Barbara Crampton Talks PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

The alternative franchise launcher brings her horror career full circle.

Barbara Crampton has been as busy on the horror scene in the last couple of years as she was when she was acting for Stuart Gordon and Charles Band in the likes of Re-Animator, From Beyond and Castle Freak, and one of her new fright vehicles is an updated take on a Band classic from that era.

Crampton co-stars in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, a variation on Band’s Full Moon franchise that has been ongoing for a remarkable three decades. Set around the 30th anniversary of the murders tied to eponymous toymaker Andre Toulon, Littlest Reich takes place at a puppet convention at a lodge in Oregon. Recently divorced Edgar (Thomas Lennon) attends, bringing a Blade doll he has found in his deceased brother’s house, which leads all the playthings at the gathering to come to murderous life. “I play Carol, an ex-cop who is now a tour director,” Crampton says during a recent interview at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, where she accompanied her sci-fi/horror feature Replace. “It’s a bit of a different take on the original Puppet Master, in that Andre Toulon, who we see in flashbacks played by Udo Kier, is a Nazi sympathizer.”

She recalls the cult-favorite actor’s brief presence as a highlight of the shoot: “I didn’t have any scenes with Udo, but he was on the set one day, hanging out before he shot his scenes the following day. Everyone was fawning all over him, taking pictures with him, saying hello and talking about their favorite memories of him. He was quite an affable fellow, really charming and talking to everybody. It was like a mini-party for him on this one day—‘Oh my God, Udo Kier’s here!’

She got to spend more screen time with another veteran of the genre scene, Michael Paré. “We’ve come up in the business together at the same time, but we’d never met,” Crampton notes. “I was so happy to work with him, and we had a wonderful rapport. All the actors, some of them comedians and some not, were great in their roles. Nelson Franklin is on New Girl, and he was just stellar, and Jenny Pellicer, who’s on State of Affairs, was beautiful and has a great spirit. A lot of the actors brought their own personalities to this movie, and there was a nice chemistry between us all.”

Given the background of some of that cast, The Littlest Reich is clearly not meant to be taken entirely seriously, and Crampton says, “I like horror and comedy mixed together. I have a history with that, and it’s a delicate balance that’s hard to achieve. But the script married those two elements very well.”

The screenplay was written by Bone Tomahawk scripter/director S. Craig Zahler, with Tomahawk’s Dallas Sonnier and Jack Heller producing alongside Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian. “Craig was initially going to direct,” Crampton reveals, “but then he got busy prepping another movie, Dragged Across Concrete, and he wanted to put his attention on that. It stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn, so I guess I’ll defer to him if he needs to go work with them [laughs]. Craig suggested our directors, Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund; they’re from Sweden, and they did Wither and a couple of other movies there. Their stuff is pretty brutal and raw, and there’s a lot of lightness in the Littlest Reich script, so they wanted someone who could marry the comedy and the gore and horror. Craig was like, ‘These guys would be perfect,’ and Dallas was like, ‘Who?’ [Laughs] Then he looked them up and saw some of their movies, and said, ‘Great, I’m down with that.’ This is a really nice opportunity for those guys, to do something a little bit more mainstream.”

Another key contributor was doll and prosthetic effects coordinator Tate Steinsiek, a two-time finalist on Syfy’s Face Off who was worked on everything from independent horror features to TV dramas and documentaries. “They did it with live puppets and not CGI, and it was extraordinary,” Crampton says. “They revealed a few of them at Texas Frightmare, but there are many more you haven’t seen; a few in particular are super-scary and some are super-funny. Tate did a great job, and he had a huge team. There were 10 to 12 people on the effects crew every day, so we were completely covered—in blood and in other things.”

Crampton has had plenty of experience dealing with prosthetics and gore over the course of her career—which includes a stint on David Schmoeller’s original Puppet Master back in 1989. “Well, my role in that was a cameo; I was there for one day. I did it with my then-husband David Boyd, who played my boyfriend and is a director now [on The Walking Dead and other series]. He was the 1st camera assistant on Re-Animator and From Beyond, and we got together on From Beyond. Now, when I see Puppet Master, I can look back and say, ‘Oh, there’s my ex-husband!’—with fondness. It was just a brief time for me on that set, but I’m glad I was part of the first movie in Full Moon’s most successful franchise. And it was nice to go back and have an opportunity to expand my role in that universe.”

The Littlest Reich is intended to launch a franchise of its own, one that would exist separately from the continuing Full Moon adventures (Band has Puppet Master: Axis Termination set to debut this fall). “This really is a reboot, and a completely different story,” Crampton says. “I appreciate that; I don’t mind remakes, if you do them in a different way. I really enjoyed the Fly remake, and Dawn of the Dead, but there are others that will remain nameless that I don’t really care for, that just have the same story, the same dialogue. What’s the point?”

She has the same feelings when it comes to her most famous film, which is currently set to be revisited with Re-Animator: Evolution. “Yeah, I saw that Johnathon Schaech is attached to that. I don’t mind, as long as they tell a new story about Herbert West and his experiments. But don’t do the same thing; don’t have the same characters and the same dialogue. I don’t think Stuart Gordon would care for it, but if they want to try, good luck to them!”

(Note: Header photo by Eliana Pires)

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