Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The Actor: Best known as one of the ’80s premier “scream queens,” Barbara Crampton is currently enjoying a career renaissance after a decade or so spent away from acting (aside from the odd soap-opera appearance, a whole other aspect of her career we’ll talk about). After appearing in Adam Wingard’s breakout horror hit You’re Next, Crampton has once again become an in-demand name in the genre that made her famous, starring in indie movies like last year’s We Are Still Here. Unlike the screaming and falling that, for better or for worse, characterized many of her roles in her youth, these days Crampton is enjoying more substantive parts in films like Sun Choke, which comes out this week.
The A.V. Club: How do you get involved with that sort of independent movie?
Barbara Crampton: You know, everybody is making a movie these days. So, [there’s] a small little network in L.A. and beyond, and we all know each other from Facebook and Twitter. All those social media things, or bowling nights or karaoke nights or whatever. This particular role, my manager had seen a casting for, and just called them up out of the blue and said, “Is this something you think Barbara Crampton would be right for?” And they said, “Oh, yes. Absolutely. We’d love to meet her.” But I live in San Francisco, and they were in L.A. So, eventually, actually about two weeks later, I think, they’d thought about it, and maybe that had met with a few other people, and they decided, “Why don’t we give Barbara a shot?”
So they offered me the part, and then I started talking to the director and producer on the phone about it, and going over the role and the movie and what their thoughts were. It’s a different role for me than I’ve done before—much darker, and the material is much heavier. So I definitely did want to have some conversations with them. Even though the movie is really dark, the director and writer [Ben Cresciman] is very light and fun. He’s a very serious guy, but a very easily accessible kind of person. Initially I was kind of afraid of the material, to be honest with you, and at the same time, very attracted to it, because it was something that I’d never done before. Really unique. And then we spent about a month shooting the movie. I actually stayed in the house that we shot in, and that really helped me to live in the environment.
AVC: I don’t think your character leaves the house.
BC: Yes! She doesn’t leave the house, because that’s her whole world, you know. My character is the caretaker, but I think she has some mental illness herself. She gave up her whole life to take care of somebody who is gravely ill, to the detriment of herself and her own development and her whole life, because she doesn’t ever really leave the house. You don’t see her having friends or having a life outside of being a caretaker. So, what does that do to a person? How does that change them or alter who they are? That was the big question for me in working on the role.
AVC: It’s, like you said, kind of different for you. She’s got kind of a sadistic side, a New Age Nurse Ratched kind of.
BC: I would hate to think that she was sadistic, because I try to justify her actions in taking care of Janie. I never wanted to have her come off as if she was having any enjoyment about any of her methods in trying to get this woman back to health. But I think because she was in that environment, that environment also changed her and made her maybe not as benevolent as, you know, your best friend or your mom would be, because the environment that she lived in maybe made her character less nice or less forgiving or less lovable. But I think that her intentions for her character and for Janie, who she is taking of, were always trying to do good.
AVC: Interesting. You can read it a couple of different ways.
BC: Yeah! I think so. My sister saw the movie, and my sister knows me really well, and she said, “Barbara, I hated you in that movie. I was really mad at you and really hated you.” So, I mean, there is that side to her. Initially, when in my conversations with Ben about the movie, I said, “Ben, am I a good person or a bad person?” And he said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together.” I try to play her as nice as I possibly could, given the horrible things that she was doing.
I want to be able to justify her actions, because I don’t think that any person in society thinks that they’re a bad person. Everybody can justify their actions. We all think that we’re doing things for reasons that are meaningful to us. Maybe not to other people, but to us. So, I think that she thinks she’s doing the right thing even if she’s not.
AVC: You’re known for your roles in horror movies, but you had this whole other life in soap operas.
BC: I got a call to act on The Young And The Restless for maybe three months. That was what they were asking for, and this was a woman who was mentally ill. They actually never told me what I had, but I looked at different illnesses, and I thought, “Oh, this would be interesting to play.” So, I actually played more of a borderline personality with psychosis, and I threw a little schizophrenia in there. I did that role for three months, and then they asked me to stay for a year after the three months. And I thought, “You know, this is great. It’s solid work, I really like the character, I like working on the show, I like the people.” So, I signed up for another year. And then, after that, they asked me to sign on for three more years. And I thought to myself, “Should I do this? I really like working in movies. This is going to make me unable to audition for anything else.”
