16th Oct2018

Grimmfest 2018: Exclusive Interview with Barbara Crampton – Part 1

by Matthew Turner

This years Grimmfest special guest was actress and horror genre icon Barbara Crampton. Renowned for her roles in cult classics such as Re-Animator and From Beyond, Barbara continues to be a major figure in contemporary genre cinema, appearing in such acclaimed recent releases as You’re Next, Beyond the Gates, Sun Choke, We Are Still Here and Replace. We got a chance to sit down with Barbara during the festival to talk things horror, including her role in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich… Check out part one of the EPIC interview below, and check back tomorrow and Thursday for the rest!

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You had a cameo in the 1989 Puppet Master. What was it like coming back to the franchise?

I suppose I’m glad now that I took that job and did the cameo on the first one. They sort of asked me to do it, off-handedly, in a way because I’d worked for [producer] Charlie Band and Re-Animator and From Beyond, and those movies had done pretty well when they came out and so when they did the first Puppet Master, there wasn’t a really a role for me, but they said, ‘We love you, you’re part of the family now, would you do a little cameo for us?’, and I thought, ‘Oh, of course’. So little did I know that would be the reason that I was asked to come back in the new sort of side franchise, of a new Puppet Master universe. You never know where jobs are going to come from! And it’s okay to be a spear carrier, as they say. I’m just glad I did the first one and I’m thrilled to do this one, because I had a bigger role it was sort of fun and cheeky and cool.

It’s a lot of fun, the movie…

Yeah, they really blended the horror and the comedy very well, I think.

What was the shoot like?

It was a brief shoot, like a lot of these low budget movies, but we shot it at the Ambassador Hotel in Dallas, Texas and it had been abandoned for a number of years. It was big and old and spooky and dusty and really perfect to film a horror movie. And everybody got along fantastically, starting with the top, you know, Dallas Sonnier is a wonderfully affable person, he started out as a manager for writers and has now become a producer and the owner of the new relaunch of Fangoria and he’s just a wonderful collaborator and really a good, decent person and very open and just a fun guy. He’s a pleasure to work for.

Do you have a favourite scene in the The Littlest Reich?

Well, I mean, you know, my death scene – can I say that? Death scenes are always fun and I’ve died far too many times in movies to count, but there’s something always different with every death scene and I never want to play it the same way twice. And I got an interesting bit of direction from our director, Sonny Laguna, on this one, because I was playing the scene and he said, ‘What are you playing?’, and I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m kind of playing that I’m afraid of the puppet’. And he said, ‘Well, what I would really like you to play, for an adjustment, is that you’re afraid of your own death, try that’ and all of a sudden, this light bulb went off and the universe opened and I said, ‘Oh, of course, that’s a great bit of direction – that’s what I’m going to play’. And then they held the camera on me for so long, I was thinking seeking when are they going to stop and say cut, so I just kept on dying until they said cut and then I let it go. But it was a nice bit and I was happy to have been given that really nice bit of advice from Sonny.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been killed by?

It’s mostly people, but let me think if there was anything else that killed me. How about this? In We Are Still Here, I choose to go into the basement to be a sacrifice to the house, so that I can be with my son, who’s passed on, and live forever in the Beyond World with him.

Are you disappointed when you get a script and you’re still alive at the end?

Oh, no, I like to be alive, because then you come back for the sequel and you get more work.

I enjoyed the craziness of Dead Night. That seemed like quite a lot of fun. How did you get involved with that one?

Jackson Stewart [writer-producer] and I were walking around the American film market in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, trying to sell Beyond the Gates, after we’d made it. We were looking for a sales agent actually first, and then also talking to some distributors, but we happened to be walking into all the different rooms and we walked by Don Coscarelli’s room, where he was trying to sell the Phantasm box set and we both know him a little bit. I didn’t know him really well, but he beckoned us in and we sat down and chatted with him and then he said, ‘Oh, I’m executive producing this new movie that we’re going to start shooting in a couple of months and I think you might be right for one of the parts – would you like to read it?, and I said, ‘Yeah, to work with you? Of course.’ So he sent me the script and I read it and I of course immediately loved that role, and from the get-go, I had an impression of how I’d like to play her. And the movie’s kind of over the top and crazy and I was like, I’ve got to make her as over the top as the story is. And everybody else seemed so normal that I thought I really understand what to do. So they hadn’t quite gotten all the financing together, but they were working on it and I was really afraid that they were going to change their minds and I hadn’t met the director yet, so about every week or two, I would email Don, and then shortly thereafter I was. I was hooked into a chain with Brad Baruh, the director and I just basically stalked them and said, ‘Please don’t think of anybody else or call anybody else, I really love this script – it’s so different and interesting and a great twist on the cabin in the woods story and something other people haven’t thought of and with all this upswing of reality TV programming, it’s kind of right there, and you guys are doing something that’s different and I’d love to be a part of it’. So after about ten or fifteen e-mails they finally said, ‘Oh, all right’ and they offered me the role and made an offer to my agent and then we started filming.

