Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
In the hey-day of the '80s scream queens, Barbara Crampton was always one of my favorites for the pure and simple reason that after watching her work in RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, I realize there was almost nothing she wouldn't do in the name of entertainment. Seriously, can you name another actress working at the time that would have endured the indignities that befall Crampton in RE-ANIMATOR? I don't think so.
I first remember spotting Crampton as Craig Wasson's unfaithful girlfriend in Brian De Palma's BODY DOUBLE (1984), followed the following year playing the ditzy Chrissie in FRATERNITY VACATION. But it was in director Stuart Gordon's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's story "Herbert West, Re-Animator" that Crampton's following grew exponentially.
Soon after, Crampton was popping up in such works as CHOPPING MALL, KIDNAPPED TRANCERS II, and the direct-to-video hit PUPPETMASTER. Gordon and Crampton made several more movies together over the years, including the masterpiece FROM BEYOND, the exceptional CASTLE FREAK, ROBOT WARS, and SPACE TRUCKERS, most of which (including RE-ANIMATOR were made under Charles Band's Full Moon Entertainment banner.
After a steady stream of TV appearances throughout the 1990s, Crampton took time off from regular acting gigs, but is now beginning something of a comeback, with an appearance in director Adam Wingard's next film YOU'RE NEXT, set for release next year. Crampton has also largely avoided the convention circuit during her career, however, she recently came to Chicago with Gordon and Band for an all-day movie marathon of some of their finest work together, including RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, and CASTLE FREAK.
For those interesting in meeting her, she'll be appearing May 14 at the Forum Theatre Arts Center in Metuchen, New Jersey as part of the Full Moon Horror Film Fest, which will include screenings of Band's latest directing effort EVIL BONG 3-D: THE WRATH OF BONG, the first-ever 35mm screening of PUPPET MASTER 2 (with star Charlie Spradling appearing), and a 25th anniversary screening of FROM BEYOND, with Crampton introducing. For details and to get tickets, go to www.fullmoondirect.com.
In person, Crampton is as beautiful as I've ever seen her. In all seriousness, the most whispered thing at her recent Chicago appearance was some variation on "Wow, Barbara is still hot." During our interview, she could not have been any nicer or more charming. Our conversation took place in the office of the movie theater hosting the screenings, and for some reason there was a cat roaming the halls, which explains the beginning of our talk.
I believe Crampton is the first scream queen I've interviewed for AICN Legends, and I hope to talk to a few more, because they all seem to have such interesting (and not always pleasant) stories. Please enjoy my conversation with the lovely Barbara Crampton…
Capone: So I guess the obvious question for… There’s a cat in here.
Barbara Crampton: Oh nice. Hello, kitty!
Capone: I guess the obvious question for this event is how did you get hooked up with these people--Stuart [Gordon] and Jeffrey [Combs]?
BC: You know, sometimes people ask me that, and it really is just a matter of fact that I came in for an audition one day for RE-ANIMATOR and I got the job. But I have to tell you that I think it was like a month ago, Stuart and I were chatting over the phone, and he told me for the first time that I wasn’t his first choice for RE-ANIMATOR.
Capone: That’s pleasant.
BC: And it devastated me. I said, “I wasn’t?” He goes, “No, there was another girl I wanted, but then her mother or her family didn’t want her to do the nudity, and so you were our second choice” and I was like “Whoa,” and somehow that made me feel really bad. I was like “Oh, I wasn’t?” But whatever…
Capone: That’s something you need to tell up on stage when we get there.
BC: You can ask me that question.
Capone: I will ask that. I will definitely ask that.
BC: Because I haven’t really said that to Stuart yet. So after I did that, Charlie [Band] asked me to do movies and [producer] Brian [Yuzna] and Stuart asked me to be in movies and [director] Jim Wynorski asked me to be in a movie [CHOPPING MALL], and so I guess that’s kind of how it went. And mixed in with that I did a lot of soap operas too.
Capone: I noticed that. I’ve heard from some other actors who have done soap operas and have gone onto films that that’s like a real proving ground. It’s like a crash course in learning your lines, being professional…
BC: “Learn your lines. Hit your mark. Show up. Be on time. Don’t screw around. And get the job done.” I really enjoyed doing it very much, and it was steady work for an actor too.