But I was having such a good time, I decided I should do it, you know? So, I did it for another three years, and then I think after that, maybe I lasted for another year or so, and then was off the show. That’s when soap operas were bigger than they are now. We have gaming now. We’ve got, you know, Pokémon Go. We have so many platforms to watch things on. There’s so much content out there that, unfortunately, these soap operas have just sort of gone by the wayside. But at the time, 50 million people a week watched soap operas every day. Now I think it’s something like 50,000. But back then, that was pretty lofty entertainment. I was recognized everywhere I went. It’s just not the same now. It’s sort of a dying genre, I guess. But I was really happy that I acted in them during their heyday.
My first role was a soap opera, actually, on Days Of Our Lives for about a year. That was a great training ground, and really good money and a steady job for an actress. That was the first thing I auditioned for, and I got the role after being in Hollywood two months. I look upon that as saving me from myself when I first got to Los Angeles, really. It gave me a foundation and put money in the bank. I also did a stint on Guiding Light, and The Bold And The Beautiful.
AVC: One of my coworkers said, “Oh, please ask her about Guiding Light.”
BC: I played the fourth Mindy [Lewis Spaulding].
AVC: What happened to the other Mindys?
BC: Sometimes they write the character out for a while, because they don’t have a storyline for that person. And then that person goes off and does something else and doesn’t want to come back. Then they have to replace them. Or somebody gets fired, and then they have to replace the character. It’s just different reasons. And over many years, what they’ll do is a character will reach 50 years old, but then they want to turn back time and have them be younger, so then they’ll cast a younger person. “Let’s make that person younger. Let’s forget about those 10 years. Let’s make them 40.” And they cast it with a younger person.
I’m not an expert on that character’s incarnations, but I bet there’s people out there who are, and they can tell you. I just know that I was the fourth one, and I played it for a couple years, and then I was back to making movies again.
AVC: I want to ask you about one that kind of marked your big return to movies, which was You’re Next.
BC: That came out of the blue. I had kind of left acting and moved up to San Francisco with my husband, because he got transferred with his job. We had two children back-to-back, and I forgot about my career. I was working in the garden program at my kids’ elementary school as a parent volunteer, and not thinking about my career or acting at all. And I got a call out of the blue from my agent while I was running on the treadmill: “Barbara, some people want to hire you for this low-budget independent movie. They want you to play the mom.” And I said, “This is my agent Mike? You haven’t lost my number?” I hadn’t spoken to him in like six years, and I was still on his roster. He kept my number and hadn’t dropped me. He said, “No, they just want to offer you the part. I’m going to send you the script. Why don’t you take a look at it, see what you think.”
And I read the script. I thought it was really fun and interesting. I had no idea it would become as big as it did. I really didn’t [see it as anything but] as a subversion from momhood to just have fun. “Oh, I’m going to go back and act in this little low-budget horror movie, and nobody is going to see it.” Then I get to Missouri, and I find myself working with these horror wunderkinds. Ti West, and Joe Swanberg, and Adam Wingard, and Amy Seimetz, and A.J. Bowen [were] on the set, and they’re all so knowledgable. They’re riffing off one another, and they know everything about every movie. And they do each others’ jobs—they’re directors, they’re producers, they’re actors. They help each other. They work with one another. They all are in sync, and they were like a family. I walked into this room, and I’m working with these people who all know each other and have shorthand. And they welcomed me in.
It was really a wonderful experience for me. I had so much fun, and I realized, “Wow, motherhood is really hard. Acting is really fun. I’ve got to keep doing this.” I still didn’t know the movie was going to do as well as it did, but I had so much fun that I said to my agent, “I know we haven’t had much of a relationship, but that was so much fun. I’m going to come out to L.A. Let’s have lunch. Let’s talk about stuff, and I’d really like to start working again.” And I said, “Why don’t you pitch me for some other things? I’d really like to get back into the business.”
So during that time, the movie was finished. They submitted it to the Toronto Film Festival, and it got into Midnight Madness. And I went to Toronto, and I was in the Ryerson Theatre with 1,700 other screaming fans, watched the movie, and I couldn’t believe how good it was. I was just in awe at this new wave of horror genre filmmakers, and so thankful that they invited me to play in their arena again. The movie went on to sell to Lionsgate after a bidding war from a few other companies. When it finally came out, it was a critical success. Even though Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett and Keith Calder had careers up to that point, it really launched them into the spotlight and gave them a platform. I’m just so grateful and lucky that they needed an old gal and chose me. I was able to reap the benefit of being in their wonderful film.
