Barbara Crampton became a beloved performer to horror fans in the 1980s beginning with her role in the cult classic Re-Animator, followed by films like Chopping Mall and From Beyond. After a hiatus, Crampton then returned in Adam Wingard’s breakout film, You’re Next, a decade ago and has been very busy ever since, appearing in a bevy of new horror projects, including Season 2 of Creepshow, now airing on Shudder.
In the midst of her onscreen work, Crampton has become a producer, with projects like Castle Freak – a remake of the film of the same name Crampton appeared in in 1995 – and now Jakob’s Wife, which she stars in as well. In the film, coming to theaters, Digital, and On Demand this week, Crampton’s character, Anne, the wife of a small town’s Pastor (Cramption’s You’re Next costar, Larry Fessenden), finds herself bitten by a vampire (Bonnie Aarons), which results both in bloodshed and also a serious re-evaluation of the dynamics of her marriage. Soon, the too often overlooked Anne finds herself empowered in surprising ways, which is wonderfully conveyed by Crampton in a terrific central performance.
Crampton spoke to Fandom about Jakob’s Wife, which is directed by Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor), why she liked playing this particular vampire, and what she’s learned about the power of the horror genre through her career.
Jakob’s Wife won a screenplay contest in 2015 at Shriekfest and following that, Crampton was approached about it as a potential project, just as she was beginning to delve into producing. Recalled Crampton, “I read it and I immediately fell in love with the character of Anne Fedder. She’s this long-married and suffering wife and she’s supportive and kind and quiet and she takes up a little space, not too much, compared to her overbearing husband… and then she has a reawakening to herself after she’s bitten by a vampire. I’ve always wanted to play a classic character so that was interesting to me. I loved the idea that this was a movie about feminism but it’s also a movie about a marriage and how do you navigate that after 20 years of being together?”
Crampton noted there was another personal appeal, adding, “It also seemed to mirror what I was going through in my own life, because when I hit my middle 30s, I wasn’t getting a lot of roles — no calls, no auditions — and then my business and my career took a backseat to me being a wife and a mother, which was amazing and wonderful, but something about the entertainment business felt a little unfinished to me. And when I came back with You’re Next, I felt like I was given another lease on life, much like Anne is given a new lease on life after she’s bitten by the vampire. I felt like when I came back, suddenly people were calling me again and interested in me being in their films. And so the trajectory of Anne and what she goes through felt very similar to me and I felt the similarities and the project just felt right.”
THAT VAMPIRE LIFE
As Crampton had mentioned, she was excited to get her chance to play a classic part of film history by portraying a vampire, explaining “I was fortunate enough to be able to give that role to myself after being in the horror genre for 35 years. I grew up watching Dark Shadows and I loved all the Hammer horror movies, with a lot of vampire lore that they had in a lot of those. To have the opportunity to play a vampire myself is nothing short of thrilling.”
As Jakob’s Wife continues, things certainly get bloody around (and because of) Anne, and Crampton remarked, “We see a lot of male horror icons playing these roles, like Freddy and Jason and Herbert West from Re-Animator, but you don’t often get to see the big bad — though I wouldn’t call myself a villain — but the protagonist, as far as being a classic character played by a woman, so it was really kind of a bucket list item for myself.”
After her debut in Re-Animator, Crampton managed to avoid much in the way of typecasting within the horror genre, which was helped when Re-Animator’s director, the late, great Stuart Gordon, put her in a totally different role in his follow-up, From Beyond.
Said Crampton, “I think it was nice that Stuart Gordon gave me a character that was so different than Meg in Re-Animator and that’s a testament to what he did in his career, may he rest in peace. He came from the theatre, the Organic Theatre company in Chicago, and he was used to working with a group or troupe of people, so I don’t feel like I got typecast with him ever. I worked on three movies with him and they were all completely different characters. I think he in addition to giving me a role in his most seminal work, which was Re-Animator, he also gave me the benefit of playing many different kinds of parts and women that had a lot of dimension to them, especially in From Beyond, so that over time I think I didn’t got typecast and I didn’t have to always play the same kind of part. I think that he thought of all of his stables of actors as character actors and used us all as such, so I really owe him a debt of gratitude for that.”
While she’s now become a beloved horror icon, Crampton noted it certainly wasn’t something she could have expected, saying, “I didn’t know back then that this was going to be my home, the horror genre, for over 35 years.” She recalled, “I was just another actor looking for a job and I got one working with Stuart, but since working for a number of years with him and a few other people, and even more so since coming back with You’re Next, I’ve really come to develop an understanding of the malleability of the horror genre and how we can really tackle a lot of different stories within it.”
