To kick off week 4 of Women in Horror Month, we spoke to legendary horror icon Barbara Crampton about her lustrious career in the horror genre and everything ranging from horror movies, Lovecraft, soap operas and what it means to be a woman in horror.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Barbara! Thank you so much for speaking with us today for Women in Horror Month! To start thing off, what does being a woman in horror mean to you?
Barbara Crampton: Well that’s a big question (laughs). First of all, I don’t think any character knows that they are in a horror movie. Anytime you are playing someone in a movie you just have to play the truth of what the story is and what your circumstances are. You can either be in a love story or a comedy or a thriller or a horror movie and it doesn’t really matter. There’s certain feelings and tones that a writer or a director will maybe want you to convey to an audience that says you are actually in a horror movie. The suspenseful things and being scared, a lot of those things don’t really come from the actor they come from post production, sound cues, and music. For me, I’m just playing the truth of whatever situation I’m in. Where I am in my career currently, I seem to be playing roles that were different than in my early horror career. In my early horror career I mostly played the girl in peril or the one that had to be saved, with the exception of Katherine McMichaels in FROM BEYOND. I do feel like lately I’ve played characters that are somewhat compromised or who they are at their core could be construed as not as nice as some other characters, people that are morally challenged let’s say.
I would say being a woman in horror is lovinf the genre, loving to be scared, working with filmmakers and actors and crew people that are in love and impassioned by working in a media that has a lot of energy and depth and a lot of possibilities to tell many different stories. I feel like that’s the answer to your question but I just wanted to give a prelude (laughs).
NC: A lot of the characters that you have played, whether in your earlier career or now, I’ve always felt like they had a strength and independence behind them. How do you go about choosing the roles that you want to take and is there a common thread that you look for?
BC: I think I look for a good story. What’s important to me is the script, the foundation of what the story is and what they are trying to say. Mostly, I feel like I’m attracted to roles that, as you say, have a certain strength to them and a certain independence. I do feel like some of that is in my natural personality and that just comes through. I grew up very independent and I am a very independent person and I do think I have a certain strength about me. I try to view all my roles with that, especially thinking about women characters. I’ve said this in interviews throughout my entire career that I do try to have my characters, even if she’s the bubble-headed co-ed, have some form of strength and confidence about her. That’s important to me, to play someone who has some depth and some brains, even if it’s not written that way. There are moments, recently, where I feel like I’ve been in a few slasher movies, but as a whole, I really look for movies that have interesting characters and a strong foundation in a story with characters that are trying to overcome something. That’s something I get really excited about when I read a script. As an audience member we have to keep reminding ourselves how much strength we do have and how good we can be and how much we can accomplish because we are always doubting ourselves and we are always questioning ourselves. Seeing someone overcome something gives a tremendous boost to you on a personal level and that’s why I’m so glad to work in this genre, I think it really touches people on a deep lever.
NC: I’m a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan and I think he’s one of the true Masters of Horror. Were you a fan of Lovecraft prior to being involved in RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND? Or did you come to appreciate his work afterwards?
BC: Every time someone asks me that I think of what Jeffrey Combs says, “Lovecraft? I thought it was a boat” (laughs). I had never heard of H.P. Lovecraft before I was asked to be in RE-ANIMATOR. I think I read the story at the time but I didn’t really read any other stories until I did FROM BEYOND. Then I was like, maybe I should read a few more of his stories! I won’t claim that I’m an aficionado on Lovecraft, I’m not, but I’ve read a number of his stories, maybe 20, over a period of time and I’ve seen a lot of movies that are based on his stories that I haven’t read. I feel like I understand his writing and who he was. I also did a “Tales From Beyond The Pale” episode with [director] Stuart Gordon that was based on one of Lovecraft’s stories.
From the stores that I’ve read and the movies I’ve been in and the movies that I’ve seen of his, I feel like women are more of an invention of the directors that I work for or the writers. Lovecraft wasn’t so much a fan of women or the equality of women and was somewhat racist, but he had a very good technique on helping to set a scene of dread or a scene of misery. Tonally, I don’t think there’s too many writers that are as good as he is at setting a scene and making you feel like you’re really in the depths of his world just from his descriptions, his descriptions are amazing. I feel as a woman that if he knew I was acting in a lot of his stories he would be turning over in his grave (laughs). I do appreciate having acted in a lot of movies based off his work as well as what he’s been able to bring to the genre and how it’s really impacted a lot of writers and directors.
NC: You were just in the 80’s inspired film BEYOND THE GATES, which was fantastic! What are your thoughts on this new wave of horror movies modeled after 80’s horror classics?
BC: A lot of these filmmakers are now coming of age and I think that’s why I’m becoming friendly with a lot of them because they grew up on movies that I was in during the 80’s. They are harking back to that and harking back to what they love and trying to make movies better than they were back then. I think there’s also been a push back with CGI. These directors are really wanting to get their hands dirty and work in practical effects and there was no better time for that than in the 80’s. I think a lot of these people are going back to what they love and it seems to be working, people seem to love it. It’ll have it’s time and it’ll go away and there’s a wave of it right now but eventually something else will be at the forefront. Right now it’s great though and I’m having a great time and am glad that people are thinking of me when they are making a movie that has a flavor of the 80’s.
NC: You’ve been in many soap operas ranging from “Guiding Light” to “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless”. What kept you going back to doing soap operas?
BC: The money and a steady job. They kept asking me (laughs)! As a young actor you audition for whatever your agent puts you up for, typically. For some reason I kept getting these parts and I kept saying yes because I really enjoy working and it was steady work that was really fulfilling. Just like when you work on a movie, you become close friends with people you are working on the movie with, on a soap opera you are like a little acting troupe. You really get to understand the depth of a character over many years and it’s quite fulfilling actually! You get to play a part that you get to see all the sides of and is put in many different situations.