AVC: What do you remember about shooting Chopping Mall in 1986?
BC: That was really fun for me. I met one of my best friends on that movie—Kelli Maroney, who played the lead. And I worked with Jim Wynorski, who I think may be up to film number 320 at this point.
AVC: His IMDB page says 101.
BC: If you look him up, you’ll see that he makes movies under like four or five different names. If you add all those up, I think it’s over 300. Like, a lot of movies.
It was a teen movie, right? And a horror movie. It was fun and kind of silly and cheesy, and we all knew it. And we all just had fun with it. It’s become a fan favorite over the past 30 years. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me, and they say, “You know what my favorite movie is? Chopping Mall.” I say, “What’s wrong with you?” But I’m really happy they say that to me. It is a fun movie, and it’s hard to watch that movie and not laugh and be in a good mood, with the exploding heads, and people catching on fire, and all the cheesy lines. My character was the valley girl, and I had some really great lines. It was super fun.
We shot it in the middle of the night in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, [when] the stores were closed. I was so tired. I had never done a night shoot before, so I would sleep in the mall. I brought my pillow and my blanket with me in between scenes. I would just curl up in a ball in the mall and just try to sleep a little bit, which I needed because I was exhausted. I didn’t even know night shoots existed. I said, “Can’t we just black everything out?” It’s a mall, so you can’t be in there when the people are in there. The whole movie is about the mall being closed, and it’s night. And [I was] like, “Oh, yeah.” But that’s when I was first inducted into the horrors of night shooting. That was hard.
AVC: It would had to have been a working mall, right? This movie wouldn’t have had the budget to build one.
BC: It was a working mall, yeah, and we couldn’t take it over. So, yeah, we arrived whenever they closed. Nine o’clock at night, and then we shot until eight or nine in the morning every day.
AVC: Wow, that must have been hard.
BC: Yeah, but it was fun. Our characters were silly. Our characters were young and having fun and we were just like our characters.
AVC: This was actually your first movie role—Body Double, the Brian De Palma film. How was that for you?
BC: When I was first offered the role, [my character had] three scenes. There were two where Craig Wasson’s character tries to talk me into going back with him, because my character had broken up with him. And then, in the last scene, he finds me in bed with another guy. So I was quite excited, right? I went in an auditioned for this role, and I got the part. I was thrilled that I was going to be working with Brian De Palma. But then the night before I was scheduled to work, somebody called me and said, “Listen, they cut the two acting scenes. You only have the scene where you’re in bed with the guy.” That’s it. No dialogue. I said, “Really? You’re cutting all of the dialogue?” And he says, “Yeah, but they’re going to shoot it all day, and they really want to make a big deal out of it. You’re going to be on screen on a long time. They really want you for the role.” And I thought, “Well, it’s Brian De Palma. I should do it, because it will lead to other things. They always work with the same people, so I’m going to do it.”
So, I show up on the set, and I shoot my scene, and in fact, I did do that scene all day. We did it for six or seven hours. I mean, all day. And I became friendly with Brian, and I had a party at my house the following week, and he came. I even started dating his first AD for a short time. I felt all cozy with these guys. And then, years later, I still hadn’t gotten a call. Even years later, when I’d been working, and people knew my work a little bit, [I was] still trying to get a job with Brian.
Then I’m sitting in the Century City mall, which doesn’t exist anymore—this is maybe 10 or 15 years ago—with my friend Shanti. [We] were sitting there having lunch, and somebody walks up, and he says, “Hey, Barbara.” And I look up, and it’s Brian De Palma. And I look at him, and I say, “Brian!” And he goes, “How are you? What are you doing?” I was kind of amazed that he remembered me and that he came up and talked to me, because he could have been having lunch and decided he was going to pay his bill and leave. Well, he came over, and noticed me, and said hello. So, I thought, “I’m going to use this opportunity to tell him my little story about, you know, I got the part, then I lost the scene, but I did it because I want to work with you again, and maybe you’ll use me again,” and he’s like, “Oh, yes! I will, Barbara. You’re right. I’m going to call you. Yes. You’re on my mind. I’m going to think about you. I am definitely going to use you in something else.”
Well, I am still waiting for that call from Brian De Palma. I haven’t given up, but I’m still waiting. But all in all, I will say that even if that was the only time I ever got to work with him, I’m glad that I did, because it was an honor to work with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. To be on on set with him and have him direct me. So, in whatever small capacity of a role that I had, I’m really happy that I did it. And Brian? Are you listening? Are you reading this? [Laughs.]
