There are many reasons as to why genre legend Barbara Crampton has become the long-lasting, self-proclaimed “Betty White” of the horror community. Not only does she elevate any movie scene that she is in, but her passion for the horror genre is infectious, and she has the kindest disposition.
In this conversation, we talked about her newly released film REBORN, why she resonated with her character’s role, writing for FANGORIA, why she loves Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, the upcoming Castle Freak remake, and the possibility of one day directing her very own short film!
Your character in REBORN, Lena, is a struggling actress who has never fully processed the loss of her (what she thinks) is her stillborn child. I know you typically take on roles that resonate with you, so what aspects of Lena did you resonate with?
Barbara Crampton: [Laughs] Well, I think the big answer is that she is a B-movie horror actress that never quite made it and is trying to make a comeback. And I felt like that’s kind of something I could really relate to. I mean, I grew up in the ‘80s, and I did a lot of B-movie horror that became cult classics, but they weren’t studio movies. And then, when I was in my late thirties, I just wasn’t getting any roles for whatever reason— either the roles weren’t available to me, or I was in a funny age category. Not quite the young lady anymore and not quite the matriarch, being able to play a mom. Although I did play a mom in 1996’s Castle Freak.
I remember even during From Beyond, Stuart Gordon saying to me that the producers weren’t quite sure I could pull off playing a mom, so I had to be mindful of that when I was playing that part. But I knew (Gordon) and I had a relationship with him, so they went with me, but most people weren’t willing to see me that way yet. So for whatever reason, I hit a lull in my career where I really wasn’t working for 6 to 8 years. Then I had my children and went on with my life. And then I came back with You’re Next out of the blue, and since then I feel like I’ve been building up my career. So I understand this character. [REBORN director] Julian Richards told me that he had me in mind from the beginning for this part because he thought this part was me. So this very much resonated with me, and I also have a very strong relationship with my children. I didn’t know [lead actress] Kayleigh until I arrived on set, and we had a very nice rapport, and I found her to be lovely and scary at the same time. [Laughs]
So it was kind of easy for us to create that bond together, and I hope people see that on-screen that we were very connected.
I read that you only had a few days to prepare for your role, as another actress was attached prior. Did that make the experience more challenging for you?
Barbara Crampton: Yeah, it was very difficult. [Laughs]
[Director Richards] calls me on a Friday, and he said, “Something has happened with our lead actress, so she’s not going to be available. Would you come in for the part? You need to start on Monday.” And (Julian and I) are friends— Julian was the sales agent for a couple of movies I was involved with, one of which was Beyond the Gate. And even though he did have me in mind for the part, somebody else was ultimately offered the part before me, and it didn’t work out with them…I read it through one time and said, “I think I can do this. I don’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I think I can do it on the fly.” I really didn’t have time to work with the material. I drove down there on Monday, and I started on Tuesday. It felt comfortable for me to go into the role because a lot of the people on the set I knew…Michael Pare was also in the movie, and I had worked with him on Puppet Master, and we have a very nice rapport. I found myself using Michael a lot in scenes because I really didn’t have time to study the material and come up with choices. I just had to use my instinct at the moment, and I would say to Michael, “What do you think is the most important part of this scene that we have together? Can we talk about this? Because I need somebody to bounce my thoughts off.” He was great, and Julian was wonderful. It was the first movie I had ever done where I really didn’t feel completely prepared, but I just had to throw myself in and trust that it would work out. Hopefully, it did.
REBORN takes inspiration from much of Carrie and Frankenstein. As a fan of the genre, if you read a script and pick up on influences from past horror films, do you ever watch them to prepare for certain roles? Or do you go into a movie fresh?
Barbara Crampton: Yeah, I do a lot of research, and I really like to dig deep into things. The comparisons for this script are clear, as you indicate. I would also put Firestarter in there. I definitely ask a director, “What movies influence you in this project? What could I watch that would help me understand your approach? What’s the tone of your film?” So I come up with a list on my own, and then I always ask a director what they think. If I have time, I try to revisit or watch movies that maybe I haven’t seen that somebody would bring up or talk about. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of collective unconscious that helps and aids us in making new works. Although you don’t want something to be too derivative.
