Barbara Crampton's Legendary Horror Career Comes Full Circle In 'Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich' [Interview]

Barbara Crampton was a favorite of '80s horror fans with her lead roles in films like Re-Animator, From Beyond and Chopping Mall. She was also a mainstay on soap operas like The Young and the Restless, Guiding Light and The Bold and the Beautiful. Those fans were happy to see Crampton again in You're Next, which led to a comeback and continued roles in films like We Are Still Here, Beyond the Gates and now Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.

Puppet Master was a long running low-budget horror series from producer Charles Band beginning in 1989 under his Full Moon label. Now, a re-imagining starring Thomas Lennon, Udo Kier and Charlyne Yi is coming out in theaters. Lennon plays a collector who discovers the valuable Andre Toulon puppets and becomes trapped in a museum when they re-animate and go on a killing spree. Crampton plays a guard in that museum, who's well versed in the mythology of creator Andre Toulon. The correct pronunciation of Toulon doesn't translate in print but trust when you see the movie, she's saying it right.

Crampton spoke with /Film by phone about her role in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, and a look back at her career in horror movies. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich opens Friday, August 17.

Did Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich feel like coming full circle since you had a small cameo in the original and now a major role in the new one?

Yes. I sort of just did the cameo in the original Puppet Master as a favor to Charlie Band because I had worked for him on Re-Animator and From Beyond. I guess I felt like family to them at that point. There was no role for me in the original Puppet Master but they wanted to have me in there so they said, "Would you play this little part?" As a favor I said, "Oh yeah, I'll just come in one day and do it. Sure, I'll do it for you." I never thought all this time later there would be a chance to revisit it and re-imagine it in a bigger budget movie. I don't think that I would be in this movie had I not done that little tiny cameo in the original. Dallas Sonnier, the owner of Cinestate and producer of the movie, thought of me because I was in the original. He goes, "Oh, let's just have Barbara Crampton back." So that was like a gift to me to be asked. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be in it.

You don't think that just because you're you, they would think, "Who can play this badass security guard? Barbara!"

No, it could've been Kelli Maroney. It could've been Caroline Williams. It could've been Felissa Rose. It could've been any of these wonderful actresses that are around the same age as I am, could've been any one of them. They're all amazing and they're all working and doing stuff. I think Dallas asked me to be in it because I was in the original. Also, I do have somewhat of a relationship with him. We met at a film festival. I think it was the last Stanley Film Festival. We got along really well and we stayed in touch. He just called me directly and said, "Hey, I'm doing a re-imagining of this and I have a part for you. Would you like to do it?" I said, "Yeah, to work with you who did Bone Tomahawk? To work on a script that S. Craig Zahler wrote? Yeah, I'll do that all day long." It was an easy yes for me.

Do you deliver the correct pronunciation of Toulon? I think I've been saying it wrong all these years.

And you just said it wrong again. It's Toulon. The funny thing is, I got the script and I got to say Toulon many times. Other people in the script said it a lot too, I called Charlie Band on the phone. I said, "Charlie, I rewatched the first three Puppet Masters. How do you pronounce Andre Toulon? Because everybody in the first three movies is pronouncing it all different ways." He goes, "It's Toulon, Barbara." I said I knew it because it's French. I took French in high school and I know how to say those vowels. Within the movie, while we were on set, Michael Pare was saying it wrong. Instead of me, Barbara Crampton, correcting Michael Pare, I didn't want to correct him so given what Charlie said to me, I said to the directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, "You guys, I'm just going to correct everybody every time they say it wrong. Do you mind if I do that?" I told them the whole story of calling Charlie up. Everybody said, "Oh yeah, go for it." So I correct everybody in the movie and that's why in the beginning, in my long speech, I say "Andre Toulon, note the pronunciation" because nobody knows the pronunciation. Nobody's ever gotten it right so that character would have that within her. She'd want to make sure everybody said it correctly.

I used to put the emphasis on the first syllable.

Right, that's more like a toucan, like a bird.

Looking back on your career, Body Double was your first movie. Was it monumental to be in a Brian De Palma movie?

