By JOSHUA “PROMETHEUS” SCAFIDI
Every February the horror community celebrates Women in Horror Month! A full month to appreciate, and showcase women working in our favorite genre, both in front of and behind the camera. This year, I have several interviews with well-known actresses, up and coming actresses, and some female directors and writers! All of whom have a profound love for the genre and were more than happy to chat with us about it! The first interview in this series is the legendary Barbara Crampton! Barbara needs no introduction to horror fans, but in case you are somehow unfamiliar with her, she has been in a ton of horror notable films, including From Beyond, Re-Animator, Castle Freak, and many, many more! Below, Barbara talks about her new SXSW-selected film, JAKOB’S WIFE as well as her thoughts on Women in Horror Month.
Hi Barbara! Thank you for the phone call! How have you been?
Overall, fine. Just like everybody else, dealing with what we have to deal with.
It would be nice to get some normalcy back soon.
I hope so.
It’s been quite a year, that’s for sure. You have a film premiering at SXSW, which you are also a producer on, called JAKOB’S WIFE. What can you tell us without spoiling too much?
Well, it stars me and Larry Fessenden, and it’s about a married couple and something really tragic happens to them and changes their life and their world forever. It affects everybody around them. I would say that it’s sort of like a coming-of-age story for an older woman, in a way. It’s something that I had been developing for about four years. I had first read the script because it had won an award at the Shriekfest film festival in Los Angeles in 2015. I really fell in love with the story. You know, there are really not a lot of roles for older women where they are the main protagonist. This was definitely something that really resonated with me. It was a story that I really wanted to tell.
I worked with Amp Films in developing it for years. We had different writers on the script. It was almost there, but not quite a few times. Then after a few rewrites, we finally felt like it was time to find our actors. Travis Stevens is the director and I worked with him [when he produced] We Are Still Here. He fell in love with it, too. It’s been a long, long road, and I’m really thrilled. I think people will like it, I’m really excited!
So, you’ve been involved with the film for a long time and really had your hand in it, then?
The thing is, I feel like working now on the producing side of the things, which I have been a little bit, it takes a long time to actually develop a project and get it going. As an actor, as I have been for so many years, I usually get a call and they have things organized already, and they offer me a role. They might be calling me a month ahead of time. This probably took longer than a lot of films do, but I hope that it’s better for it. We really did spend a long time in development and making sure we got the script right and putting the actors we wanted in key roles. Bonnie Aarons is part of the cast. You might know her from The Conjuring movies and The Nun. She’s become a good friend of mine. There’s a really nice role for her that showcases her in a way that the fans haven’t seen before.
You mentioned Travis Stevens, the director, and working together in the past. What is that dynamic like?
Great! Travis has been a producer for more than twenty years, and he also worked in distribution before that. Now he’s a director. He’s the kind of creator that knows every facet of the business, so it was really helpful to Bob Portal, our main producer, and me to have somebody with the strong capabilities that Travis has. Also, he’d help in ways in the production. It was like we had a two-for-one with Travis.
Larry Fessenden plays your husband in the film. How was it working together?
Larry has been in the business for thirty-five, forty years. He started making movies when he was a teenager. Larry is sort of an unsung hero of the horror genre I think. He’s done everything. He’s been an actor, he’s been a screenwriter, a producer, a director. He’s helped other people put films together, and he just has a sensibility about horror and drama. We had worked together on We Are Still Here. I had known of Larry, but never met him before that film. I’ve gotten to know him over the years and he’s just so knowledgeable and smart. He’s also a very engaging performer.
We spent months talking about our relationship and kind of crafting our own tale about our marriage and what it meant. This is a horror movie, and I’m not telling you anything revealing or what the extraordinary circumstances that happen to us are, but at the heart of the story is the foundation of these two characters that are struggling, but really love one another.
If you could say one thing about the film to try and sell it, what would it be?
Haha! It’s like if the film Marriage Story was a horror movie!
Being such a prominent, and beloved woman in horror, what does this month mean to you?
