Barbara Crampton on ‘You’re Next,’ ‘Re-Animator’ and More

One of our all-time favorite scream queens discusses her return to the horror genre, her classic nude scenes and much, much more!

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Barbara Crampton follows me on Twitter and we had dinner together and we’re friends now. I met Crampton in Toronto at a cast party before the premiere of You’re Next. We sat and talked about my divorce, meditation and how she was concerned I saw Re-Animator when I was 11. I didn’t even know yet how awesome You’re Next was going to be. The next day, I got to meet her at The Elm St. Bar (appropriate) at the Delta Chelsea hotel, for the interview my 11-year-old self had dreamed of.

 


CraveOnline: With your hair short again, you still look like Meg.

Barbara Crampton: It’s funny because I haven’t had my hair this short in a really long time, and I haven’t done many movies in a really long time. It just so happens that people remember me from Re-Animator and now I’ve been having a rebirth with this movie and I look like my character from the most famous movie I ever did.

 

In ‘You’re Next’ you don’t look the same.

No, I don’t. In the movie I have the French twist and I have to play it kind of subdued and older, not like my silly self.

 

Is it a big coup to return to a horror movie?

It is for me actually. I was kind of in retirement and I got the call. I was really excited that somebody wanted to hire me again and in a horror movie because it’s a genre I love. I just had no idea it was going to be this wonderful, but I really loved the script when I read it. I thought this is really fun for me, after taking a break and raising my family and living in San Francisco and not really thinking about the movies or acting anymore for years, to get a call like this and have such a nice fun role in a movie that everybody’s responding to so well, I could cry thinking about it. It really makes me happy.

 

Did crying that long and that hard in ‘You’re Next’ get exhausting?

Yeah, it sure did. It got exhausting in ADR work too because we had to go back. In some of those scenes, especially when everybody was crying at the same time, we all had to do ADR. Especially for the scene in the dining room, everybody ADR’ed all of that because the sound didn’t come through. So we had to revisit all of that again. Yes, it’s very exhausting to be emoting like that at that pace.

 

How seriously do you have to play that you’re watching your family die? It’s not a totally serious movie about that.

It isn’t but when I saw one of the characters, I don’t want to give anything away, but I had to call upon something in me, depths that would make me feel terrible. I thought about the death of my son, what would happen if something happened to my son if I lost him. We did that scene over and over and over again so I was in that space for many hours. That was a very exhausting process.

 

Is that quite often the demand of a horror movie, to be in that state for a while?

Yeah, there’s a lot of highs and lows in horror movies and I’ve definitely had to do my share of crying in a lot of them. So it’s sort of expected in the genre. You have to do a lot of screaming and a lot of crying.
 


Are you into the crazy violence of a horror movie like ‘You’re Next’ as good fun?

If it has an element of comedy to it, I think so. Some of the ones that are just hardcore slash ‘em up, it’s painful for me to watch. It’s difficult. Since I’ve had children, it’s even harder for me. I need a little bit of release so some of the movies that don’t give you that, I watch some of them because I watch a lot of horror movies but I can’t say that I’ve seen them all the way through. I go to the bathroom or take a break to go to the refrigerator.

 

‘You’re Next’ has the sense of humor, right?

Definitely, yeah, it does. There’s a lot of violence and there’s a lot of horrific deaths. I was really pleased that the special effects were as effective as they were because they can be really tricky. There were some wonderful, beautiful deaths and the tension relievers were there, especially in the performances of Joe Swanberg. I loved the way he played his character. Nick Tucci’s character had a lot of stress relieving lines and it was really effective because you felt like as a viewer, taking myself out of the movie, you felt like you were on a little bit of a ride in that movie. It would take you in and it would be really horrific but you’d have a sense of fun. The sense of fun wasn’t too overdone so it wasn’t campy at all, and the horror was just right. I thought the tone in the movie was pretty damn near perfect. I don’t think you could have gotten much better.

 

You know ‘Re-Animator’ was the one I discovered when I was young. When it finally came out on DVD I was really excited to hear the audio commentary. I thought when it got to what I consider the greatest nude scene of all time, you’d have some things to say about it. When it got to that point, you guys are talking about something else.

Oh, I don’t remember. Really? I don’t think I even listened to the commentary. What were we talking about?

 

I don’t remember but it was not the scene that was happening on screen.  Did you not have anything to share about that crazy scene?

