Revered eighties horror icon Barbara Crampton is as popular now as she’s ever been, largely due to the next generation of horror directors who came of age watching her earlier work who are now casting her in their own genre offerings. Guest of honour at this year’s Grimmfest in Manchester, Crampton also cropped in three of the films screening there, including a welcome revisit of the aforementioned Stuart Gordon classic in which she initially made her name, the intriguingly-structured cabin in the woods horror Dead Night, and the hilarious and gore-filled Puppet Master reboot, entitled Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (yeah, they went there).
We had to change to grab some time with Crampton during the festival – she also participated in some fun post-screening Q&As for her films – where we talked about the legacy of her work from decades back, and the more hands-on approach she enjoys taking with some of her recent films.
HeyUGuys: The movies which came out of Charles Band’s Empire Picture and his later Full Moon Features in the eighties and nineties always translated really well over here on home video. You appeared in a number of memorable titles. Can you talk a little about that world and Band’s approach to filmmaking at that time?
Barbara Crampton: When I first started with Charlie we did Re-Animator and From Beyond under the Empire banner. I guess it might have been his dream of having a mini studio. Anyway, he made a few movies [under Empire] and they seemed to do fairly well. There was a big demand at the time for rental movies on video tape – distributors really needed content – and it easy back then to make a movie and get financing based on an idea or a poster. Charlie would ask someone to do some poster art before he even had a script. He would say “this is what the movie’s called, and I want the poster to look like this.” Based on that he would raise the money and then be able to pay someone to write the script.
It was at a time when films weren’t digitally available. There was no pirating so you’d have to go and physically rent the movie at the video store. It was a fantastic time in the early eighties because directors were able to actually continually make movies. You can’t do that today. The budgets have shrunk because there’s so much illegal viewing and everyone thinks they should be able to get the films for free like they do with music.
After Charlie had Empire Pictures, he was able to continue that funding method with Full Moon for quite some time. Then digital arrived and he struggled a little, although he’s now seeing some profit with the stuff that plays on Amazon. It all adds up if you have 300-plus titles.
The eighties were obviously a very different time culturally, but was there any hesitancy on your behalf when it came to doing material which called for nude scenes?
I get asked this question a lot lately as I’ve gotten older and I’m still working in movies. There was a time back then when you’d read a script which called for the female lead to take her clothes off and you’d be like “oh Jesus!” I guess it was a rites of passage thing, in a sense. There were certainly actresses at that time who would flat out refuse to do that, but I thought of it as a stepping stone, in a way. I’m just thankful that the movies I made where you did see a lot of me were as good as they were. If they hadn’t been as well-received, I could have potentially had a problem in my career and not been able to graduate to other films. I think some actresses were stuck in that cycle because the quality of films they appeared in weren’t great, and people still perceive them that way now.
I believe that those genre filmmakers from the seventies and eighties now realise that they took advantage of women. We were exploited. I don’t think you can really get away with that now, unless [nudity] really has something to do with the story. Although, we did it in the new Puppet Master movie (laughs) but that film is a bit of throwback to the video shop era. I think largely we’re well beyond that stuff. Women are getting much better, multi-layered parts. I’m getting some of the best roles I’ve ever been offered in my whole career at the moment.
But I do remember reading the script for Re-Animator the first time – one girl had already turned it down after her mother had seen it – and I thought it clever and interesting, even when I was at that younger age. I took a chance in accepting the part, and it gave me my career.
Jumping ahead, Beyond the Gates played really well a couple of years ago at Grimmfest. You’re credited as one of the producers on that film. Going forward, is that hands-on behind the camera stuff something you’d like to pursue more?
I really like producing and helping out. I feel like I’m a natural collaborator and problem-solver. These are two qualities which are a good starting point as a producer, and also I know the [film] market pretty well now, having worked within it for so long. I wasn’t initially planning on producing, but when I read the script [to Beyond the Gates], I really took to the idea of two estranged brothers trying to find their way back to each other and saving not only their father’s soul but their own, in the process. I thought it was an interesting comment on the human condition and I loved the horror elements. That when I decided I wanted to help [director] Jackson Stewart. I really enjoyed working through the pre-production process, and I wanted to do it again.
At the moment, I have a few other properties I’m developing. I’m also going to be part of the reboot of [Full Moon Features’ 1995 horror] Castle Freak. It’s being made by Cinestate and Fangoria, who also produced The Little Reich. We’re in the early stages, but the script development is going really great. As a producer, I enjoy giving notes during editing and being around during the casting process. One thing I don’t enjoy is looking for the money but thankfully that’s already in place for Castle Freak. I’ve mostly worked with young director throughout my career, and now I really enjoy helping them realise their potential.
Dead Night is out DVD and Digital Download now