I could quite happily have watched you eat spaghetti and be a weird house guest for two hours. How much input did you have into the character, outside of what was on the page?

Pretty much a lot. Sometimes I really talk over my characterisation with the director and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the director wants a lot of input from me or also wants to impart input to me and then some don’t and then some leave you alone and it’s all quite ad hoc, how this all happens. I just came on the set and did my thing and they were like, ‘Whoa, okay, that’s working, we like that, keep going’. But I think I did shock them a little bit. Let me tell you this – I thought at the time, because Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both the nominees for the individual parties and they were campaigning already – I was watching everything that was going on, on television, and really, I took of a lot of my characterisations for Leslie Bison from the grand gestures and the way of speaking and the manner that I saw Trump doing, and I was like, this is fitting for today, nobody would believe this if they didn’t see him in reality doing that, because politicians don’t usually act like that. But anything I said is not out of the realm of possibility, kind of, coming out in a different context of Donald Trump’s mouth. We’re in dark days right now.

You’re also in Reborn, which is premiering at the FrightFest Halloween event. What can you tell us about that?

You know, it has overtones of Carrie in it, a little bit. I play a mom who lost her baby when she was first born and everybody, my family and everybody, the people in the hospital thought that she was stillborn, but in actuality she wasn’t, she was brought back to life by some means that you’ll find out after you watch the film. And then she actually winds up growing up with another family and comes to find me shortly after her sixteenth birthday, but there’s something not quite right about her, unfortunately, so a lot of chaos ensues.

So who plays your daughter?

Her name is Kayleigh Gilbert. She’s kind of a new actress, really strong and fierce and made a lot of bold choices. She’s pretty great.

Are you a big horror fan yourself?

I’ve only become one over the past, I don’t know, maybe since Castle Freak? I did this movie Castle Freak in 1995. When I was first working in the horror genre in ’82, ’83 or so – well, we did Re-Animator in ’85, so maybe I’d have to say we filmed it in ’84 – I grew up watching The Outer Limits and Night Gallery and Dark Shadows and things like that, but I can’t say that I was a horror fan directly or gravitated towards that genre. I was just fortunate enough to work in a couple of movies, like Re-Animator and From Beyond that did really well. But it really wasn’t even until I did Castle Freak – and that was my third movie with Stuart Gordon – that I thought, well, this is kind of fun, this is not bad, I really enjoy telling these really strong emotional stories that have a lot of weight to them, and you know, life and death experiences and a lot of passion and just a lot of emotion and intensity. And just around that time when I did that movie and I became a fan and then I also thought, oh, I’m really getting this acting on film business, I’m really understanding this – because I’d grown up in the theatre and studied theatre – the roles started drying up for me. So then as soon as I was like okay, I get it, then I wouldn’t work as much, for a while. So that was kind of a sad state of affairs for me, I have to admit. I was in my early thirties and then things only got worse when I hit my late thirties, then I wasn’t really working at all and I sort of left the business and kind of quit and got married and had kids and just concentrated on that. And then was lured back with You’re Next, and that job offer came out of the blue. And when I did that job and I was on that set, I was so inspired by all of those filmmakers, Ti West, Jo Swanberg, Adam Wingard, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen. Sharni Vinson was an amazing final girl, I thought wow, these are all young wunderkinds of the horror genre right now and they work so differently, they all know each other’s jobs and they all do each other’s jobs and are multi-talented and versed in the genre. And I feel like that’s what cemented me in coming back to the genre and reinvesting myself in it and then starting to educate myself more about the genre in a way that I hadn’t before. So I’ve become a strong advocate for the horror genre, I’d say in the last eight years or so, and also a strong advocate for women in horror and women in film and everything that goes along with that. So I’m very happy to be here now, talking with you, and saying that over the last number of years I’ve had the best roles of my career, really.
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Dead Night is now available on DVD across the UK, you can buy it now at Amazon; and Barbara Crampton’s latest film, Reborn, screens as part of Frightfest 12-hour Halloween event at London’s Cineworld Leicester Square on Saturday 3rd November 2018.

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