Some actors have charisma and presence no matter what they’re doing. For Barbara Crampton — the actress who became widely known after appearing in films such as Re-Animator, Chopping Mall, and From Beyond — that even extends to a role where she’s confined to a TV set.
“Initially, I wasn’t going to be playing a part in the movie at all,” Crampton says about Beyond the Gates, the new genre film in which she portrays the haunting hostess of a VCR videogame. Originally working on the film as a financier and producer, Crampton explains how the shift happened: “I’ve known Jackson Stewart, the director and writer, for years. He used to be an intern for Stuart Gordon [Crampton's old friend and director of Re-Animator and From Beyond], and I’ve watched him grow over the years as a filmmaker.
“When he brought me this script and asked if I’d like to be involved, he was basically producing and directing at the same time, and I was really taken by his passion and energy. The moment I read it, I was just floored by the script. It was so interesting and a great throwback, but also had a wonderful story. He had another actress in mind, and they’d actually shot some footage with her, but the footage didn’t turn out, through no fault of her own. So he said, ‘Barbara, that didn’t work out. You have to play that part because I can’t find anybody else at the last minute.’ And I was like ‘Great!’ because I wanted to play that part from the beginning.”
It’s impossible to tell she wasn’t the original choice — Crampton steals the limelight in her every scene, even when she’s simply waiting for the protagonists to act. “Jackson and I are laughing about that now, because we have no idea why we didn’t both insist that I do it, because I’m kind of '80s, and this is an '80s throwback,” she laughs. "We actually didn’t realize that people were going to respond to me playing that role as well as they did either. And then seeing it, it just works, so maybe it was meant to be."
But Beyond the Gates is just one of many roles Crampton has been taking on over the past couple of years. In fact, she's had a career resurgence in the 2010s — starring in popular horror throwbacks such as You’re Next and We Are Still Here, among others. “I kind of semiretired, and I guess I have to credit Simon Barrett for bringing me back into filmmaking with You’re Next. I had such a great time doing it that I realized I wanted to continue, and didn’t know this was all going to happen,” she says.
But her break from acting wasn’t a mistake, she emphasizes. “I got married, had a couple of children, and then moved to San Francisco and was really concentrating on being a mom. That was a very important part of my life that had been missing, and I was really happy to not work for a few years and to, y’know, have my family and the opportunity to fill that dream in my life.
“It was timing,” Crampton says of her comeback. “You’re Next became a very successful film, and it allowed people to realize I was around and available. I started going to film festivals and meeting people, and it’s been really a surprise to me that I’ve been working as much as I have in the past few years. I’m able to balance my family life and career, and it’s been amazing.”
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Motherhood and age have helped her with some of her latest, aforementioned roles as well. “It’s everything,” she admits about how being a mother has influenced some of her work. “Getting older helps because you have more weight in your performances, but I also think that being a mother helped with We Are Still Here and You’re Next.
“You always use the potential thought in your mind of ‘What if I lost one of my children?’ and the connection you have with them and love you have for them is like nothing else in the entire world. Just imagining that gives you a great amount of energy and emotion to work from. I also interviewed two women who had lost children in auto accidents, the same as Anne [her character in We Are Still Here] did, and before many of the scenes, I would just keep rereading what they wrote. And feeling the heaviness, sadness, and loss that they will never get over and have to endure for the rest of their lives helped me so much with my character.”
But that’s not necessarily something she thinks every actor needs. “I’m looking at Winona Ryder play a mother in Stranger Things,” Crampton says of the Netflix series she’s become hooked on. “And she’s not a mother in real life, but the depth of her performance in that show is shocking to me,” she elaborates. "It’s a testament to what a good actress she is and has become, and I think this is the best work I’ve seen from her.”
Beyond the Gates
Showing as part of the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. 9 p.m. Thursday, August 18, at O Cinema Wynwood. Tickets cost $12. Visit popcornfrights.com.