I guess it had just been talked about so much. Maybe it was old hat to all of us by the time we did the commentary. It was pretty impressive when we first did it. It was definitely something that was shocking to the viewers and to all of us making it. We knew we were doing the first visual pun with a camera. It wasn’t an easy scene to shoot, I’ll have to admit that.

 

Were there takes you just could not keep a straight face?

No, I didn’t laugh at all. It was pretty intense. I have to say it was intense. I think it was funny but for us to shoot it we had to keep our wits about us and play it straight, play it for real and play it as if it was horrible. For my character, and for Dr. Hill he had to play it as if he was having the best time in his life which he did, so it worked.

 

I guess you’d be totally professional about it because you didn’t want to mess up any takes and have it take longer.

There’s that as well. Sometimes you work on a movie and you just get the giggles and you can’t control yourself. Time is always an element when you’re making a movie. You personally don’t want to screw it up and take too much time, but definitely on that movie we knew we had to hurry up. Re-Animator was a tough shoot because we only had 18 or 19 days. I made more money in overtime on that movie than I did just making the movie because every day we had to go to overtime. It just wasn’t long enough. We had so many special effects and it was Stuart Gordon’s first movie, the first time he worked with Mac Ahlberg, the cinematographer. There were so many elements that had to be just right. We worked I think 16-17 hour days every day. It was an intense shoot.

 

Was that the scene you were worried about me seeing as a kid?

Yes, of course! And everybody talks to me about that scene and I ask them, “How old were you when you saw that movie?” They say 10, 9 and I’m horrified because my son’s 10 and I don’t let him watch anything other than Monster Squad.
 


Is it also okay that it’s fun, it’s a pretty girl and a monster and obviously not real.

Mm-hmm. It’s obviously not real. My concern is for a young person watching that, that we know as an adult what the visual pun is. Did you really know what was going on, what act he was going to perform?

 

I did. I made the joke “he’s giving her head.” And I enjoy that scene and the movie, but I really feel for Meg. Is that the triumph of it all?

Yeah, I really appreciate that because that’s what I want as an actor, especially in that part. That was the sympathetic part. You had to feel the sadness and the sense of loss that that character goes through. Those were the big themes of that character so I’m glad you got that. They struggled with the ending because they didn’t know should she really die or not. There was some talking back and forth while we were shooting, is Meg going to die? Is she not going to die? Stuart is definitely a director that takes a lot of chances. He thought about it for a minute because I think Charlie Band, and even the cinematographer was saying, “Maybe you should have her live.” He thought about it for a while and said, “No, she’s got to die at the end.”

 

That probably rocked my world a little as a young filmgoer because I was not used to an ending where everything didn’t work out.

Now it’s normal. That’s what happens in a lot of movies.

 

It was common in the ‘60s and ‘70s too but I wasn’t familiar with those movies yet.

At the time that we shot that I think that was a risk for them to take that stand and they did.

 

Were you disappointed not to come back for a cameo at the beginning of ‘Bride of Re-Animator?’

At the time, that part was really small that they’d have me come back for. At the time, my agent said to me, “Barbara, don’t do that part. Just have them have somebody else do it. It’s just too small for you to do.” I just said okay. Had it been now, I probably would have done it. I don’t think it really matters that much, but that time it mattered to my agent that that part was too small that I shouldn’t do it.

 

Now Hugh Jackman does a spot in the ‘X-Men’ prequel so it’s cool to do.

Right, but back then you just didn’t do that.

 

How did you feel when ‘From Beyond’ pushed the bondage themes even further than ‘Re-Animator?’

Yeah, mm hmm. That was a pretty intense movie as well. We had made a lot of money, Empire Pictures, off of Re-Animator so they had a lot of money to spend for From Beyond. So our budget on Re-Animator was $500-700,000. Then our budget on From Beyond was over five million. We had a lot of fun on that movie. We went to Italy and shot it in the old Dino De Laurentiis studios. It was my first time in Italy for a couple of months. We had all the time in the world to shoot. Great creatures, great special effects and definitely a fun part for me because it was a stronger role than I had been used to playing.
 


What did you think the second time you read a Stuart Gordon script where a monster rips your clothes off?