AVC: Somebody you did work with on several films was Stuart Gordon, and the first one was Re-Animator. I’m sure you get asked about Re-Animator all the time.
BC: Initially, they had cast somebody else in the role of Meg, [but] her mother read the script and told her she wasn’t allowed to do it. So they had to recast it, and I was called in on the second casting. I must have missed the first casting, because I wasn’t called in at all. But the second time around, I went into the casting office with Anthony Barnao, who was the casting director. Bruce Abbott and Jeffrey Combs had already gotten the roles, so they were reading with a few girls, and I was one of the few girls. So I read with them, and things seemed to go pretty well. Stuart Gordon was there. They kept saying, “Okay, go sit down in the waiting room,” and they’d give me another scene and say, “Can you read this scene? Can you come back in again?” And they gave me a little direction. I was there all afternoon, and then they finally offered me the part. It was one of the luckiest days of my life. It got me a role in one of the greatest horror movies of all time, according to a lot of people. So, yeah. It was Stuart Gordon’s first movie, and probably Jeffrey Combs’ most iconic role. And funny—really well written, interesting, memorable. Even though I had done other things, I really feel like that movie kind of started my career.
AVC: How long did it take to shoot the climactic morgue sequence, with all those special effects and everything?
BC: We shot the movie—I think it was 20-something days. In the low 20s, but there were a lot of special effects, so we did a lot of days of overtime. I think I made more money in overtime than I did in my regular paycheck on the movie. I got a paid a certain amount, but my overtime was far and away a bigger check, because Stuart would not stop filming. He would say, “No, we have to get this. We have to do this right.” He was a director that would just not let people go home until he was happy with what he got. So, we didn’t go home. We spent 14 and 16 hour days on that set. And the last day was a 24 day.
AVC: Do you remember which scenes you shot on the last day?
BC: I think it was part of the ending, [with] me in the elevator. I remember Bruce Abbott pulled an eye out of one of the guys that, you know, had choked me. It was a cow eye, a gelatinous cow eye that was sitting in formaldehyde. [Gordon] wanted to work with a cow eye. “Get a really good shot of the cow eye.” The smoke had to be right.
Then there was a scene where I’m trying to talk [Abbott’s character] Dan into not moving forward with [Combs’ character] Herbert West. It’s a scene where I’m not really sure what we’re talking about, but I’m saying, “Dan, don’t you understand? You can’t do this.” And they’re ignoring me, and they’re saying, “We need a fresher victim. We need this. We need that. Blah blah blah.” They talk about the cat. And then, you know, “We need something fresher.” We didn’t have any time to do close-ups, so we shot that scene with me coming in, and then the camera would pan over to the two guys, and then I would come back in and say a line, and they sort of push me out of view—it’s beautifully choreographed. We didn’t have time to reset the lights and set it up. So, we shot that scene on the final day. We were exhausted.
AVC: You re-teamed with the same folks for From Beyond. How was that different?
BC: It was the first time I had ever been out of the country, and because of the success of Re-Animator commercially and critically, they gave us more than five times the budget for From Beyond. So we had about $5 million American, and that went pretty far in Italy. We had the luxury—we shot that movie for six weeks, and we took long lunches and had wine and shot at the old Dino De Laurentiis studios, and they put us up in this really fancy residence hotel on Viale Parioli. We just had the best time. We really felt like we had arrived. Stuart was given a lot of free rein because he was away from the money people. He kind of just did whatever he wanted—well, he did that anyway on Re-Animator—but he took over the time schedule and just made us work, and made everybody work until we were done, until he was satisfied. But on From Beyond, we were all staying there together. We were on location. It was really exotic.
The roles were switched from Re-Animator to From Beyond with Jeffrey Combs and myself, where in Re-Animator, he was the mad scientist, and in From Beyond, I became more of the mad scientist. So, that was an interesting change for us, and a nice dynamic, I thought. By that time, we had a shorthand with one another. I think that the three of us worked really well together. We liked one another. We liked being around one another.
It also spawned the careers of a lot of very well-known special effects people working in the industry today—we had 34 people. Gabriel Bartalos, John Buechler, who’s also been a director. Robert Kurtzman. You look any of these guys up, they’re doing all the top movies today. Greg Nicotero. Mark Shostrom did the Pretorius creatures. John Vulich. I mean, it just goes on and on. These are some of the first movies that they did. That was definitely cool to work with all those people. And it was just very nice to be on a set where, because of the movie you had just done, you were treated like a queen.
