Fantasia Fest: Barbara Crampton On Horror’s Past, Present, And Future

“Now it’s a little bit more exciting.”

When you get a chance to talk to one of the stars of Re-Animator, you don’t pass it up. Veteran genre actress and all-around great person Barbara Crampton came to Fantasia Fest this year with the wonderful Little Sister, a black comedy about a goth-turned-nun, in which she plays a Mother Superior.

I hadn’t seen Little Sister at the time of the interview (I saw it that evening, and loved it just as much as Jacob did at SXSW), but we had an illuminating chat nonetheless about how the genre cinema landscape has changed over the last 30 years.

What’s it like working for directors who grew up with and are fans of your movies?

I feel like I’m part of a community now, more than back in the ‘80s. Back then, there was no social media, and everybody did one job. There weren’t these directors like Ti West or Joe Swanberg that would direct a movie and also act and produce and maybe do some camerawork. You just did your set thing. You showed up on the movie set, you acted in the movie, and you went home. And you met all the people on the movie, but basically, that was kind of it.

Now, there’s karaoke parties, and there’s all these film festivals. I never went to movies at a film festival back in the ‘80s. When I made a movie, it had built-in distribution. There was no going around and hanging out with people, and meeting the fans. There were no conventions. It’s completely different now. It’s all a big community. 

What I’ve found working with these young guys that grew up watching my movies, is that they all help one another. They all influence one another, and they all work on each other’s stuff. I recently acted in and produced a movie called Beyond the Gates. And the director, Jackson Stewart, was 30 years old. He was an intern for [Re-Animator director] Stuart Gordon, so I’ve known him for about five years. And he must have shown the different cuts of Beyond the Gates to thirty of his closest friends, who are all filmmakers, for notes. These are people who, if I told you their names, you’d all know them. And I think that’s helpful for filmmakers now, to be in a community where they’re really supported by everyone else. I felt like I was acting in a vacuum back in the ‘80s. It was still great - I didn’t know I was missing anything. But I think now it’s a little bit more exciting and more fun. The problem is that there’s a lot of movies being shot, and a lot of movies being submitted to festivals.

And not a lot getting seen.

There’s just too many. So a lot of them don’t get seen, or don’t get in. There’s a lot of product, and it’s only the cream of the crop that’s going to rise to the next level. These guys can only make these movies for a hundred thousand, 200 thousand, 300 thousand - or twenty thousand, whatever they’re making them for - for a few years. And then you either have to rise to that next level, or you're kind of out. You’re gonna do something else. 

It’s the other side of the coin of filmmaking being more accessible now. Anybody can make a movie, but not everybody can get a movie seen.

I think [SXSW] last year, when we had We Are Still Here, I think they had - and I’m probably low - two thousand genre movies that were submitted. Just genre movies. For ten slots. But half of them you wouldn’t consider. And then half of the half are things you could probably let go of pretty quickly. You could whittle it down to 40 or 50 movies pretty quickly.

But then you’ve got 40 or 50 good movies...

But you know, there’s a film festival every month somewhere. You’re gonna get in eventually, if you have a good movie. You might have to wait a few months or a year, but you’ll get in somewhere. Everybody can make a movie, but can everybody make a good movie? ...No.

Has the style of directing changed as the industry has?

I don’t know if the style of directing has changed, so much as I think every director’s different. Some directors are very technical. Others are really hands-on in the performance, and they could almost play every part, and they talk to you about every line reading. Some people just let you do what you’re gonna do, and give you minimal direction. Everything happens a little faster now, because with digital, we’re not having to wait as long between the setups. But it just depends on their style. 

It’s reflective of who they are in their personality, too. I mean, how do you communicate with others? If you’re really talkative, and you’re interdependent as a person, then you’ll talk to me more about what we’re doing. If you do your own thing, and let other people do their own thing, then you’re gonna just cast the movie and let everybody do what they’re gonna do. Some people are really technical, so they're talking to the DP all the time about what they want the shot to look like. You have to just be in whatever movie they want to make, and speak the language they want to speak. And it’s not that hard to figure out. It becomes pretty clear in the first few days how somebody’s gonna talk to me, and how I’m going to respond to them. And sometimes you can tell the director, “I need something from you.” And everybody says, “yes, of course.” It’s a relationship. How do you want to be in a relationship with people? It’s not that different from life, you know. 

And many of them are paying homage to the films they grew up with.

Is that true of any generation or do you think it’s more now?

Well, in the ‘80s, you had filmmakers who grew up in the ‘50s. Joe Dante was making Matinee, David Cronenberg remade The Fly. And today, every other genre movie seems to be a throwback to their “glory days.”

But that’s what Woody Allen said in Midnight In Paris. The golden age is now. That’s what his movie was about. It is now! Can you invent something that’s brand-new? Probably you’ll have moments of it. Everybody’s going to be referencing stuff from the past, because that is what influences them. But bringing that influence into the minds of today, and through the lens of what the culture is today, that maybe will give you something new and fresh. You’re gonna reference what you were nurtured by, but how can you tell that in a new way? There’s always cool things happening. Look at what Adam Wingard did with You’re Next. He’s influenced by a lot of Carpenter movies, but he definitely has a fresh approach. People will be influenced by his movies in some years.

Absolutely. In 20 or 30 years, we’ll have 30-year-olds looking back to their own “golden age,” which could be, like, now.

And [they’ll be influenced by] the different personalities and popular types of genre movies, like the slasher movies, or torture porn movies. What is it now? It’s hard to know what it is when you’re in it.

You don’t know what’s gonna last.

Right? I mean, found footage was a big thing for a while. We thought that was dead, and then we just heard that [Adam Wingard] did Blair Witch. And, you know, the Paranormal Activity movies are still at the top of everybody’s list. So that might be it. 

The Visit’s really good too. It’s the same with any genre - what can you bring to it that’s new? I don’t think any genre will ever really die.

I guess not. Like monster movies. Universal is remaking a lot of them. I have a feeling that monster movies are gonna come back again. We’ll see.

I have a script that’s in development with a company now, and it’s about werewolves. It’s a classic tale, but I think we’re gonna tell it in a different way. I think the classic tales won’t go away - stories about Frankenstein and werewolves and vampires. How could they ever go away? They’re about universal themes. Man versus himself, or versus his creation. Man versus nature. All of those things. They really lend themselves to [genre film]. So hopefully there’s a place for our movie. It’s called The Wildness.

Are you working on it in a producer capacity?

Producer capacity, yeah. There’s no part for me. But I read the script, by a friend of mine, Evan Dickson. I loved the script so much, I said, this has to be made into a movie. He said, “why don’t you help me make it?” and I said, “no no no, that’s not what I do.” And he said, “No. I want you to help me, because you loved this script more than anybody who’s ever read it.” And I kept talking to him about it, for a long time. He goes, “I really want you to pitch it for me and try to get this thing going.” 

How have you found the development process?

It’s really interesting. There’s other creative people involved. There’s the producer from the production company. There’s also the director, and then there’s the writer, and there’s me. And there are certain rewrites that we have to go through, and sometimes I have something I really want to say, but I don’t want to disturb the dynamic of what the production company feels is valuable as a crowd-pleasing, money-making film. And also what the director’s vision is for the movie - what they want to create. So I try to listen to all their different viewpoints on it, and throw my opinion in there when I feel like it’ll be useful. It’s about managing information as much as I can. But we have a finished script now, and I think it’s very good. So we’re excited. I think we’re going into production in January.

Thanks - and good luck!

That concludes our coverage of Fantasia Fest 2016! Check back next year for more Montreal movie madness.