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Barbara Crampton Interview 01

BARBARA CRAMPTON INTERVIEW

Interview conducted by Stuart D. Monroe

When it comes to women in horror, there aren’t many names that come before Barbara Crampton. It’s that simple. She starred in or flat-out stole the show in classic ‘80s and ‘90s films such as Re-Animator, From Beyond, Chopping Mall, Puppetmaster and Castle Freak. She made the tour of all the big soap operas with long-running roles on The Young and the Restless, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of Our Lives.

Then, something altogether different happened; she went into “self-imposed exile”. As the roles dried up, she focused on raising a family. It seemed horror fans would have to remember the good old days. Luckily for us, Adam Wingard (V/H/S,Blair Witch) brought her back in a matriarchal role in the brilliant home invasion shocker You’re Next in 2011.

Since then, she’s enjoyed a complete career renaissance with a string of indie hits, including Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, Beyond the Gates, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Dead Night, Death House, and Channel Zero. She’s fully embraced her legacy as the Ageless Ambassador of Horror and has her eye on being the “Betty White of Horror”, immersing herself in the worldwide horror community and helping to produce and promote the next generation of horror creators.

Barbara was gracious enough to give Horror DNA some of her time to discuss her newest outing, the latest feature-length episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark film series entitled "Culture Shock". We also discussed emerging filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero, the incredible diversity of the horror community, and what being the “Betty White of Horror” means exactly. Enjoy!

Barbara Crampton Interview 02Stuart Monroe: Hello! How are you, ma’am?

Barbara Crampton: Hello! Hi, Stuart! I’m good. How are you?

SM: Doing well. Just waking up.

BC: Oh, really?

SM: Yeah, I work graveyard shift, so…

BC: Well, that’s perfect to be a journalist in the horror genre and also working the graveyard shift ha ha!!

SM: Yes, ma’am. I’ve worked it practically my entire life. I don’t know how you people that wake up early do it. I really don’t.

BC: [Laughs]

SM: So, I sat down just last night with "Culture Shock", your new episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark series. I was really impressed, to say the least. I thought the social commentary was right up there with Jordan Peele’s new Twilight Zone reboot, if not better. You were obviously mega-creepy; I loved the thousand-yard stare. What drew you to that particular project? It was a pretty powerful choice.

BC: Well, thank you! I haven’t seen it yet. I’m going to watch it at the Etheria Film Festival screening on Saturday, because I really wanted to watch it with an audience, so I didn’t ask for a screener. I’m very excited to watch it.

SM: Very cool.

BC: Yeah! The first thing that drew me to the project was Gigi Saul Guerrero. I had met her at the Morbido Film Festival a couple of years ago when she showed her little – well, it’s not little it’s big – the ten by ten series, La Quinceañera. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but she did that for Warner Brothers and Stage 13. It’s ten short films, ten in a row, showcasing violence in Mexico at a fifteen-year-old’s birthday party. And I thought the story was told with such dynamism and such force that I went back the next day to the same film festival and watched the movie again. I’ve never done that at a film festival – watched a movie twice. There are so many movies to choose from; why would you watch a movie twice? There’s something really different about her direction in the film and her approach to the material that was really in your face and shocking and had so much energy that I fell in love with it. I didn’t know her, didn’t know who she was, but I made it a point to find her at the film festival and meet her.

So, we chatted and since then we’ve kept in touch on social media like you do, and I’d seen her at a few conventions. I just knew that she was going to be a rising star in the genre. I just had a good feeling about her. She actually texted me when she got the Hulu installment for July 4th, so I knew like months and months ago (maybe eight months ago). She said, “I got offered one of the Hulu Into the Dark installments!”, and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so amazing! Congratulations!” Then, she did a rewrite on it, and she was in preproduction on it and was working on it for months. When they were casting, she reached out to me and said, “There’s a part for you. I’d really like you to play this part.”

So, I read the script and I thought it was amazing. Obviously, I said yes; I would really love to be involved. So, here I am.

SM: She sounds like somebody who’s got to be fun to work with. There’s a lot of buzz about her, period. I’ve heard her name before, but the first time I came across it was in your “Scene Queen” article in Fangoria #3. You were talking about how she directs and everything. It sounds like such an open and fun environment to work in with someone who takes that kind of input.

