With her roles in such ’80s horror classics as Re-Animator, Chopping Mall, and From Beyond, as well as her comeback films You’re Next and We Are Still Here, it can readily be said that actress Barbara Crampton is an icon of the genre. In Beyond the Gates, the debut feature from Jackson Stewart, however, Crampton takes on a new role in addition to that of an actress, for the first time she’s a producer. The movie – about a VHS board game with sinister implications and repercussions, and the two brothers who discover it – is a throwback to those fun films which made Crampton‘s name and career. We spoke with Barbara Crampton by phone from her home in San Francisco about Beyond the Gates and her approach to acting.
We Are Indie Horror: That new trailer for Beyond the Gates has me very, very excited, even though I’ve already seen the movie twice already.
Barbara Crampton: You mean the commercial? I know, right?
WAIH: When did that get made?
BC: About a month ago. [laughs] It was Jackson [Stewart, director]’s idea. He’s so enamored of these VHS board games that the movie is based on, and we were just talking about marketing ideas. You know: everybody does the same old stuff – we send out a trailer, and we do these wonderful interviews – but we thought, “Huh. We should do something different,” and he’s like, “We should make a commercial.”
So, we talked to IFC about it – they’re our distributor – and said, “Look, we want to make a commercial. What do you guys think about it?” They loved it and let us make the commercial, and here we are. We’re completely thrilled with the result, and people seem to be really loving it. It’s fun. It’s just fun.
WAIH: One of the things that I enjoy about Beyond the Gates is that it’s the horror of the ’80s meeting modern horror, and given that the movie has folks who’ve been in some rather notable modern horror, it seems like casting the likes of Starry Eyes‘ Alex Essoe in the commercial only continues that trend.
BC: That was Jackson‘s idea. I was like, “Who do we get to play the game in the commercial?” and he was like, “We have to get Alex Essoe,” and I was like, “Oh, she’s amazing.” We both love her, and both know her and are fans of hers, and then it’s like, “Who will her friends be?” So, we got Samantha Robinson from The Love Witch, and even though I haven’t seen that movie, Jackson saw it at Fright Fest in London and he just fell in love with her performance, and we’d both seen Alena von Stroheim in Found Footage 3D, which has been making the festival circuit. It’s a fantastic movie, and she’s just amazing in it – AMAZING. We both thought she would be good in it, and they were all available, and so we shot it on a Sunday!
WAIH: The commercial does seem to have this quality to it that makes it – not chintzy, but definitely of the time.
BC: Well, it is! It’s a take-off of a Nightmare commercial that actually aired in the late ’80s, so we kind of followed along the tone and the feeling with that. The way the camera moves, and the fan blowing their hair – some special effects with my kind of beaming energy from my eyeballs to them – all of that stuff, we thought of on the fly, and it kind of worked out.
WAIH: Your character in Beyond the Gates, Evelyn, seems to be one that you had an awful lot of fun with. Was that the case?
BC: Yeah, because she wasn’t like, completely steeped in reality. I could make her what I wanted to, and I don’t think that it was important for her to have a backstory. We didn’t have to understand who she was or where she came from. We just know that she had to be controlling and manipulative and strong and a force. So, how do you play that and have fun?
Jackson and I were able to come up with a characterization for her, just talking about what would be cool. He gave me a couple of movie references: Barbara Steele‘s character in Black Sunday, and also a character named Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus. Both of those women had really big eyes and didn’t blink so much on-screen. Their faces were in close-up all the time. They were just kind of otherworldly, strange, and mysterious: just really commanding characters, overall.
WAIH: I recently watched a couple documentaries about films you were involved in – Re-Animator Resurrectus and Back to the Mall, about Re-Animator and Chopping Mall – and I don’t know how much of it is rose-colored glasses, looking back on things, but it seems like you really enjoy the movies you get to make.
BC: Yeah. Yeah, I do! I think you have to. So, this is a bit of a story: my daughter has to sing a song in her chorus, and she doesn’t like the song. It’s an old Andrews Sisters’ song for their Christmas concert. She says, “Mom, I hate this song. I can’t do this. Listen to this song.”
So, she plays me the song, and I’m like, “Eh, it’s an okay song. It’s not that great.”
I say to her, “What you need to do for that song is what I was told when I was in college. I was told this by a professor, and every movie, I’ve treated like this: ‘No matter what the part is, no matter what you’re in, no matter what the material, you have to treat it like you’re doing Shakespeare.’”
So, what you said, based on those documentaries, I like to think that I tried to imbue my characters and my work like I was doing the greatest thing – the greatest Broadway show, the greatest Shakespearean play, or whatever – because it’s surprising. You never know what people are going to take to. Sometimes, I make a movie and I think, “Well, it’s good, but I don’t know if people will like it,” and then they frickin’ love it, like Re-Animator!
So, you never know, so you have to approach it like it’s the most wonderful thing, because, as we see today in art, a movie comes out, and it ends up with a 50 on Metacritic, but then somebody gives it an 89, so it’s all subjective. Just do your best with every single movie.
So, even if I’m doing a teen sex comedy, I have to give it my all and do my best. I gave my daughter that advice, and we’ll see if she takes it next week when I see the concert.
WAIH: After all of the build-up and festival appearances, Beyond the Gates is finally going to be something which can be seen by the general public. Are you excited for everyone outside of critics and festival-goers to get their eyes on this?
BC: Yeah, I really am excited! I’m excited that it’s coming out around the holiday season. I initially thought, “Huh. Is it really a good idea to release a horror movie around the holidays?” But, the more I think about this movie, it has a charm about it and its personality is nice. It’s a good story. The premise is that there’s these two brothers and they’re estranged from one another and they have to find their father. They have to band together through their difficulties to find him, and through their journey of finding him, they find their way back to one another. That’s a good message for the holidays, and I think it’s a charming movie. It has some good scares and some good blood, but it’s not overly scary. It’s not overly dark. It has a nice message. I think it’s a satisfying movie, and I think it is a good holiday movie, and yeah, I am thrilled that it’s coming out and people will get to see it.
And it’s Jackson‘s first feature, so I’m really excited to have been part of that. I’ve been friends with him for a number of years, and I’ve watched his education over the past five years or so, on movies and shows and short films, and I’ve just watched him grow as a filmmaker and get better and better and better. He was really ready for his first feature, so I’m really happy that I was part of that.
WAIH: And this is the first movie you’ve helped produce, right?
BC: Yes, in a very hands-on way, actually.
WAIH: It must be really satisfying to help someone you’ve known for so long on their first feature, while at the same time having a such a positive experience yourself.
BC: It really was, and it was an education for me, too, because I’ve been involved in movies for so many years, but to be involved a little in casting and making a few decisions on set, and when we were editing the movie, I had a say in that – there were some decisions along the way, I got to have a voice in, and that was a really positive experience for me, and I’m really proud of everyone who worked on the movie. They worked really hard.
Beyond the Gates is out from IFC Midnight on Friday, December 9, via Video On-Demand and limited theatrical release. Check out the movie’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/beyondthegatesmovie/) for more information.