Exclusive Interview: Barbara Crampton on You’re Next

When You’re Next premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, I was just excited to meet horror movie icon Barbara Crampton in person. I had no idea I’d be championing the film for two years straight, but the most gratifying part of it all is that interview or no interview, Barbara and I connected in Toronto and became friends. We follow each other on Twitter, and I know everyone follows each other but she actually responds to me, and she has bowling parties whenever she visits L.A. At this point I don’t need an excuse to talk to Barbara Crampton, but the release of You’re Next this weeks gave me one. She plays Aubrey, the mother of a dysfunctional family who get attacked by masked intruders. Sharni Vinson plays her son’s girlfriend who fights back. Two years and a fresh viewing of You’re Next gave me all new questions for Barbara, and of course I never stop thinking about the classic horror movies.


CraveOnline: Some of the murders in You’re Next are so outrageous, how did you figure out what a genuine reaction to them would be?

Barbara Crampton: I’ll see if I can phrase it in a way that’s not spoilery. Everyone in the movie is in peril and at one point I had to do a scene where my daughter is in extreme peril. So I wanted to make it as real as possible and I thought of how I would feel if one of my children had been in such extreme peril that I was not able to help them. I put myself in that state probably for a few hours because we shot that scene for a while. I was pretty emotionally exhausted at the end of it, but there was a lot of screaming and crying and carrying on. Unfortunately, there was a sound problem during that scene so I had to redo it in ADR, and I didn’t know that until I got there. “We only have a few things you need to do in ADR.” I got there and there was that scene, which was the most gut wrenching scene for my character to go through, and I had to go through it all again. So I had to do that twice.


Aubrey seems to always know something’s wrong from the beginning, doesn’t she?

Yes, she does and her husband’s not listening to her. He’s thinking that she’s crazy. She definitely has some psychological issues. I played her as though she had a drinking problem. She’s not drinking anymore but she does take medication. She just doesn’t feel really secure in herself, but I think that she’s very perceptive as most moms are, to what’s going on with her children and also something’s happening in the house. Most moms are very perceptive as to their own home and what’s happening. Even though she feels somewhat dissociated from real life, yeah, she was spot on in knowing that there was trouble and there was something to look out for. Nobody’s paying her any mind, but I guess they had to react that way or we wouldn’t have a horror movie.


It reminded me, Meg had Dr. West’s number too, so is that a character you could relate to?

I hadn’t thought about that before, Fred, but I guess that’s right. Frequently we do see that sometimes in horror movies where there’s someone that nobody’s listening to. I had the advantage to play that twice now, so I have a leg up on somebody with that one.


Can you see Sharni Vinson following in your footsteps?

Oh, she’s going to surpass my footsteps. Are you kidding me? She’s just so amazing in this movie. I’m so happy for her because she’s had to wait for two years for everybody to see what an extraordinary gifted, badass final girl she is. She is beautiful inside and out. I adore that girl and I think this movie will definitely put her on the A list. She’s just fantastic. This is the start of a very long and wonderful career for her I’m sure. She’s amazing.


What happened to the long hair you had in the movie?

Oh, after working with Wendy Glenn, I saw what a cute haircut she had so I actually have the Wendy Glenn now. My hair is just like Wendy Glenn. I copied Wendy. I’ve been wearing her haircut ever since because I thought it was so cute.


What were the logistics of the dining room attack scene?

That was fantastic. We had so much fun shooting that scene. That’s when the mayhem started, in the dining room scene which will become infamous once everybody sees the movie. That’s when all hell breaks loose. That’s when the movie really gets going. That’s when you feel like you’re on a thrill ride while seated. It took a long time to shoot that scene. It was a number of days that we were in that room. A lot of the movie was improvised and we were collaborative. We worked together a lot to actually alter and change the scenes, change the dialogue a little bit but that particular device or trick, we had to really get that right. So it was extraordinarily fun but we had a lot of takes of the [SPOILER] coming into the windows and dodging them and making it look precisely right and like the family was in deep, deep peril. It was a lot of fun those few days.