Capone: And you were in a couple of different ones too, right?
BC: I was in four. I did "Days of Our Lives," "Young and the Restless" for the longest, about six years. I also did "Guiding Light" and "The Bold and the Beautiful."
Capone: Did Stuart, even though you were the second choice, did he ever tell you what it was about you that he liked?
BC: No, why don’t we ask him that? That will make me feel a little better, “So, if I was the second choice, what was it? Did I have some kind of a quality that was good?”
Capone: Of the films you made with Stuart, do you have a favorite that you are the most proud of? Having just watched CASTLE FREAK now, I would say that’s a really good choice.
BC: We were talking about it, because we just had dinner together, and Stuart said “I haven’t watched CASTLE FREAK in a long, but I think that’s kind of my new favorite of the movies that I’ve worked on.” I said “You know what? I was kind of thinking the same thing,” because I haven’t seen CASTLE FREAK in like 20 years, and most people gravitate towards RE-ANIMATOR when they talk about a Stuart Gordon movie that’s the epitome of what he’s donem and they think that’s the best movie. And it is, it’s a wonderful movie, but there is something about CASTLE FREAK that’s really beautiful. It has a great, heartfelt story and you know as we were saying when we were there just a lot of compassion and a lot of relationship stuff. It’s a very sad movie, very moody, and it’s really well shot and it looks good. The print that they have is the only 35mm print and it’s not a very good one, but there’s something about that movie that really got to me. At the end I was left feeling something, so maybe that’s my new favorite now.
Capone: I’ve actually been told this by a few directors who make monster movies that “You should always feel something for the monster,” and in this one you do, because as you said, this guy isn’t a bad guy, he’s just reacting to a lifetime of abuse.
BC: You definitely do feel something for this person. Yeah, he was ill cared for and he was reacting out of that, and everybody in the movie has a different point of view of pain. Everybody in that movie is in pain. He's in pain, the mom and dad are both in pain, and the daughter is in a lot of pain, and then you see the woman who gets killed and her pain--she obviously gets murdered in the movie--but she has a son and she’s not with the husband who you see at the end and he's in pain.
Capone: Yeah, that’s a nice little moment actually.
BC: Revisiting that, I really have new eyes for that movie now.
Capone: You had done a couple of movies before RE-ANIMATOR. I remember in BODY DOUBLE, which is still a movie that I really like.
BC: Yeah and the problem is when I first got that movie, I had a lot more scenes.
BC: Yeah, they had scenes where Craig Wasson’s character came back to me, and we were breaking up but maybe we were going to stay together.
Capone: Towards the beginning still?
BC: Towards the very beginning, right. And then when they cast me in the movie they said, “We are cutting your two dialog scenes” and you only have this one scene, this naked scene with Craig Wasson. I was like “That’s great…”
Capone: If there was dialog in that scene, I don’t remember.
BC: [laughs] Yeah, I was like “Oh great, well it’s a chance to work with Brian De Palma, so I guess I should do it,” but it didn’t really lead to anything, so I don’t know what the point was. I like the movie, but whatever, I was in it for a second.
Capone: So Stuart cast you in RE-ANIMATOR, you read that script and then after you were done making the movie, what were your impressions of him the first time out?
BC: Of working with Stuart?
Capone: Working with him as both a director of actors and how his mind worked in terms of some of the more perverse moments in the film.
BC: He’s very funny because he is a very sweet man, really kind and dear and has got a very soft heart, and that doesn’t come across in any of the movies. He seems dark and sick and twisted. But he’s really not like that, he is into heightened emotion and heightened reality and wants to get to the core and the deepness of what’s going on and he'll take you to the extreme. He wants to take everything to the extreme and he definitely pushed us all for just more depth in our performances and would talk to us a lot about that.
Capone: And you mentioned about always trying to have a private set in some of those scenes, isn’t that fairly standard or had it not been for you up to that point?
BC: I think so. I think I’m not saying anything that anybody else wouldn’t have said.
Capone: There are moments in RE-ANIMATOR that people had never seen before. Did it ever feel like exploitation to you? Or did it seem like, “No, he’s deliberately going out of his way to go something that no one has done before.