There are things that influence us all, so I think it’s a good idea to really revisit some of those movies that influence all the movies made today. Shakespeare said that there are eight stories that we just keep recycling, and we do. I think, as much as you can, you go from the director’s vision, and try to get into their headspace and what they’re trying to say. By revisiting works of fiction or any kind of movie and by also doing research in other areas. I did this movie that’s coming out in America that’s been delayed a little bit called Replace, and there’s a lot of science fiction and science involved. It’s this movie about aging, so I visited this place called the Buck Institute near where I live in San Francisco, and it’s a research facility that studies diseases and aging. That’s a really fun part of my job— that I get to investigate other careers or other things that are happening in the world that I wouldn’t normally look at or know about. As far as REBORN is concerned, I’m [playing] a B-movie actress—which I am! And I’m looking for a career resurgence—which I am!
[Laughs] And I’m a mom. I didn’t lose a child, but I have a connection with my own children that is very deep. So I didn’t have to do too much research on this particular role to play it effectively, I hope.
Speaking to your passion for the horror genre/community, I see you often championing newer horror films that you love on Twitter. Have you watched anything lately that you’d like to bring attention to? Any up-and-coming directors you’d like to work with?
Barbara Crampton: For the past 8 to 12 weeks, I’ve been really busy. I just came back from Norway shooting a movie, and right before that, I was in Albania shooting the new Castle Freak! So it’s been very hard for me to watch anything. I feel bad because I know Dennis (Widmyer) and Kevin (Kolsch) and I (still) haven’t watched the new Pet Sematary. I just saw Kevin Kolsch the other day at a party in LA, and I said, “Oh my God, I haven’t had time to watch your movie.” [Laughs] That being said, I am on the jury for Grim Fest this year, and I’m trying to get through all their films. I watched 20 movies for that film festival. And I’m on the jury, so I can’t really say too much about those movies, but if anybody wants to look up the list for Grim Fest, there are stellar standouts of movies that I’ve watched that I can’t wait to talk about.
But, I will say specifically one movie that has just come out on SHUDDER that I was really trying to talk about and champion, Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid. It’s one of the best horror movies– one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last 10 years. And what’s interesting is that I was on the film festival circuit with Issa, and I got to know her a little bit, and people didn’t know who she was, and she sent this film to a lot of film festivals, and either the programmers weren’t watching the movie, or they did and they didn’t know what they had. I don’t know! But, she got turned down from many film festivals, and it wasn’t until she sent it to the genre film festivals that people started responding to her! It’s just one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I love it, and I think she’s fantastic. I would recommend that film— so if you don’t have a subscription to SHUDDER, I would get it just to watch that. You’ve seen it, right?
Oh yes! I was so moved by it. Speaking of directing, do you have any interest in directing horror films yourself? I’m sure you’d be phenomenal with directing other actors.
Barbara Crampton: Well, I don’t know. The thing with directing is that you are married to that film for two years or more. And I just don’t know if, at this time in my life, I can devote my life to one thing for two years. I prefer to be a dabbler. [Laughs] Come in for different projects, here and there. And I feel like I’m pulled in so many different directions already. Now I have a column in FANGORIA, and every couple of months I have to write something, and I’m not as schooled in it as you guys are. You guys can write an article in a couple of days; it really takes me a couple of weeks to research stuff, to formulate things, and then come up with a concept, then write it and edit it. So there are a lot of things that are taking up my time. There are also two projects that I’m in development for that I’m trying to get off the ground as a producer. I helped produce Castle Freak. So I feel like my sensibilities lie with producing— maybe more or less directing. But I did enjoy working on Castle Freak, and because of my background in acting for so many years, I was able to help the actors with their characters and their scenes individually, and that was very rewarding to me. So I was a help in that area. Tate (Steinsiek) did a wonderful job directing everyone in all their scenes and manning our ship, but I was able to work specifically on a few things, and I really enjoyed that.
Maybe doing a short film I could handle, because that would be less of a time commitment. That’s something that is sort of been brewing in my mind. I would love to direct a short— something that was really character-driven. Definitely, I would love to do that. Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, I could do that.
We will be first in line for that. Lastly, since we’re super excited about the upcoming Castle Freak remake, anything you can reveal to hold us over while we wait?
Barbara Crampton: Well, this story is completely different than the original, but I will say that it has a lot of emotional drama at its core, like the first one. It was really important for us to have a couple of characters that had some emotional weight and some crisis between them that would resonate in the same way that Jeffrey Combs and my character did in the (original) one. And even though that FANGORIA now has become known for over-the-top splatter-y gore and high concept stories like Puppet Master and Satanic Panic, I think with this one, you will also get another component alongside of all that glistening blood— which is deeply rooted in character.
REBORN is now available to watch on VOD.