Yeah, I was like, “Why are you doing this to me?” He just likes to push the envelope, Stuart. We had a moniker for him on From Beyond and that is More Is Not Enough. Everything for him is more. More blood, more sex, more intensity, more emotion. But I did it because I trusted him and loved working with him on Re-Animator and we became friends, and we’re still friends. Anything he does, I’ll do.

 

I certainly thank you for doing those outrageous scenes.

Thank you very much.

 

I also saw ‘Cold Harvest.’ That’s come on the radar because Isaac Florentine is making a name for himself.  I also love the post-apocalyptic genre where they have to find supplies.

And what can you grow and eat? There was nothing to eat and my character talks about growing mushrooms because it’s so dark out. It’s a very sad, bleak world. That was fun. We went to South Africa to shoot that.

 

What’s been your favorite death scene? Spoiler alert.

I have to say it probably is Re-Animator only because of more so the feeling that you’re left with. I don’t think the death was that compelling to watch, a dead person’s hand choking my neck. But the feeling that you’re left with in the story made such an impact that I’d have to say that would be my favorite.

 

That’s the best one because it’s so frustrating. He should be able to get that hand free. They cut it off and it’s still gripping, they just can’t pry it off. It’s like Noooooo!

And you really don’t want her to die in the movie. You really want her to live. You want them to somehow make it so they can finally be together and it’s just not going to happen.

 

Yet, my friends I’d show that movie to, when he’s injecting you at the end, they were still saying, “I wouldn’t do that.” Even for her, that green juice was just bad news.

Well good, it created a reaction in him so that’s what’s important.

 

I didn’t follow soaps but I know ‘Young and the Restless’ was big for you too.

That’s one of my favorite roles and I know a lot of horror people don’t know me from that genre. It was definitely a favorite part of mine. When I got that part, it was only supposed to be for three months. I was supposed to be a crazy psychotic woman who comes in to kill Eileen Davidson’s character, Ashley Abbott. So I did a few scenes and then they said after a few days, “We really like this character so we’re going to continue it on for about another year. Would you like to do it?” I’d been doing a fair amount of work in television, movies, here and there. I thought this might be a nice gift for me for a while just to collect some regular pay. And I liked the job, I liked the character. So they said, “Okay, she’s got some sort of illness. She’s crazy.” I said, “Great, so you want to expand upon this character. What does she have?” They said, “We don’t know. Just play something. Find something to do that she is.” I thought that was really cool that they let me have a little license. I went and interviewed some psychiatrists at a hospital and talked about what the dialogue was and what the character was doing. I said, “What do you think this character has? What illness do they have? From the universal consciousness that came through the writer and wrote this part, what do you think is going on?” Across the board, everybody said to me Borderline Personality. So I read about Borderline Personality and that’s what I played. I played her also with some bouts of psychosis so she had delusions and hallucinations. They started writing towards what I was playing so I basically got to create that character on screen over a six year period. Finally I played that part for six years.

 

Borderline is interesting because it’s not as extreme and divisive as Bipolar. It’s almost more unpredictable.

It is very unpredictable. What’s interesting about a Borderline Personality is they need a lot of structure to survive and excel in the world, and it’s very hard in today’s or any day’s world to have any sort of structure. So every time the structure broke down, that’s when I can play something that was explosive or interesting or tricky. She had a lot of quirky fun moments to her as well so she was a really complex character and fun. Of course in soap operas the dynamic is always between women and women and men and women. So how does Borderline Personality function with women and with men? There is some research that’s been done on that so I got to play a lot of elements based on relationships with different people. It was just a really great role.

 

Are you sad to see soaps go away?

Really I am. It was such a wonderful way to have grown up. I grew up watching The Young and the Restless. I knew people who used to schedule their classes around General Hospital and Luke and Laura. They were so embedded in our culture, some of those characters from the heyday of soap operas. Now it’s going away. Susan Lucci is not going to be on TV anymore and that’s incredible. It’s kind of crazy, right? I hear that they may go to the internet and stay alive that way but there’s so much content in the world right now, things to watch.

 

A daily commitment is almost too much now.

You can’t do it. There’s too much else going on. I’m glad to say that I was a part of it when they were big. They were a big part of my life. Jersey Shore is kind of like a soap opera now. That’s the new version of the soap opera, the reality soap opera, and The Kardashians. I don’t watch either one of those. They’re just not my thing but millions of people watch them so I think the soap opera is just being reinvented.