BC: Reading it I didn’t see it as exploitative, but then when the movie came out everybody talked about it as being like that, so I went “Okay, well maybe it is,” but it didn’t affect me negatively. I was just playing the reality of the scene. But I do know that in their minds, because [screenwriter] Dennis Paoli has said this many times “I wrote that scene and I wrote the first visual pun and I was so proud of myself: a man giving head. I'm a head and I'm giving head.” So, they knew that going in. It’s satire that movie and it’s a bit comedic, so they had that little horrific-comedic wink to the audience kind of joke and you know I was in on the joke, but I couldn’t play that I was in a joke to make that scene really real and believable for me as an actor “Oh my God, how horrible.” So I couldn’t play that.
Capone: I watched the film again recently, because I wasn’t sure if I was seeing it here today or not, but there is a moment in that particular scene where you just say, “Please stop!,” and that is real. That’s a moment when you almost want to look away, because it’s like too real.
BC: It’s hard to watch, right?
Capone: It is a little. I don’t remember feeling that way when I saw it in the theaters originally.
BC: Well, you’re older now and more mature.
Capone: Hopefully more mature. Did you have any kind of love for horror before getting involved?
BC: I definitely did. I did surprisingly enough. When I was growing up, my dad was really into "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone," and I would watch all of those shows with him . I guess that wasn’t real horror horror, but it was just out there enough that it was escapism kind of drama and I really liked that. I also grew up watching "Dark Shadows."
Capone: I love "Dark Shadows."
BC: I’m so happy they are making a movie of that. I’d love to get a part in that. And I think I’ve always liked the horror genre, and when I got cast in RE-ANIMATOR, which was my first one, I really enjoyed it so much and I enjoyed the special effects and I thought the special effects were really great, and they were awesome the guys that worked on the movie. So, I developed a love for that, definitely and I just did another horror. I haven’t really worked that much in the past couple of years, but I just did a movie recently, and it’s like a horror thriller.
Capone: What’s it called?
BC: It’s called YOU’RE NEXT. It’s a home invasion kind of thing and the guy that wrote it is Simon Barrett and the guy who directed it is Adam Wingard and last year they did a movie called A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE.
Capone: I’ve heard of that. So then moving to FROM BEYOND, which deals more directly, although I don’t know if it’s as explicit as RE-ANIMATOR, with issues of sexuality and the pleasure-pain scenario. What did you think of that when that script landed in front of you? And did you like the idea, like Stuart said, where you get to turn the tables on Jeffrey?
BC: Definitely. I was the woman in control and it’s nice, especially in a horror genre, where you feel like there is a woman who is in charge and in control, because you don’t see that very often. It’s nice that Stuart gave me that opportunity and the sexuality in that movie was definitely very overt, so that was something that I had to work myself up to to play for sure in keeping up with the character and the movie as far as how the resonator and the beyond-ness affects her and takes her into like another dimension of herself and of the world. I got to play a lot of different levels of a character in that movie, so that was exciting really. I loved that part.
Capone: It’s really I think the only role that you have done, at least for Stuart, where you are the sexual aggressor. You have to turn that on, and you said that was sort of difficult to do? Other than being a victim.
BC: Yeah, a victim is easy to play. You scream, and there’s a little “Oh no!” In any scene, there's somebody who is in control of the scene, there’s somebody who is the protagonist in the scene and somebody who is more of the recipient, and I was the protagonist in a lot of those scenes. So I had to be the more aggressive and the more forceful one and using your own sexuality is, you know, you have to call upon a lot of inner seductress.
Capone: And that’s no the only way you are in control in the movie.
BC: No, I’m a professor too.
Capone: Exactly, you're the doctor, the one who is in charge of the whole experiment. You literally are his guardian. He is in your custody. You say that.
BC: And I think, truth be told, that was a little difficult for Jeffrey too, because he was in control in the first movie we did together and then in this one I was the one that was really in control, and I think that was a little different for him to play and maybe not as easy for him.
Capone: Good, that’s a challenge for him and you. Stuart mentioned that you had been to see the musical of RE-ANIMATOR for the first time. That was fairly recently, right?
BC: It just opened a few weeks ago, yeah.
Capone: Tell me about that experience and watching somebody else recite your dialog.
BC: Yeah, because a lot of it was the exact dialogue from the movie and some of the same mannerisms that we created in the movie were there.