And also, I was paid really well on that movie. I haven’t been paid that salary since. So, I made it to the top and then got back down again. But that’s just because the budgets are all different now. The budgets are not there. It’s like, medium-budget movies: where are they? We’re either making movies for under a million, or they’re making them for 20 or 30 million. It’s really difficult to get a 5 or 10 million dollar movie made and recoup your money. So, anyway, I’m back in the trenches again slogging it out after From Beyond, after 35 years, but I’m having a good time nonetheless.
AVC: That’s exactly what I was going to say. You don’t see the medium-budget movies as much anymore. It’s all either huge or tiny.
BC: Yeah, it’ll come back. I think television is eating up some of those budgets. Television is kind of king right now, platforms like Netflix and Hulu and Starz, they’re really doing well now. They have top-quality product, and they’re making money off these miniseries and series shows. Those cost a few million.
AVC: You haven’t done anything for streaming yet, have you?
BC: No, but that would be fun to do. Sure! One of those things might come my way at some point. We’ll see.
Oh, and this is a funny story—On From Beyond, I was able to do so many things in the space of one movie. I was a doctor, and then I became a heroine, and then I became a dominatrix, and then I went crazy. So, that was really fun for me. Usually, the costume designer will shop with you for costumes, but I had this leather outfit [I needed] to wear. Stuart Gordon decided that we should go shopping together for the leather outfit, because he wasn’t really happy with what he was seeing. Most of the costumes were being done in Italy. So, he’s like, “Let’s just go shopping.” So, I went shopping with my director to Trashy Lingerie and The Pleasure Chest [in L.A.], and I was trying on dominatrix outfits for him and parading around. If we weren’t close then, we got really close that day.
Years later, without realizing that any of these movies were going to become cult classics, I had a yard sale. Bruce Abbott had given me his jean jacket from Re-Animator, sort of as a memento. And then we had some scrubs that the guys wore, and then I had my leather dominatrix outfit, which Stuart had kindly given me at the end of the movie. And I thought, “What am I doing with this stuff? It’s just taking up space and collecting dust.” So maybe five or so years after those movies came out, I had a yard sale, and I sold them.
AVC: Even the leather outfit?
BC: Isn’t that sad?
AVC: It’s such a funny thing that one, you were selling it at a yard sale, and two, that somebody was like, “Hey! Great! I’ve been looking for one of these.”
BC: And three, that we’ll never see that outfit again, at least on me.
AVC: Somebody’s got it.
BC: It’s unfortunate. It’ll never make costume hall of fame for horror movies.
AVC: Robot Wars was a Full Moon movie that you did. Albert Band directed it. You were in it, and Lisa Rinna—it was in ’93.
BC: Yeah, at the time, Lisa Rinna was one of my best friends. I needed a friend in the movie. So, I said, “Why don’t you just cast my best friend?” [They were] like, “Who’s that?” I said, “She is not only the taco commercial queen”—what was it?—Taco Bell. She had done so many Taco Bell commercials, because she has beautiful lips, and they liked the way she ate tacos. So, yeah. And then, at the time, she was also dating my really good friend Peter Barton who was an actor with me on The Young And The Restless, but he also was in Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter.
AVC: Oh, yeah. The one that totally wasn’t the final chapter.
BC: Right. He played Doug. So, anyway, I said, “Just cast my friend.” And it was Lisa Rinna,who became my best friend after Peter Barton met her on the set. The three of us are really good friends. So, they cast her, and so we did a movie together. And, you know, Albert Band produced a lot of spaghetti Westerns back 40 or 50 years ago in Italy. Got his start there. And that’s where Charlie Band, his son—who had Empire Pictures, which later became Full Moon Entertainment, and he still operating today, and he was the producer of Re-Animator—that’s where Charlie got his start, working for his dad. That was one of Albert’s last movies.
AVC: There must have been a lot of pretending to react to things that weren’t really there [on that set].
BC: Yes. It wasn’t green screen, because we didn’t really do that at the time. We were acting to stuff that they were going to film later. That in and of itself was kind of interesting. [It was] my first time acting with something that’s not there. I’ve done that a few times recently as well. That’s not an easy thing to do.
