all the people I interview: A big studio approaches and tells you they want you to write, direct, and star in a remake of any horror movie (the choice is yours). Money and time are of no concern. What would you remake? Why?
How about ROSEMARY’S BABY? I have always loved Ira Levin. He is a master of suspense and character driven pieces. Those two quality’s are already in the terrific original. The audience knows what’s going on from the beginning but when is Rosemary going to find out? What is in the room next door or rather… whom and when are we going to get a look at it…him? How far is Guy willing to go for his career? Is Rosemary going to be driven insane by her frail paranoia? The betrayal theme is a good one! Such amazing parts for the leads.
I generally think you shouldn’t remake a great, but do the ones that could have been good, but weren’t because of a bad performance or lesser production value. But hey, this is fantasy, and you asked….and I wouldn’t want to risk making another clunker! I’d remake this movie because it is character driven and coming from the actors background, relationships in a story is what most intrigues me the most. Could I improve upon it? No, are you kidding? But what I would do is make it a bit scarier. More dreams with scarier SFX. I would also explore the devil a bit more. Who is he? Perhaps with the angle that you create the devil out of your own sins. Could Your Evilness coupled with the energy of others (Roman and Minnie) create the thing that is most feared in life. What if the devil isn’t real, unless you create pain and misery in others. Perhaps you (Guy) are the devil and your bad energy is unleashed on a world because of the choices you make.
At this point I would, of course play the Ruth Gordon part!
What’s next for BARBARA CRAMPTON? I can honestly say that I’ve missed you from the horror scene and am hoping we start seeing more and more of you. The genre needs more beautiful, strong, sexy women in horror!!
We’ll see what the future holds …
A huge thanks to Barbara Crampton for taking the time to answer these questions for me at anythinghorror.com!! Barbara said she would check in on the interview after I post it, so make sure you say “hi” and show your support for getting Barbara back into films (preferably horror films)!! You can follow her on twitter here.
And please don’t be a stranger at anythinghorror.com Barbara; keep in touch with all you future projects (whether or not they are horror), and definitely keep us updated about YOU’RE NEXT … I think I speak for everyone when I say that I can’t wait to see it!!