An Interview with Horror Legend Barbara Crampton

We had the chance to speak with Barbara Crampton at this year’s Grimmfest. The horror icon recently starred in Brad Baruh’s Dead Night and talked to Film Daddy about her Lifetime Achievement award, the roles she’s most proud of, and the kinds of films she hopes to tackle in the future.

First, congratulations with your Lifetime Achievement award from The Horror Channel! How does it make you feel to get an award like that? 

Well I hope it doesn’t mean that I am over and done with [Laughs] but it’s quite an honour, really. I have wanted to come to Grimmfest for a while, and when they said they wanted me to come and give me the award I thought it was really generous and great. I am really grateful to all the fans all over the world who watch movies that I am in, so I am really happy to be here. 

When you first started acting did you find it difficult being a woman in horror, a pretty male-dominated genre, and did you come up against any obstacles? 

Well I didn't think about it so much at the time, but I talk about it a lot more now looking back. I did feel even back then that there was a sense that the male was the lead or the one in charge, and I would be the girlfriend or the sidekick. Except for in a movie like From Beyond or something where my character had a lot of balls.

Mostly though I wasn't the leading actress, and also when I was growing up in movies and working it was a very exploitive time for women, and people would say "You know, if you are a woman in the movie you have to take your top off". So that's what we did in the 80s, but now I think we don't do that as much and when it happens it isn't as gratuitous.

Scripts are getting better and stories are getting better, we are mixing genres more than we have before. We had horror-comedies but we never had things like Get Out or The Shape of Water that crosses boundaries in a really beautiful way. We had social commentary, but now I feel movies resonate more in the horror genre – it’s being elevated to a place that it never held in the 80s. Back then, they were seen as throwaway movies, more trashy, but now there are great filmmakers working in the genre that take great care in telling great stories.

I feel we have all grown up a little bit, and I am thankful that the younger girls don't have to go through what I did. And thank God that the movies I was in (yes, were a little gratuitous at times) were good movies or it could have been the end of my career, as the genre used up a lot of women and then they found somebody else. The movies that I did especially From Beyond and Re-Animator were smart movies, and really has something to say and people took them seriously and people hold them with reverence. 

Barbara Crampton in  Dead Night

Barbara Crampton in Dead Night

It's interesting that you mention From Beyond and Re-Animator as your scenes in them –– which you said were gratuitous –– were the only parts my mum wouldn't let me watch, and looking back I can see why. Do you think it's beneficial not to have scenes like that if it isn't part of the narrative? 

I think so, because you can't get away with that anymore. Look at Lovecraft — I love Stewart Gordon because he gave me my career and he invented me in those films, because Lovecraft didn't really write about women very much and I was thrown in there for a little colour. But I don't think I would have existed if he didn't throw me in there, and I am so thankful to him for that. 

Obviously you are famous for being in horror films, but what other film genres do you like acting in? 

I would like to play more comedy. I delved into it a couple of years ago in a film called Little Sister and I really enjoyed doing that. Puppet Master: the Littlest Reich has a lot of comedic elements to it and I play a very dry cop and I really enjoyed that.

I recently shot a pilot for Fangoria called "Ghoul Gang Slumber Party" and it's sort of like Ghost Hunters meets The Craft. We shot it about a month ago and made a teaser trailer and it’s really good, so we are taking that out and trying to sell it. But I am working with some comedians on that and being around some funny people it has allowed my funny bone to come out, and I would really like to do more comedy. 

If you had to choose a film that shows off your acting ability the best which film would it be? 

Probably in the more recent past I would say We Are Still Here, some people would say Sun Choke. Ted Geoghegan wrote the part of Ann for me in We are Still Here, but I didn't know that at first. He had me read the script and asked what I thought about it and if I would like to play one of the parts if he could get it made. Even then he didn't tell me he had wrote the part for me, but I was gravitating towards the part of Ann myself. So I feel an affinity with that character and the choices she makes, and I went to a pretty deep place with that character so I feel it is my best work. 

If you could star in any iconic horror film other than your own, what would it be and what character would you play? 

You know, we have Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers but where is the horror icon bad guy killer for a woman? We don't see many of those, so I would like to play a part like that. Sort of what Kane Hodder (Jason in Friday the 13th) or Derek Mears would play, so I would love to do that.

I played a part recently in a movie called Beyond the Gates and I really feel that Evelyn could become that if we make it into a franchise and do a number two and three. So I would like to realise Evelyn in a more full characterization of her and see her grow a bit more if we do [more], which we are talking about.

It's like Pumpkinhead, why can't that be me? [Laughs] I would love to play a part like that in a franchise so rather than play another icon, I would love to become my own icon. I can't be Freddy Krueger –– you know I can't be that guy –– but I would love to be the female embodiment of a character like that. 

Dead Night is out now on DVD and Digital Download.