It’s like—sometimes you’re working with an actor, and for some reason, they can’t stand near the camera on your close-up. So you have to look at a little piece of yellow tape that the camera operator will put on the camera box and say, “Okay, this is the actor you’re talking to. This is Lisa Rinna,” or “this is Jeffrey Combs.” They might be behind the camera, and you can hear their voice, but you can’t actually see their face, and you have to look at the little square tape. We’re always doing stuff like that. I guess that’s no different than just looking at nothing. But that’s probably one of the harder jobs an actor has is just to act by yourself with nothing there. Most of acting is reacting, so you’re not reacting to anything. You’re acting with somebody you’re imagining is there. That stuff’s hard.
AVC: Early on in your career, you were in a movie with Tim Robbins called Fraternity Vacation. Back in 1985.
BC: Oh, yeah. That was so fun.
AVC: Do you remember anything in particular about that one?
BC: Like Chopping Mall, that was another teen sex comedy. My character was hooked up with Tim Robbins, although nobody—you know, we were like—Matt McCoy and Sheree Wilson were hooked up together, and I was kind of paired with Tim Robbins. Kathleen Kinmont was paired with Cameron Dye. They wound up being kind of sweet on one another, which happens sometimes in these location movies when you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or when you’re not married. So, the four of us hung out for a little bit. We had a lot of fun and got into some trouble. There’s some stuff that happened that I can’t ever reveal. [Laughs.] The movie was about kids that are in college, and they’re on spring break, right? And it’s Fraternity Vacation, so they go to Palm Springs. We weren’t that much older than the people we were playing, so we acted just like them, and just had a super time.
AVC: Any stories you can tell, or is it all secret?
BC: I’d get in too much trouble. Just know that maybe in my memoir, I’ll tell that story, but not today. I’ve never done on set what I did with all those guys. Super fun. Super silly. Really harmless. Nothing I should ever reveal.
AVC: This was a meaty role, playing the mom struggling with grief.
BC: You know, the funny thing is a lot of people today in the horror community all know each other. Like we were talking about You’re Next, and all those guys that I worked with. And I find that really refreshing, [because] I don’t remember that from when I was younger. I just think everybody kept in their separate roles and did their own little jobs, and that was it. They went home. But Ted Geoghegan, the director of We Are Still Here, was the publicist of You’re Next. So I met him in that capacity. But he is also a screenwriter. We just got along really well. There’s people that you meet that you instantly like, and there’s people that you meet that you instantly dislike. With those people, you just don’t call them. You don’t text them. You don’t friend them on Facebook. The other people, you keep up with.
I kept up with Ted, and we became quite friendly by phone and social media. And then he sent me the script for We Are Still Here, and said, “You know, I’m thinking about making this movie. I just want to get your feedback on the script.” He didn’t tell me at the time that he wanted me for the role. So I read it, and I thought it was really interesting and great and had some older people roles—of course I thought that was cool—so I said, “Ted, it’s great. I love it. It’s really good.” I didn’t have any notes for him or anything. I just said, “Good luck.”
Then, a few months later, he called me, and he said, “I have [producer] Travis Stevens interested in this movie.” He had done Cheap Thrills and Jodorowsky’s Dune, and had been the producer on A Horrible Way To Die with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, so all these people know one another. And I said, “Wow, that would be cool. I’d love to work with him.” He goes, “I wrote the part for you anyway of Anne, so I really want to know if you want to play it.” I was like, “What? Really? That’d be awesome.” Then, a few months later, he said, “We got some financiers. We’re going to go into production with Dark Sky, and we’ll meet you in New York in a month.” By that point, the ball started rolling. I flew there, and I was completely immersed in that. It was my first real, grown-up role with a lot of meat. In You’re Next, I was the mom, but I didn’t have so much meat. I had some really nice scenes, but I didn’t have a lot of depth or a through line for the whole movie.
BC: We Are Still Here was the first movie that gave me my second coming of working again. And I can relate to the loss of a child, being a mom. Just thinking about losing any one of my children… But to actually lose a child in a horrific accident on the brink of their adulthood is something that is so foreign to me. So I interviewed a couple of people that I knew that were already friends of mine that had lost children in auto accidents. One was my really good friend’s mom. Another was an interior designer who was helping me with my house. Both ladies were really gracious and let me ask very deep, probing questions about how they felt and what their relationship was like with their husband, because that was really important for me to make that real. I also asked, did you ever feel like you wanted to commit suicide? Did you feel like you couldn’t go on? Did you not love your husband anymore? Did you hate everyone? I just asked really probing questions, and everybody was really candid with me.
