Barbara Crampton is a legend with an evolving career
This time of year is a great chance to reflect on and celebrate diversity–we just came out of Black History and Women in Horror month and now we are in the middle of Women’s History Month. Personally, I have been reflecting on the history of horror and where the genre is going now. In the past few years it has seemed like opportunities have opened up for a diverse group of story tellers to share their voices in the genre. That being said it felt necessary to highlight a woman that has been in the horror business for quite some time. Although she is an important part of its history she also is trying to make the future of horror better, and this woman is the legendary Barbara Crampton. I adore this woman even more now that she is out of retirement and using her cult status to better the genre.
Any true horror fan will recognize Crampton from her role as Meg in the film Re-Animator. It was my first exposure to her when I got into horror only a few years ago, and this role is certainly a memorable one. She has done other projects with the same director, Stuart Gordon, as well as actor Jeffrey Combs such as From Beyond and Castle Freak. Crampton had roles in other 80s horror like Chopping Mall and Puppetmaster she even got a name in the soap opera world. Eventually work dried up for her the older she got so she left the business to focus on her family. Luckily for all of us, she made a resurgence with You’re Next in 2011 and since than has gone on to work both in front of and behind the camera. This phenomenal woman acts, writes, produces, and actively tries to give opportunities to those with new ideas and fresh voices.
One thing I really appreciate is that Crampton has been outspoken about how women are perceived in horror. Like many iconic women in the genre, Crampton is often considered a “Scream Queen” iIn roles like Reanimator and Chopping Mall you might understand why she is lumped into this category. She portrayed different characters that fought for their lives from anything like a crazed disembodied head to a killer security robot. However Crampton has made it clear she disagrees with this given title and does not like its use for other actresses either. In an op-ed piece she wrote, appropriately entitled “Don’t Call Me a Scream Queen” she explains that the “moniker of ‘Scream Queen’ is limiting in description and also limiting in its ability to reveal that these actresses are more than the sum of the strain of their vocal cords.” She goes on to say that “it implies that you’re good at two things: howling at the top of your lungs and being a woman. Simply being known as a decent actor who just happens to lobe genre films is far more satisfying, and far less condescending.” For this genre specifically, having these conversations is important and I am happy she is opening up dialogue about it.
This being said Crampton has had to discuss and even defend certain roles and scenes she was involved in. In several interviews people have wanted to discuss Crampton’s more controversial scenes from the movie Reanimator. If you have seen the movie you probably know what scene people get worked up about. In the simplest of descriptions, the dismembered head of her father’s colleague sexually assaults Crampton’s character Meg, as her father who has been turned into a mindless zombie, stands by. It is for sure one of the craziest scenes I have ever watched. It can be a hard one to grapple with and probably should have some hefty trigger warnings if you have not seen it. Crampton knows how insane it is but has an interesting perspective on it. She understood the situation but given how over the top and comedic the movie is, this scene included, it seems like she was never totally bothered by it. Crampton has tried to make it known how she played it serious when filming this part and made sure that the fear and loss shown in that scene feels real for that character. This might not help someone who does not care for this scene but as someone who loves this movie it gave me a different appreciation for her acting abilities.
Her role in Reanimator is one of the reasons why filmmakers like Adam Wingard wanted her for You’re Next, we have a new generation of horror filmmakers who grew up watching and being inspired by actors like Crampton. Crampton has truly embraced her role as a matriarch in the horror community and in accepting roles, producing, and offering advice to those new to the horror game she is really giving opportunities to new visionaries. Crampton both acted in and produced Beyond the Gates which was written and directed by Jackson Stewart. She also produced Road Games which was written and produced by Abner Pastoll. Crampton specifically wants to see more opportunities open up for female directors in the genre. She worked with Axelle Carolyn in her story “Grim Grinning Ghost” in the 2015 horror anthology Tales of Halloween. Although there is much work to do in making the genre more inclusive, she remains optimistic in the changes she has seen. In an interview with Collider.com she said that “I don’t think we’re the screaming femme fatale running away from danger as much as we used to be. I think people are seeing us as much more multilayered personalities with desires, and wants, and needs as much as any male figure out there.” This “Grand Dame” in the horror world to help talk to new filmmakers and open them up to the ideas of creating more roles for women, and by all accounts there is hope for the future in seeing more opportunities for ladies both in front of and behind the camera.
You can see Barbara Crampton in recent films like Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Reborn, Dead Night, Dead House (alongside Robert Ingland) and the horror anthology series Channel Zero. One of my favorite movies of hers in recent years is We Are Still Here I highly suggest making time to give it a watch. Crampton has also done work writing different pieces like her op-ed “Don’t Call Me a Scream Queen” and different articles for Fangoria Magazine, these are all worth taking the time to seek out and read. It seems like Crampton will continue to work as a major player in the horror genre in many different capacities and I am thrilled to see what she will be working on next.