BC: Completely! I mean, listen, when I work with a director, I’m in their movie, so I’ll work in whatever way they want me to. Some directors really don’t like to talk with you so much, and that’s fine. That’s fine, too. I’ll discuss it with the other actors on the set. A lot of directors are more visual, and they know that they’re going to get the film that they want in editing. And they also cast well; they feel like the actors will take care of the emotional part and the story part of the equation in their performances. But, for Gigi, I feel like her stamp was on every scene because she’s very much present in every moment. I also felt that way when I was working with Stuart Gordon. I worked with him quite a lot. In working with him, he’s also very much on point and sort of very collaborative, a strong director in very key moments in a scene. I really feel that way with Gigi, too. She has so much energy and dynamism. Everything that you see on the screen really comes from her. You know, it’s her through us. It was very exciting to work with her.

SM: Yeah, I think that’s the mark of the ones who are really good or that you know are going to be really good directors. It’s the “it factor”. There’s just something that comes through on the screen. Don’t get me Barbara Crampton Interview 03wrong, I’ve enjoyed the Into the Dark series, but there is definitely something different about this episode compared to some of the others. The visuals and use of color is pretty obvious, but it’s really forcing you to look at the issues of illegal aliens herded into what are basically virtual reality concentration camps. It sounded like a punchline a few years ago, but it’s kind of an uneasy subject now.

BC: Right. Well, yes. I think what she’s done is put a human face in a heartbreaking story on an issue that has been so politicized to devastating results. I mean, families are separated and held without reunification for weeks. Sometimes kids are lost, and they’re never reunited. Lives are being lost across the border. Whatever your feeling is about what we should do about it, I think this story puts a lot of emotion and human story on this issue.

SM: Yeah, definitely. And maybe it puts it in a language that some people can speak. You said “politicized”– the more politicized something is, the more it tunes people out. I’m one of those who avoids politics like the plague. However, if you speak horror and you speak my language then it’s easier to tackle the subject matter.

BC: Right! I think that’s the key word right there, Stuart. You’re saying the language. Horror plays on emotions about loss, anxiety, and fear. Then, when you mix that as Gigi does with hope and longing and love it packs a powerful punch. Because despite what you believe, we’re all human and we all feel. Horror is a very feeling genre.

SM: What I see, especially in the last couple of years, is that horror is leading the pack when it comes to tackling some of the issues that we have today…

BC: Yeah!

SM: …the genre is very fluid in that way to be able to tell that story.

BC: Well, we’ve really been doing that for a while with movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Society…a lot of those movies really tap into what’s going on politically and culturally. But then when Jordan Peele came out with Get Out, well that movie is about racism but it’s also very affecting, right?

SM: Oh, yeah!

BC: It’s about people. It’s a good kick in the butt, and it’s sort of upped everybody’s game.

SM: That it has. The critical success of Get Out and Hereditary, another good example…

BC: Hereditary! Sure!

SM: You’re showing the story has always been there, but it’s about how horror is perceived now.

BC: It’s not a dirty word anymore!

SM: Right?! I feel like it’s time for the folks at the Oscars and the Golden Globes to truly give horror its due, but is that something that you see happening or does horror even need the snobby awards at this point?

BC: Well, The Shape of Water did very well, and I think we can call that a horror movie. You know, it’s funny…

SM: That movie was so old school!

Barbara Crampton Interview 04BC: …it was. It felt very old school, didn’t it? Kind of a throwback. You know, it’s funny because horror movies make more money than any other genre. We have the conventions to prove it. More people go to conventions for horror films than they do for comedy conventions or drama conventions! Those don’t even really exist. We have Star Trek and we have The Walking Dead, but people are really ferocious for horror. I think it goes to the deep psychology of people.

I have a very good friend who’s a psychologist, and he said we only change based on our own fears and our own pain. We make decisions based on fear and pain. We don’t make as many decisions based on love as we do based on our fears. And isn’t that kind of a sad thing to say about people, but it’s also quite revealing.

So, I think with the horror genre, the elite of Hollywood are now catching onto the idea that they can tap into these real fears and tell compelling stories that are very representational of what’s going on politically and what’s going on culturally. We’ve always known this, but other people are catching onto that now. Horror is something that really gets to the psychology and the emotional realm of people in a very deep way that a lot of other movies just can’t tap into.