I would bring their answers on the set with me and read them before scenes with Andrew [Sensenig] or Larry [Fessenden] just so that I could put myself in the mood, and keep myself in that mood. Those people walk around with that grief all the time. Immediately, when I interviewed them, everything came flooding back. It’s always right there. It never leaves you. So it’s pretty impactful, and I wanted to pay my respects to that feeling and that sense of loss. That was an important component of the movie. The other stuff in the movie was batshit crazy—a lot of spirits, a lot of blood, a lot of scares and terrific gore, and fun Fulci-esque horror. We had both, and I think that’s one of the reasons people like the movie, is because we have some great characters and in-depth story with some really good old-time scares.
AVC: Was is hard to go back and forth between when you were doing a more fun scene, and then when you were doing a more serious emotional scene? Did you have trouble shifting back and forth?
BC: I did, actually, because I wasn’t certain how to modulate my performance. I really wanted Ted to help me with that. In a lot of the scenes I cried a lot more than he wanted me to—some of that stuff he cut out, and some of it he left in. There were moments when we talked about, “I should have some levity. I should be able to tell a joke.” [Because] even when that happens to you, something horrible and tragic, nobody is going to watch me crying for two hours onscreen. That would just be a real Debbie downer, and it’s boring. And he wanted me to find where those moments when I could share a joke or a laugh with [Larry Fessenden’s character] Jacob or [Lisa Marie’s character] May or my husband. We could have some loving moments. When are those moments?
We picked and chose which moments to do what kind of emotion, but I feel like she was kind of on a rollercoaster. So, where to do that was definitely a question that came up everyday. “Should I be crying in this scene? I think I should be crying.” Then, “No, you cried a lot yesterday. Don’t cry today. Just have fun today.” Like, “Really? I don’t know. That stain might remind me of him again, and I might be sad.” And he’s like. “All right, try it sad if you want, and then do one where you’re kind of laughing about it.” So, we played around with that a little bit just to give it some color and to not bore the audience and bore ourselves.
AVC: So, this was a really small part that you had, but—a lot of the newer movies that you’ve done, you said have come from this community of people who all work together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get the impression that Rob Zombie is part of that community per se. Was The Lords Of Salem a different experience for you than some of these other new ones you’ve done?
BC: The unfortunate part for me about The Lords Of Salem is that I was kind of cut out of that movie.
AVC: You’re barely in it.
BC: I’m not really in it at all. I have two scenes in the movie, and they were both with Christopher Knight from The Brady Bunch, and many other things, but I knew him The Brady Bunch. I grew up loving him. So, I knew that I was going to be working with him, and I knew that Sid Haig was going to be in the movie, and I knew that Andrew Prine was going to be in the movie, and Ken Foree was going to be in the movie, and Dee Wallace, and all these really cool people.
And Bruce Davison has a starring role in the movie, and I actually know him. He’s a friend from the early days when we were both in a group called The Actors Institute, which was kind of a training ground for actors. And, you know, go up on stage, and somebody would tear you down and build it you back up, and it was supposed to open you up. Fisher Stevens was in the group. Ted Danson was in the group for a while. So I knew of the people that I was working with or I knew them personally. So, yeah, I was excited to do that, right?
And Rob Zombie is a guy who likes to use people that he likes from old horror movies in his movies. I don’t want to say he’s in a different league or a different craft. He’s just—Rob Zombie is in another dimension. He’s a superstar musician. He has a persona about him. I loved The Devil’s Rejects and House Of 1000 Corpses.
And the funny thing about him is—I walked on set, my day, because I only had one day. Two scenes, one day to work with him. He has a larger-than-life energy and persona, but actually, he was very down to Earth and like a regular guy. We chatted about gardening and Los Angeles and San Francisco. I said, “Is horror your favorite genre?” And he goes, “You know, you’d think so, but it’s not really my favorite genre. I really like the movies from like the ’70s. Like the Clint Eastwood movies.” He said Don Siegel was his favorite filmmaker. That took me by surprise, but I think he knows his audience. I do think that he likes the horror genre. Maybe he was just playing with me, I don’t know. I mean, Don Siegel is a fantastic filmmaker.
