17th Oct2018

Grimmfest 2018: Exclusive Interview with Barbara Crampton – Part 2

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 here, and check back tomorrow for the final part!

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You mentioned that the call for You’re Next came out of the blue. Do you know how that came about?

The call did come out of the blue – it could have been anyone, really. I don’t think I’m responsible for making the movie as good as it was, I just happened to be in it and I’m grateful to [writer-producer] Simon Barrett, because he was the one who originally thought of me. He had gone to Fantastic Fest the year before and met Stuart Gordon. They did a special screening of Re-Animator and Jeffrey Combs was there, and it was around the time that they were thinking about, ‘Hmmm, who could we get to play different roles in the film?’ and Simon Barrett asked Stuart at that time, ‘Where’s Barbara Crampton? What’s she doing?’, and he said, ‘Oh, she’s married and has kids and lives in San Francisco and she’s retired’. And thank Simon Barrett didn’t say, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll just call somebody else’, he thought, ‘I’m going to call her anyway’. So he was really the one that spoke to Keith Calder and Adam Wingard. He was one of the producers on the movie as well as the writer of it, and he said, ‘Let’s look for her and offer her the part’, and they did, out of the blue. And they didn’t want to meet me or even talk to me or audition me – they just said, ‘Oh, we just want to offer you the part’ and it all seemed very strange to me. And I said to my agent, Mike Eisenstadt, who thank God had not lost my number in the six years that I hadn’t talked to him, ‘Shouldn’t I have a phone call with these people? I mean…’ And he said, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll ask them if they want to talk to you on the phone’. So we all had a conference call and we seemed to get on very well. Then I showed up on set and that was the first time anybody had seen me in a long while. I was just mesmerised and inspired by all of them, so much, and so grateful that, jeez, they picked me out of a number of really wonderful actresses that are my contemporaries and my age that are also looking for work and would like to work again. I didn’t know how much I wanted to work again until I had that job and then I went, ‘Oh, gosh, I’ve got to come back, this is super fun’.

I’m quite shocked to discover they didn’t invite you to the special screening of Re-Animator…

Yeah, I don’t know. I guess they didn’t. I don’t know if anybody tried to get in touch with me – I wasn’t on social media at that time, so I might have been hard to get a hold of. I mean, Stuart had my number but nobody thought to call me. I mean Jeffrey is more closely aligned with that movie than myself and he’s what makes it iconic and really memorable over time, but, you know, I’d like to think I have a small part of that as well! That’s okay that they didn’t think of me. That’s alright.

Going back to you having become a horror fan, which films have you seen and enjoyed recently?

I enjoyed Hereditary very much. The first time I saw it, it was very painful and it really stuck with me. I thought about it for days afterwards and it was quite disturbing and then my son wanted to see it and he’s sixteen, he was sixteen at the time, so I brought him to see it and then it didn’t affect me as much. And then the third time I saw it, I had to bring him back with his friends, because they needed an adult to see it, and I realised how much of a comedy it was as well. So by the third viewing, the heat of the intensity and the darkness had worn off, and I was just enjoying all the fun bits of it as well. So I think that movie works on so many levels – there’s something for everyone. And some people initially did view it as a comedy – I didn’t at first, I just thought it was so dark. So that movie, I think was really well directed and had a lot of suspense and fear and as we’ve all become a little bit more knowledgeable about films and we’ve seen so many of them and people are always bemoaning the fact that they’re not scared in certain movies, I felt like this movie was so cleverly directed that even the most hardcore horror fan had to be affected by it in some way. So I think that Ari Aster did a great job with that film and I know he tried to make it for like ten years or something. So that’s one that I really enjoyed and of course I loved Get Out and The Shape of Water. Those are a little bit more high profile films, both dealing with social issues of people feeling marginalised or a fish-man feeling marginalised and also a black person and what happened to him is rearing its ugly head again in America. So we thought we’d tackled racism but in fact it never really goes away, it sort of goes into a closet and then comes back out again. wasn’t going back out again, so that movie was very much in touch with what’s going on right now, socially. And for a smaller movie, we have to give voice to some of these other independent movies that are coming out. The Endless came out a recently – it’s a science fiction movie and horror, but done for very little money and the directors also acted in it themselves and it was really good story and done really well and they were great in the movie. I had met them at Fantastic Fest last year where it played, and I told them, ‘You should put yourselves in every movie, because you guys are really good actors’. So I really enjoyed that film as well.

Do you have a favourite film overall?

I have a few. People ask this question all the time, to everybody, and sometimes it changes. I have like a top three, I’d say. I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for how visceral it is and raw. And Gunnar Hansen was a friend of mine for many years, so I enjoyed watching his performance over and over again, and it’s a film I go back to and really scared me the first time I watched it and continually scares me every time I watch it. It really hits me in the gut. And I really love The Shining, which is just a magical film where you can always find little bits and pieces that maybe you never saw before. That movie really sticks with me. I have to say though, the movie that I always go back to, that I say, to me, is a masterpiece, is The Haunting, Robert Wise’s The Haunting. I would say that’s probably my all-time favourite. It’s just from the mind, the actress, Julie Harris, her sense, and how she just wore her fear inside her body and it was just so accessible to an audience watching her and it was just so suspenseful all the time, you’re really on the edge of your seat, you feel wrung out by the end of the movie. That’s a movie I think is beautifully done in so many ways.