Capone: Do you remember anything in particular, like a mannerism that she picked up on that you might have done, or was it more what Jeffrey did?
BC: I think it was definitely more specific with Jeffrey and Dr. Hill, but I remember there was a part where my father is behind the glass and he’s crazy--George Wendt is playing that character and he’s in the straight jacket. He’s really wonderful too, and so she gets knocked up against the glass and she’s in a trance with the Dr. Hill guy, and he pushes her into the glass, and then she comes out of her trance that he’s put her in. So that was like a blocking thing that I worked out with the other actor and they left that in the stage play, so that was interesting. I was like “Oh, okay.” And then, as I said, the light that was movie across the ceiling when the cat was going crazy and being re-animated, and Jeffrey had come up with that gesture and it was in the play, so a lot of the same gestures that we created were there, the ones that worked I guess were there.
But the actors that played the roles were completely fresh and completely stood on their own, and gave really strong performances, and the music was so fun and the staging was amazing with one set and it moved very quickly, it wasn’t boring for a second. It was just hilarity the whole way through. They made a lot more fun of it in this stage play and they even had like a chorus number where everybody starts singing and dancing. It’s definitely a must see.
Capone: I hope it comes here, because I will see anything that Stuart has a hand in. I’m a big fan of talking to people who were part of the Chicago theater scene in the 1970s, and Stuart is definitely one of those guys. Outside of what you did with Stuart, were there some other roles that you were particularly fond of? You were in the first PUPPETMASTER and CHOPPING MALL.
BC: It was fun, I had a small role in PUPPETMASTER really and CHOPPING MALL was just like silly fun with Jim Wynorski, who has made I don’t know 300 movies himself under different names. We had a good time. I would say probably the horror fans aren’t really soap opera fans, but I really enjoyed my role as Leanna Love in "The Young and the Restless." I played a boderline personality and she was kind of cuckoo, and it’s always fun to play a part like that.
Capone: Right. But you stepped away from acting for a while.
BC: I had stepped away until this recent project that I just did. I moved up to San Francisco with my husband 10 years ago and I’m an older mom, so we got married and I had two children back to back--I have a seven and a nine year old and I’m taking care of them. I also got really sick a couple of years ago, I developed chronic fatigue syndrome and I had that for almost three years, so I was in bed for almost a year and I couldn’t work. They think maybe it was a virus. I still have an agent in L.A., but I told them I’m not really available to audition for anything for almost three years, and you know my kids are really little, so I’m just now starting to maybe climb out from under the sheets and say, “Oh, there is another world out there. Maybe I can revisit my acting life again.” I had a lot of fun working on this movie that I just did.
Capone: It’s a fairly big role in this one?
BC: Yeah, so I’m thinking, “Okay, maybe I should look at this again and try to go out for things.
Capone: Was this one you had to audition for as well?
BC: No I didn’t. They just offered me the part.
Capone: The director was a fan and liked your work?
BC: Yeah, it was the director Adam Wingard and then the producers have this company called Snoot Entertainment. They just did Peep world and they’ve done a bunch of other things, so they asked my agent, or the casting person asked my agent, “Well, do you have any people that have a horror name, because we need a horror name for this role.” And he said, “Well I have this person, this person, this person, and I have Barbara Crampton.” And they said, “Okay, we will take her.” [laughs]
And nobody has seen me in years, and I told my agent, “Well, they don’t even know what I look like. They don’t even know who I am anymore. They haven’t seen me in years, are they sure they want me?” I was second-guessing them, and my agent said “No, they want you, so why don’t you just go and do it?” I said, “Okay.” It turned out really well.
Capone: Wow, well that’s great. Alright, well those are all of the questions I came with, so thank you so much and good luck getting back in the game and I’m sure there’s a lot of people here that would love to see you do something with Stuart.
BC: We just had dinner, so we were talking about it and he said that he has a fondness for horror and he will always have it. I asked him that and was like, “Well, you’re kind of doing other things now, do you want to get out of horror movies?”
Capone: He’s dabbling in theater again.
BC: Yeah, but his heart is still in horror.
Capone: That’s good. That’s good news.
BC: “His heart is in horror.” That could be the title of your article for him.
Capone: That’s right. Anyway, thank you again.
BC: Thanks, Steve.
-- Capone email@example.com
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