But, for some reason, in this particular movie, he wound up not only cutting my scenes, but cutting a lot of people’s scenes. I think five or six or seven people got cut from the whole movie. Most of us played characters that were descendants of some of the people that had burnt some of the witches way back when. It was a side story of, you know, hearing the music, and it would make us kill again, and kill people that were some of the descendants of the witch-killers. What I heard is that it muddied the storyline too much, so he just decided to take everybody out. That’s his prerogative, you know? I got to work with him. It was really fun to spend a day with Christopher Knight and Rob Zombie, and when would that ever happen other than that one day?
But yeah, he does his own thing. He’s busy. He’s on tour. He’s a superstar. He’s not hanging out with the guys that are trying to make a go of it in the film business. Rob has done some great movies, and he doesn’t need to make horror movies. He just wants to. He just likes to. He’s a rockstar. He can be a rockstar if he wants to be. Maybe he doesn’t have time to hang out in L.A. I don’t even think he lives in L.A. most of the time. His parents live in his house in L.A., and I think he lives in Connecticut. So he’s not around.
AVC: There was an anthology film that you did where you and Jeffrey Combs did another Lovecraft story. It was called Pulse Pounders, but the movie never came out. Do you know what happened there?
BC: It was about money. It’s always about money, isn’t it? There were three movies made for an anthology: It was myself and Jeffrey in a Lovecraft movie. Then it was Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt in another one, sort of a takeoff on Trancers. And then there was one more—I don’t even know what the other one was. There was some dispute with the financier and Charlie Band over who owned the rights and who was going to sell it to who.
And then, for some reason, 35 years later, people forgot their disagreements, and they were like, “Oh yeah, that movie. Why didn’t we put that out? Let’s look at that again.” There’s nothing you can do with this half-hour movie with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in it except for say, “We got this movie we just dusted off a shelf. It’s a half-hour. Does anybody want to see it?” So that’s basically what they did. They did a little remastering of it, and then they put out [our segment] as a special thing and sold it online to anybody who wanted to see it. It was something they did for the fans more than anything else. I saw it for the first time—you’re in Chicago, right?
AVC: Yeah, we’re in Chicago.
BC: I think I saw it…
AVC: Well, it played here, at [horror convention] Flashback Weekend in 2012.
BC: Yeah! That’s where I saw it. Did you see it there?
AVC: I wasn’t at that one, but I remember hearing about it. “Oh, there’s this movie with Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs that nobody has ever seen.” I was like, “Wait, what?”
BC: It’s a pretty cool story where Jeffrey is a dead priest, and I love him, and I’m sad that he’s not with me anymore. And I go back to where he lived to remember him, and then he appears to me. And we have some make believe faux-sex, and then he takes over my body, and I become Jeffrey Combs. So I got to say lines in the way that Jeffrey Combs would say them, as if he was possessing me.
AVC: You must have known him pretty well at that point.
BC: That was pretty fun to do, yeah. I did know him pretty well by then. I said, “Jeffrey, how are you going to say this line, again? This is my line. How would you say that?” I’d mimic him and just put a lot of Jeffrey feeling into it. This part is spoilery, so in case anybody doesn’t want to know what Pulse Pounders is about, you should probably tell them that. But it’s such a small little thing.
AVC: If it’s something that isn’t really out there, telling people might get them interested in the movie, you know?
BC: For me, I actually don’t mind spoilers. I don’t mind if you tell me what the movie is about. If it’s a good story, I’m still going to want to see the movie. Like, my husband will see a movie, and if I haven’t seen it, I’ll say, “Well, what’s it about? What happens?” And he’ll go, “Well, don’t you want to see it?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going to see it, but tell me what it’s about anyway. I don’t care.” If it’s a good story, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. I’m still going to watch it.
I mean, I’m the girl that had three children, and I wanted to know what sex they were. I asked. I found out. I’m not one of these people who has to be surprised.
AVC: So, do you not like surprises, or you just don’t mind?
BC: I like surprises, but I don’t mind if you tell me everything up front, if you tell me the story.
AVC: I feel like there’s so much more to appreciate in a film besides just what happens if it’s a good film.
BC: Exactly. Yeah, and as an actor, I think I watch the performances more than anything, because that’s what I love. One of my early acting teachers said, “Don’t watch people’s individual performances. Watch the energy that’s being passed between them, and then you’ll see if the scene is really working or if the actors are really doing their job. If they’re playing with the energy that’s between them, they’re not just acting in their own little bubble.” And that’s what I do. I watch the energy between the actors. That’s the most thrilling and interesting thing to me about watching a movie, what the actors are doing.