Had you officially taken a break from acting at one point?

Yeah, I mean, I actually thought that I was done. Initially because as I’ve gotten older, there weren’t as many roles for me really. I got married about 11 years ago and my husband suggested that we move up to San Francisco because he was going to take a job transfer and a promotion. So I thought, you know, okay, why don’t I move up to San Francisco? And I thought maybe that’s the end of my career. I hadn’t been working that much. A few movies, one or two movies a year, here and there, working a little bit on soap operas. I thought it’s really getting to the 11th hour so I might as well start a family, so I did. I had two kids back to back and really this role came out of the blue.

Simon Barrett called my agent and was searching around for me because they wanted a horror movie person from the past to play the mom. So they thought of me and I was very surprised to get the call. I never really expected to work again. I read the script and loved it. I thought all the characters were really interesting and the interplay between them was so well done and it wasn’t just your typical slasher movie where the body count adds up. It was very real and all the characters had a different point of view. The dysfunction within the family and the dynamics of the family were just so well done and so well played by everybody. The writing was very good, the actors added so much to it. I was just thrilled to be a part of it and then to see that it’s taken on this life through Lionsgate and we’re getting the kind of release that we’re getting, it’s sort of mind-boggling to me.

Maybe I’m back in. I’ve done a few cameos since we wrapped the movie and I have about four movies in development right now pending funding. So we’ll see what happens but I’m so happy that I’m back in. I thought once I reached 40 that my career was going to be over, but there are plenty of roles for moms. I’ll continue to play the mom or the grandmother or whatever I can do.


Well, we all marvel at how great you still look. How have you been taking care of yourself?

I live in San Francisco so it’s called the Fog City and that ain’t for nothing. We don’t get a lot of sunshine up there. Right now in the middle of the summer, it’s like 65 degrees and it can be foggy for three weeks. I just have good, clean living. I’m gluten free and I eat salads every day and I run after my children and I’m very happy. I also think happiness adds to this feeling inside that you’re happy with yourself and your life. Of course that shows on your face.


I agree. Happiness shows, although I still need to get back into shape.

Oh, and I exercise every day. I do some exercise probably for an hour a day. That definitely helps. You can’t stop moving. You’ve got to keep going.


My way into your work was of course Re-Animator. We’ve talked all about that. Does Re-Animator have an impact on kids today? I say kids as if kids should be watching that, but hey, I was.

I actually think the movie is more famous now than it was when we first did it 28, 29 years ago. I meet people today that, as you’re saying, are kids. They’re 10 years old and they’re saying, “Oh, I saw your movie. I thought it was great.” I think they’re letting kids watch it too young these days and I don’t think anyone 10 years old should watch that movie. It’s very gratifying when young people come up to me and say, “I remember you from that movie and I just watched it last week.” So people are still watching it and it’s become a cult favorite. It’s usually in the top 30, the best of, in magazine articles and things around Halloween time when they do those polls or they make lists. Re-Animator’s usually on it so it’s definitely a cult favorite and I’m just thrilled about it. It’s very satisfying and gratifying to meet fans everywhere I go.


Was that your big break? What changed after you made that movie?

I don’t think it was a big break because as I said, it was well received but it wasn’t like I became famous after that or the movie was so popular that I was getting called in to read for all sorts of movies or whatever. I just had a really good, steady career over a long period of time. I’ve been an actress now since I was 22. I’m 54 so I’ve been at it a while. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of different soap operas too which kept me employed in a business that if you do one or two to three movies a year, that’s amazing and a lot. So I didn’t have to have any other kinds of jobs. I was able to do a soap opera, then do a few movies, then do another soap opera for a couple years, then do some movies, do episodic, commercials. I feel like I’ve been a working actress for 30 years.