SM: Absolutely true. That’s a good point. I like what your friend said there, too, because it really hits home.

BC: Yeah.

SM: You know, with the horror community…you talked about the cons and stuff. One thing I’ve had my eye opened to recently (and I know you’re pretty active on Twitter and such as well) is the horror community at large. It’s funny, there’s the stigma that horror fans are psychos. What I’ve personally found and you’ve said as well, is that the horror community is I think the most inclusive, progressive, and uplifting fanbase out there. These are good and decent people who are far more well-adjusted than most people, in my opinion.

BC: I completely agree with you! I really do. I think people that watch horror movies are some of the most self-actualized people that I’ve met. I feel like we think and we feel and we dissect things in a way that other people are afraid to do, you know? We really look at our fears. We look at our anxiety. We look at death! We look at the ultimate ending with our eyes open. I think the horror fans are some of the most open people that I’ve ever met. I can’t believe that I get to work in this genre. I’m blessed to be here with people that I really feel are some of the most brave people; the viewers and the filmmakers.

SM: Definitely. And at a good time, too. It’s not the “guilty pleasure” that it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s and even early 2000s, and people are starting to go back to the old horror and go, “Wow! A lot of these movies had something to say and weren’t just video store fodder.”

BC: Right. Agreed.

SM: You’re intelligently picky about the roles you take, having worked with legends like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) and Charles Band (Puppetmaster) as well as modern-day auteurs like Rob Zombie (The Lords of Salem) and Adam Wingard (You’re Next). Now you seem to be showing real love to promising up and comers like B. Harrison Smith (Death House), Brad Baruh (Dead Night), & Tommy Wiklund (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich). Do you have a wish list of creators you’d like to work with that has eluded you thus far?

BC: Culture Shock was the first feature I was in that was directed by a woman, so I would definitely love to be directed by another up-and-comer gal in the horror scene. Jenn Wexler (The Ranger), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), Brea Grant (Dead Night), and Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) come to mind.

SM: What’s up next for you? Perhaps that great female villain role you spoke of in your “Scene Queen” column in Fangoria #2?

BC: I have just arrived in Albania to be part of the producing team for the Fangoria re-imagining of Castle Freak. I’m so happy with the Lovecraftian-leaning script which Kathy Charles has written. The cast is a Barbara Crampton Interview 05wonderful group of mostly young, brilliant performers and Tate Steinsiek (Face Off) as director has a great vision for the project. There’ll be lots of splatter to satisfy the sincere horror fans and a story of real depth and humanity to anchor the tale.

SM: So, I’ve read in a couple of places where you’ve said you want to be the “Betty White of Horror”…

BC: [Bursts out laughing]

SM:…I stuck on that and thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. When you start talking about Betty White, well she’s practically a deity. It’s a tailor-made role for you, though. What exactly does being the “Betty White of Horror” entail exactly? 

BC: I think I sort of said that as a joke, but there’s a lot of truth within humor, right? To me, what that means to want to become or be the “Betty White of Horror” is to be somebody that keeps working as long as she has, you know? Deep into my golden years. I took a break from working when I got married and my kids were really little. And also it came at a time when I wasn’t getting a lot of offers or even request to audition for things. This was in my late 30s, and I thought, “Geez, if the genre or Hollywood doesn’t want me, then I guess I’ll have to leave and do some other things.” So, I went into self-imposed exile.

Now we’re seeing the climate change and more women are being asked and invited and allowed to be movie makers and work in our genre in particular. I feel like I’m having a second career and things have opened up for me. I feel so lucky and blessed to be working in a genre that I really call my home. It definitely is, and I just want to keep working. I want to keep telling stories the older I get that are reflective of whatever age that I’m at. That was a cheeky thing to say, but that’s really what I mean. I just want to be around as long as Betty White and keep doing as good of work as she’s done.

SM: Very cool! You’re definitely on the mark there. Well, thank you so much, Barbara! I appreciate it.

BC: Thank you! Any other things you think of, feel free to email and I’ll get back with you.

SM: I’ll do that. Thank you for the honor, ma’am!

BC: You’re welcome! Have a good day!

Horror DNA would like to thank Barbara for taking the time out of her schedule to chat with us. Make sure to follow her on Twitter!

About The Author
Stuart Monroe
Staff Writer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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