When it came to both the appeal and the power of horror, Crampton noted, “I had a friend of mine, years ago, who said something to me that I never forgot. He’s a psychologist and he said ‘We make more decisions based on fear than on love.’ And that’s a sad thing to say, but the more I live life, I see that that’s kind of true. We make more decisions based on our own fears and we need to keep examining ourselves and examining the fears in life and in our culture and in politics to be able to weirdly see them for what they are and be able to move on and make better decisions. So if we confront our fears, I think the strongest indication of what you can be is if you’re able to overcome that to be the best human being you possibly can, and isn’t that why we’re all here? To better ourselves as human beings and as spiritual people, whatever you believe, to just be better people, be better humans.”
As Crampton explained, “I don’t think there’s any genre that’s better equipped to handle those deep dark questions about life and death and survival and other really hard questions than the horror genre. I didn’t know that I was going to be here after so many years but I’m proud to be part of the horror genre because mixed in with fear, and examining that, is also a chance to have deep empathy, especially when looking at the characters in these stories. And so, along with looking at our fears, I think the horror genre allows us to have the potential to deal with things in an empathetic way.”
Re-Animator opened in 1985 but love for the film and its wildly dark, comedic, anything goes horror vibe has never dissipated. In fact, Crampton said, when it comes to that film’s fanbase, “It keeps growing. I meet people at conventions a lot — though I haven’t been to a convention in a year or more — but there are young fans, that are sometimes too young in my estimation to have seen the movie, but people as young as 10 or 11, or then someone 15 or 20, that just discovered the movie with their parents, or because they’re horror fans they looked it up. I’m amazed of the staying power of Re-Animator.”
Regarding what has led to the film’s ongoing popularity, Crampton observed, “I do think that was a film that was magic in a bottle. It just happened. So many great elements came together, the script was good and really fun, and even though it was Stuart Gordon’s first directorial debut on screen, he had been a director for so many years in Chicago [theater], so he already knew what he was doing. We had a great DP, Mac Ahlberg, and we had the benefit of just an inspired performance with Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West. All the elements came together in such a beautiful, wonderful way, that I think it was just magical. It was a magical experience making that movie and a magical experience that the fans are still loving it to this day and discovering it for the first time.”
THE NEXT BIG THING
The man who hired Crampton for the film that has kicked off this modern resurgence for her, You’re Next director Adam Wingard, is having quite a moment right now thanks to the success of his latest film, Godzilla vs. Kong. Said Crampton, “To see that Adam Wingard has the number one movie right now and 10 years ago he cast me in his film and that movie brought me back… I have to tell you, I did see all of those people working on that film as being incredibly inspiring and creative people. I saw it with Adam Wingard who is an editor and a director and a cinematographer. He would grab the camera from Andrew Palermo, who was our DP, because there were certain moments where he wanted to film and he would said, ‘Let me have the camera for a minute.’’
Crampton said she was enthused by all of You’re Next’s cast as well as producers Keith Calder and Jessica Wu Calder, who’ve gone on to projects like the Oscar-nominated One Night in Miami… and the upcoming Blindspotting TV series, observing, “All of those people were incredible and I felt it then. I felt it working on that set. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are amazing. I hope I’m as good as they are, because I don’t wanna let them down.’ Because these people were on the cutting edge of indie cinema at the time and I just happened to be lucky enough that they asked me to be in their movie. It’s been an incredible ride to see what’s happened to all of those people in that movie and especially Adam Wingard with Godzilla vs. Kong and how great it is. I saw it and thought it was amazing and so fun. I’m just so proud of him and everybody from that movie and so glad they brought me back because really I owe the second round of my career to everybody who worked on You’re Next and the first round to Stuart Gordon.”
MORE TO PRODUCE
Having now produced films she has both starred in or kept an off-camera role with, Crampton said she found benefit in both, explaining, “I do I think I’ll keep mixing it up because I’m really enjoying producing, I’m really enjoying helping others bringing their stories to life, especially helping people tell the stories that are important to them. I really like working on story and the development of characters and I think that’s something that I’ve done all my life as far as being an actress, but now I’m doing it not just from the point of view of one character, but from the point of view of all the characters and seeing how all those work together or not. I really love the process, and I’m working with the company that brought you Jakob’s Wife, Alliance Media Partners –– AMP –– and specifically Bob Portal over there who has been a producer on Jakob’s Wife. I’m working with them on developing other stories and they have a couple of things to shoot this year and we’ll be going into production soon on a couple of them, and some of the stories have parts for me and some of them don’t and it really doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is telling a good story.”
Jakob’s Wife opens in theaters and is available on On Demand and Digital on April 16, 2021