Have you seen the Re-Animator Musical yet?

I saw it twice. I thought it was fantastic.


Did you get to meet the actress who plays Meg?

Oh yeah. Rachel Avery, she was beautiful, a lovely girl, a great singer. I thought she was amazing and Graham Skipper who plays Herbert West was amazing in it. I’ve become friendly with them since watching the musical and kept up with them. So I thought they did a fantastic job and I was so happy that Stuart was able to remount it as a stage play and go back to his roots and something that he really loved and have it be additionally another success for him. I’m waiting to see if he’s going to mount From Beyond as a musical.


Right, your next collaboration with Stuart Gordon was From Beyond. Was that just another monster movie to you, or did you appreciate all the sexual politics in it too?

I loved that movie and for me that role of Katherine McMichaels was very satisfying because I got to just go through so many different emotions in the span of 88 minutes. She had so much to her. I played the repressed psychologist and then this sexual being who couldn’t be satisfied. Then I had to play savior, unsuccessfully, but it was a real fun ride playing that character. She remains my favorite role to this date. For me, my favorite role that I’ve played.


In Chopping Mall, how many takes were ruined when the robots wouldn’t work?

Oh, yeah, a lot, yeah. We had definite problems with that but we didn’t care because we were all these young kids working on this movie in the middle of a mall, having a party and it was a lot of fun. I became friends with Kelli Maroney working on that and we remain friends to this day. We just had so much fun working on it, it didn’t matter. We were young and it didn’t matter how long it took. We were just happy to be there.


Did you have a good time making Body Double?

Yeah, I had more scenes initially when I got cast in that movie, but then the day before we started filming they cut out every scene except for the scene that I was in. So I thought well, that’s okay, it’s an opportunity to work with Brian De Palma so it’ll probably lead to working with him again, although it never did. [Laughs] The scene that we shot, we did that scene maybe 60 times. They had a long shoot for that movie. I think they had a number of months and he took advantage of the time element. It was a lot of fun that one day that I was there, but it was a long day.


You were in some Full Moon movies, although Puppet Master was probably just a cameo, but was that a fun company to work with in the heyday of those video horror companies?

Mm-hmm, it was because it was when movies were going to video and they just needed more product. It was more product that they wanted for all these foreign markets. We had a lot more money back then. It’s harder to get money these days for a movie so it seemed like the money just kept flowing. Charlie [Band] would think of the title and make the poster and bring it over to Europe and he’d get financing and start making a movie. It was a lot easier back then.


I think he still does that.

He does but now he makes movies in five days and I think the budget’s less than $5,000.


What are your favorite horror movies, past and present?

My favorite horror movie is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That movie is my favorite because it seems so raw and real and looks like a home movie, that it appears real to me so it frightens me every time I see it. Also it was done without blood so I appreciate that. It still scares me today when I watch it, it’s so horrifying. I just saw The Conjuring two weeks ago and I thought that was fantastic, suspenseful and well acted and well shot and beautiful. I was so moved by the movie that I was in Connecticut last week visiting family and I found myself a half an hour away from Lorraine Warren’s home and her museum.

So I e-mailed them and said I want to come over and I want to see your museum. Normally they just see people on Saturdays but they got my e-mail, the son did, and he e-mailed me right back. He had just seen a commercial for You’re Next the night before and he was really interested in that, so he looked up the trailer and watched the trailer. Then he thought to himself, “Oh, that’s that girl from Re-Animator.” So then the next day when I e-mailed him he was like, “Oh my God, this is weird.” So he e-mailed me right back and I went over there. I met Lorraine Warren, hung out with her for like two hours, heard all these cool stories about different cases she has worked on and was treated to a private tour of the museum.


When I saw the movie, I thought if they believe all these artifacts are real, or they know they are, why do they keep all of it? Just destroy it!

It’s blessed. They protect themselves with white light and they have a priest who lives upstairs who helps them with any bad mojo.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.