I mostly enjoyed my time on “The Young and the Restless” because when I started on that show I was only supposed to play this character, Leanna Love, for three months and she was supposed to come on and kill Ashley Abbott’s character Eileen Davidson. They told me my character was going to be mentally unstable and I could play her however I wanted and I though wow, this is going to be difficult, I don’t know anything about mentally unstable people. I interviewed three different psychiatrists and I gave them all the information I had and they said it sounded like the character had borderline personality disorder. So I played my character with some psychosis and the more I played with what I invented with the help of these psychiatrist, the more “The Young and the Restless” started writing for me and they eventually asked me to stay another year. I was like okay and I did it for another year and then they asked me to sign another contract for three years and then another contract for three years. I didn’t get to the very end of my last contract but almost. It was six years in total, and after that I continued to come back every few months or couple of years for a mini-storyline. I’ve played that character for almost 25 years and it’s probably one of my top three favorite characters I’ve played in my life. She was a real hoot to play and had a lot of flaws, a lot of dream, and a lot of husbands because, it’s a soap opera (laughs).
NC: You’ve recently moved into producing with films such as ROAD GAMES, BEYOND THE GATES, and THE WILDNESS. Have you ever considered directing a feature film?
BC: Maybe, but right now I’m having so much fun dabbling in so many different projects and not feeling like I’m totally responsible for any one project as I feel like a director is. I still have children at home and I kind of need to be here with them and if I’m directing something it would take so much of my time away. I’m also getting older and do I really want to start directing now at my age? Maybe, but I can’t say that it’s something that interest me more than acting or producing at the moment. I’m very interested in producing because I feel like that is more a skill set that I have innately that I can put to better use. I’m a person who can bring people together and I’m not afraid to talk to anybody or ask for things and I’m not afraid to be bossy. I think those are all qualities a producer should have (laughs). At my depth, I’m a person who likes to help others, so I feel like producing is more aligned with who I am in my personalities. If I was going to direct, I would start out with a short film and see how I like that and see if I would want to move ahead from there.
NC: To many, including us here at Nightmarish Conjurings, we consider you to be a horror icon. How do you balance your home life – raising kids, having a family, and still being involved within the horror genre?
BC: I’m pinching myself everyday because I’ve been so lucky to come back for a second round of my career and it surprised me because I thought I was completely done. We moved up from Los Angeles to San Francisco because my husband was transferring for his job and having a family and children was something that had eluded me for a long part of my life and I really wanted that. I really turned my back on my career and completely focused on my kids, my family, and my husband and did that whole-heartedly without ever thinking I was going to work again. The call for YOU’RE NEXT came out of the blue and I was asked to be in it and I was so lucky to be involved in a project that was so good and so critically acclaimed. The film got so much notoriety that people thought of me again and realized that I wasn’t dead and that I would be available if they needed an old lady for a film. People starting calling me and it was a time when my kids were around 10 years old and it all happened kind of slowly at first. I did YOU’RE NEXT and a couple years later I did something else, and then a couple of years later I did something else, and now I seem to be working a little bit more consistently. Now it’s okay because my kids are at an age where they can get themselves to school, get themselves home, make their lunch, or buy their lunch and they don’t need me at every second and my husband is always a phone call away. When I’m out of town for 2-3 weeks, at the most, it seems to be working okay. I’m very grateful that I have a husband who is extremely supportive, from the very first moment I did YOU’RE NEXT, he was like “that’s so exciting for you!” I think he understands that he needs to be that way (laughs). I see the look in his eyes when I say, “Oh, I’m going to NY for a month to do this movie called WE ARE STILL HERE, they wrote the part for me so I’m pretty much on set everyday so I have to be there every day for a whole month.” I can see him getting sort of cross-eyed looking at me thinking “oh no, this means I work a full time job, I have to get the kids dinner every night and help them with their homework and there will be nobody to help me, oh poor me.” Then he goes, “Great honey, that’s amazing! Go have a good time!” My kids are very supportive as well. It’s a little bit harder for my daughter for me to be away and she seems to need me a little bit more but we Facetime and talk and I’m really still home more than I’m away. Everyone has been really wonderful with me and my family, I’m very lucky. It’s been so exciting for me to come back and work with all these new young filmmakers and actors, I feel like I have a new lease on life. I just love acting so much and I kind of forgot how much I loved it. It’s really given me an appetite for being alive.
NC: Last, but certainly not least, what can fans of yours expect from you in the future?
BC: I have four movies coming out that no one has seen yet that are in various stages of completion. I have DEATH HOUSE and then another movie I did called REPLACE that was co-written by Richard Stanley. It’s kind of a Cronenbergian body horror movie and it’s very dark and dreamy. It hasn’t been announced at what film festivals it’s playing at but it will hit the festival circuit soon and I’m already planning on going to a few film festivals that it’s playing at. I also did a movie called GOLDEN up here in the California countryside. It’s a horror/thriller movie about these kids who find some abandoned mines with gold inside and they start fighting amongst themselves for ownership of the gold. They are then haunted by some beings that are on the land. That one is the newest one that I’ve done so you won’t see that one too soon, it’ll be about another year or so. Then there’s another movie I did which I’m very excited about called APPLECART that I shot with Brea Grant and AJ Bown and it’s the same producing/directing team from JOHN DIES AT THE END. This time it’s switched and Don Coscarelli is producing and Brad Baruh is the director. The script is really cool and interesting and completely different than anything you’ve seen before, I’m just mad for this movie!