I’m really happy that we celebrate Women in Horror Month. For one month out of the year, we really dedicate time to showcasing the ladies of horror and we’ve been around…you can’t do it without us! I do feel like the roles we are offered in the genre have come a long way since bubble-headed coeds screaming for their lives. We’re a dynamic force and a dynamic presence and I really love celebrating the women of horror, be it creatives that are directors, actresses, anybody in costuming or in any capacity as a crew member on a set. We should celebrate that women have come into their own and it just keeps getting better and better for women in horror.
Women have been such a huge part of horror, and the term “final girl” has become part of the pop culture lexicon. How do you feel about that term?
I think the term final girl is a good one. I prefer that term over “scream queen” because I feel like it’s kind of limiting. “Final girl” showcases the strengths of what I know we have been putting in, even though we may seem more vulnerable.
Things have progressed for women in the horror genre, for sure, but where do you think we could still use improvement?
Well, I was really excited when I saw this recent film, Promising Young Woman. It was written from a female point of view, with a female protagonist. I think one way we can improve is to make more stories from that female gaze, rather than the male gaze. Promising Young Woman does that. I think that we need to just showcase more women’s scripts and more women directors of photography to see the visuals on screen depicted by the sensibilities of the female artist.
Your first onscreen film role was in 1984 in Brian De Palma’s Body Double. When you shot that, did you ever foresee yourself becoming such a horror icon?
No. I didn’t know what was going to happen in my career. I knew I wanted to be an actress. I was in school plays in high school, then moved to New York City to do theatre. Then I moved to Los Angeles and I started working in soap operas. I didn’t have a plan in mind. Basically, when you’re a young actor, you take a role because it’s offered to you. I was lucky enough to work with one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Brian De Palma, and that was a nice entrée into my career. Before that, I worked on Days of Our Lives as a regular for a year, and then got killed off.
I think I also got lucky being cast in Re-Animator. The horror fans are the most devoted fans of any genre out there. Once they like you, they want to see more of you! At first, I felt like I owed my career to Stuart Gordon, and my overall career I do, but the longevity in my career I owe to my fans. Thank God people want to see me in more things because it allows me to keep working. I took a break from acting for a while, then came back with You’re Next, and really decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to the horror genre. Everybody has dedicated their fondness for me, so I want to be where the people want to see me!
So, you’re all in?
I’m all in! I think I only realized coming back with You’re Next, and seeing the kind of reaction the movie got, which I thought was very good. People were excited to see me again, and after my children were out of elementary school I thought: “I’m going to do this. I’m going to recommit myself to the horror genre for as long as I can!”
What advice would you give to a young woman aspiring to make it in the genre?
I would say whether you want to be in horror, or any kind of movie really, something I’ve realized after being in the genre for 38 years now as an actress, is that being an actor is a long day. It’s a wonderful, really valuable profession because at any age you get to play a multitude of the human experience, at different points in your life. I was playing very young person parts in my twenties, then I grew up into the young woman parts and then into the motherly roles and I feel like at some point I’m going to grow into the grandmother roles. That’s my dream, to be the Betty White of horror.
I would say to any young performers out there, keep at it. This is a profession where there is no limit. You’ll have ebbs and flows; you have to keep sticking with it.
You’ve been in so many movies, but what is your favorite horror franchise? What is Barbara a fan of?
I like the Chucky movies. I think what Don Mancini has created has really grown and it’s shown him to grow as a filmmaker, as well. I get a kick out of Jennifer Tilly and her role, too. She really carved out a niche for herself as being one of the only female villains in a horror franchise. We don’t have that many!
Thanks so much for your time Barbara. You’ve done so much for the genre, and it’s always a pleasure speaking with you!
Thank you for asking me, I really appreciate it!
You can see Barbara in the upcoming film, JAKOB’S WIFE, premiering at this year’s SXSW Film Festival in March. The film was written by Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles, and Travis Stevens, and stars Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Bonnie Aarons. Travis Stevens directs. Also, be sure to check out the Women in Horror Month website.