Do you have a favourite film that’s not a horror film?

Well, there’s two films I really like that I can go back to and watch a lot. I would probably say It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite films and Jimmy Stewart’s performance in that is heart-breaking, everybody can relate to the breakdown of a family because of what’s happening in society and how you have to stay true to your core and who you are, deeply inside, that’s something we can all relate to. And it’s a fun movie and an uplifting movie at the end. And the other movie is probably The Wizard of Oz. I love that movie too [laughs]. For different reasons – it’s just colourful and fun and it’s a movie that I watched when I was a young girl and it just made an impression on me, so it’s one that I never get tired of watching.

How often do you hear the line, ‘They’re coming to get you, Barbara…’?

Oh, yes, always. That’s nice! And I met the actress who played Barbara in that film, Judith O’Dea. She was at a convention and I don’t think she’s a horror fan, per se, but I told her that I work in the horror genre a lot and my name’s Barbara and they always say that to me. And so we got a picture together and that’s a classic movie that I’ve seen a million times and I love that, when people use that reference and say something to me, it’s warming to my little dark heart.

There’s only three items of trivia on your IMDb entry…

Oh, I’ll have to put some more on there…

I was going to say, if you could add one, what would it be?

Oh, jeez. What would I add? Now you put me on the spot. I wasn’t the first actress to get the part of Meg [in Re-Animator]. I was not the second choice but the gal who was the first actress who had the role, her mother read the script and told her she couldn’t do it. I think she was still above twenty-one, but her mother was like, ‘You’re not doing this film’. And so they had another casting session and I came in and won the role, and had I not won the role, I might not be talking to you right now so I credit and thank that girl, wherever she is, for turning down that role so I could be Meg in Re-Animator.

What are your lasting memories of working on Re-Animator?

Stuart came from the theatre and had never worked in movies before so he and Mac Ahlberg, our DP, worked quite closely together to make sure that Stuart got what he wanted, but he understood how you have to change angles and move lights around and not cross the line, as they say, and just make sure that everything is done properly. So I actually learned a lot on that set about how to craft a scene from Mac Ahlberg. It was one of the first movies I made and I was listening to everything he said and it made quite an impression on me about how to put a scene together and how to film it and just watching Stuart learn that craft, and really picking it up right away and being quite adept at it. That was one of my most prominent memories, and also the fact that Stuart was a man didn’t like the word ‘No’, or ‘We’re done’ and he kept filming and it didn’t matter that the crew was only supposed to work twelve hours a day or that we were only supposed to work eleven, or eleven and a half and get a half hour lunch break. He just wouldn’t stop filming and he would just tell everybody they’re not allowed to go home. So every day – every day – on that film which was maybe a nineteen or a twenty-one day shoot at the most – I don’t think it was even that much, probably more like nineteen days – it would be thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen hour days and the last day we worked, it was the day before Christmas, it was Christmas Eve and we worked for twenty four hours and I made more money in overtime on that movie than I did on my regular salary, because he just wouldn’t stop filming! And because he worked in the theatre, he was really used to working with the actors a lot and gave us a lot of input and we were heavily directed by him in the scenes and he wanted to try different things and so he just wouldn’t let us leave! So there’s that too.

Are there any parts you’d like to revisit?

All of them! Every time I finish a movie, I think now that I’ve done it, I know how to play it and I would probably make some different choices.

What about characters you’ve played that you’d like to play again in a different movie? That can include characters that have been killed off…

Well, I’d really like to do Beyond the Gates 2. That was a tiny little movie that did pretty well. It wasn’t a huge success, but for what it was – we won Best Film at its premiere at the LA Film Festival, and IFC Midnight bought it and we had a nice festival run and it came out Direct To Video and a lot of people are discovering it over time. It’s really difficult in this low budget independent world for movies to come out and then everybody hears about them. We keep squawking about it on the social media platforms but it takes a few years for people to say, ‘Oh yeah, that movie that came out a few years ago was great.’ And I hope that will happen with this movie because I think there could be a number two or number three in there with a new set of characters that have to go through some sort of game playing, but really what it is is a mirror for trying to overcome circumstances in the game of life, that they have to make better for themselves or their loved ones. And I think we can still mine that with the VCR board game premise and I played the kind of evil VCR board game host and I loved that character so much and it was so fun for me, and you don’t see a lot of horror movie icons or character icons being played by women. You know, we have our Freddy Kruegers and we have our Jasons and whatnot, but we don’t have so many women like that. We have continuing women in franchises but we don’t have the evil presence that continues on, as much. We had that a little bit in Hellraiser, but it’s just not as prevalent for women, so why can’t we do that? Why don’t we have that? And I think there’s a possibility, there is some interest that we could actually do Beyond the Gates 2, so I’ll keep you posted about that.

I’d love to see Leslie Bison [Crampton's character in Dead Night] again…

Sure, Leslie Bison as well, and we did speak about that. It’s a quirky film, I don’t even think the filmmakers were thinking that Leslie was going to be such a strong presence in the movie. Initially, when they wrote the film they thought, ‘Oh, we could do this as a series and do a True Crime reality TV show about another happening, about another death or mass murder and what happened behind that’. So, who knows? Anything could happen.
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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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