"You finally took a bite out of something much bigger than yourself."
Horror icon Barbara Crampton talks 'Jakob's Wife,' Moody Blues, and bell-bottoms
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all."
Barbara Crampton is horror royalty. The actress, who got her start in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From the Beyond, has been a mainstay in the genre for four decades and counting with projects from the past decade like You’re Next and We Are Still Here showcasing her range and skills as a performer.
“Little did I know, I was going to continue to work with Stuart Gordon over the course of a couple of more films and be a part of the greatest genre in American history of cinema — the horror genre,” Crampton says.
Her newest role as Anne Fedder in Jakob’s Wife, a modern-day spin on the tried-and-true vampire subgenre, is a part that feels as if it were made specifically for Crampton. The movie, which she also produced, was directed by Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) and explores Anne’s journey as a woman locked in an unhappy marriage — her husband Jakob is played by genre fave Larry Fessenden— whose life takes an unexpected turn when a fanged attacker drinks her blood and, well, gives her a new hunger for life.
Inverse spoke with Crampton about her high school days of wearing bell-bottoms that dragged on the floor (it’s what the cool kids were doing), the importance of making decisions from love instead of fear, and, of course, horror movies.
What kind of kid were you?
I was pretty introspective. I read a lot and I had friends but I played on my own a lot, too. I wasn't really sporty because I had asthma. I grew out of that finally. But because I just couldn't exercise a lot, I think I watched a lot of TV and I read a lot of books. I watched Dark Shadows.
What was your favorite band when you were15-years-old?
Oh, The Moody Blues, maybe? I really liked them. Didn't they do “Nights in White Satin?” Yeah, that's them.
What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?
Bell-bottoms were very fashionable back then. If you didn't wear bell-bottoms, you weren't cool. If they didn't drag on the floor, you weren't cool.
What was your first memory of the internet?
In college, I took a computer class, and they were talking about writing code. So I learned how to write code, but I didn't know what it was going to be for. Why are we doing it? It was the future. But we hadn't quite gotten there yet. I was writing code before I was looking at who was in The Exorcist. I was in college in, like, 1978 or ‘79. That was my first inkling of things that were to come.
What is a truth about love that you believed when you were 15 years old?
That once you're in love, you would never fall out of love. That was it for life. Boy, did I have a rude awakening over the last 40 years. I’m kidding. But, at 15, you believe in everything and you're not jaded at all. Not that I'm jaded now. I'm pretty positive about things, even though I know how the world works. My glass is still half-full.
What high school teacher did you like the most and why?
I had a French teacher that I really liked. I just remember her as being really fun and joyful. And I was just so happy that somebody was speaking French. There was something about her energy that was really delightful. I can't remember her name right now, but I really liked her a lot.
What do you consider your first professional big break and why?
Definitely Re-Animator. I had done some soap operas before that. I also had a little part in Brian DePalma's Body Double. But it wasn't until I played Megan in Re-Animator that the whole world opened up for me with acting. I felt like it gave me my career.
I didn't know it then, but that was the start of my life in horror that has spanned over 35 years. I thought it was just another acting job and that would be the end of it. But little did I know, I was going to continue to work with Stuart Gordon over the course of a couple of more films and be a part of the greatest genre in American history of cinema — the horror genre.
What was your first professional failure?
Some movies just don't work out as much as you hoped they would. I've worked on projects that have not been the greatest but, I really worked hard. Somebody worked hard on that movie, and it didn't come together as I'm sure that they hoped it would.
I got across-the-board great reviews for a particular movie a number of years ago. And one journalist just, for whatever reason, didn't like me as an actor. So he wrote that I was a bad actor, and asked, “Why put me in movies?” That really hurt my feelings. I think sometimes people don't realize that the words that they say have a target and can affect people.
My mother said to me when I was younger: if you don't have anything to say, don't say anything at all. I understand that journalists and people talk about things that didn't hit the mark for them. But you have to be a little sensitive and a little careful on how you phrase those things. Because somebody did work hard on whatever artistic venture that you're viewing.
What is your cant-miss prediction for 2030?
Especially with the year that we've just had in the pandemic, we all have negative feelings. We've all been so sad, and we're thinking the worst. A psychologist friend of mine once told me something that I'll never forget: people make more decisions based on fear than on love. I fear that's the trend that we're in right now — that we're making more decisions based on not good feelings than on positive feelings.
So, in keeping with the spirit of what I said earlier, I'm going to say I still believe in the power of love. And I hope that in 2030, we'll get there finally.
What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?
I think she would say, "Well, Barbara, you finally took a bite out of something much bigger than yourself."
Jakob’s Wife arrived in select theaters, on-demand, and digital on Friday, April 16.
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.