I had worked on a soap opera for a while and that was my first movie. The funny thing about that role and that project was that there were three scenes in the movie when I originally was cast. I went in and read for the part and I had two scenes with Craig Wasson where we're trying to mend our relationships and it's not going well and then he leaves and he comes back and we try to mend it again. Then I wind up having an affair with somebody. I got the part based off my audition. The night before I was supposed to shoot my first day, they said, "Oh, by the way, we cut the other two scenes in the movie, the dialogue scenes and you only have the scene where you're having sex with somebody in bed. Do you still want to do it?" You know, it was my first movie. It was Brian De Palma. It was huge. I thought, "Well, I think I should do it because it's Brian De Palma." I was a fan of his work. He was really at the height of his popularity at that point. So I went and did the part hoping that maybe he'll hire me for something else or he'll think of me. It didn't lead to any other movies with him but I did get to work with him for one day so that was pretty cool. We shot that scene all day long from different angles, different feelings and sensibilities for the scene. It was very calm and relaxed. I had a great time just talking to Brian that day about movies. We did become kind of friendly after filming and he came to my house for a party. I dated his first AD on the movie for a few weeks so it was nice. It was a nice experience and now I get to say I was in a Brian De Palma movie.

When you read for Re-Animator, did you have any impressions of the horror genre yet?

I can't say that I was a horror fan at that time. I feel like I've only become a horror fan really more recently, since I came back with You're Next and I realized wow, these people like me in this genre. So I guess this is my home. Back then, I watched The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits. I watched Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows. I loved those kinds of things but I wasn't like a lot of people watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was 11 in the basement of my parents' home or something. It wasn't like that for me. When I got the audition for Re-Animator, I actually had to replace the girl who originally got cast in the film because her mother read the script and said, "No, no, no, you're not doing this. This is too outlandish and racy."

Her mom probably read the Dr. Hill head scene.

Yeah, I'm sure it was that. I didn't really even know who H. P. Lovecraft was. So I went in and read for the part and I got the role. They said it's based on some H.P. Lovecraft stories and I was like, "Who is that?" So I went and read some of his stories and I read all the compilation of the Re-Animator series of stories and became a fan of H.P. Lovecraft from that moment and started reading a little bit more Stephen King who was becoming popular at the time. I still wasn't thinking oh, I love horror films. I just loved acting. Then [director] Stuart [Gordon]put me in another horror movie, From Beyond and I thought wow, I'm working in horror movies. Then I worked in Chopping Mall and people just kept hiring me for those. I was still just an actor for hire doing a lot of different kinds of things, doing movies of the week and doing soap opera work. So I wasn't thinking I'm a horror movie actress and I don't think anybody thought I was that either until I came back a few years ago. Then I realized this is what I do. This is what my niche is so I'm going to re-dedicate myself to my career and make it all about horror movies. I haven't been happier. I think it was the best decision I ever made besides, you know, marrying my husband.

Have they ever said who the original actress in Re-Animator was?

I think I've asked Stuart a couple times and he said, "I don't even remember." We're such good friends and we love each other so much. He's like, "How could I ever remember her, Barbara, after you?" He's quite sweet about it to me. I wasn't part of the original casting session so I didn't even come in the first round. I was brought in the second round when the first gal didn't work.

Do you think Stuart could get away with a scene like Dr. Hill's head today in the #MeToo era? Not that anyone's worried about decapitated heads assaulting women, but still.

I think it was a shocking scene back then. I think he had a lot of trouble in the whole body of the movie getting an R rating for many reason. It was that scene and it was a lot of stuff within the movie. I don't know if things would be different today. People are certainly more aware of how to proceed and we're much more cautious about not to put people in compromising positions if you will, or in asking people to do things that they don't feel comfortable with. At the time that I was in the movie, everybody was completely lovely to me. They wanted it to be more of a joke than anything else, sort of a shocking joke but everybody was quite respectful and kind. I was in on the joke so I think they just wanted to create the first visual pun. That was their intention at the time. I think there was so much comedy in that movie that it arrested a lot of the darker elements that some people have some sort of aversion or they feel some controversy about. I think the humor alleviated a lot of that which I think it also does in the Puppet Master movie. There's so much humor in Puppet Master and so many horrible and gory and over the top things that happen, but it's measured a little bit by the amount of comedy in the approach that the filmmakers took to making a Puppet Master re-launch.

Was From Beyond like getting the band back together after Re-Animator?

Yeah, I think we all worked so well together and liked one another. Stuart and Jeff[rey Combs] and myself and Charlie, and also Dennis Paoli who was the co-writer on both movies. Everybody just really got one another. It was kind of like that. Because Re-Animator did so well, that's why Charlie immediately gave Stuart money to do the next film and said, "If you can repeat what you just did, we're in business for a long time." He wanted to have the same people around him that he did in the first film, in addition to our DP which he brought along from Re-Animator, Mac Ahlberg. So it was great because we made From Beyond in another country. It was very special effects heavy and there was a certain camaraderie that we all had. The second movie was a lot easier than the first in a way. I think Re-Animator was a tough shoot and it was a long shoot. Even though I think we shot it in 17 or 18 days, all our days were long because Stuart didn't know how to stop filming. Every day we went 14, 15 or 16 hours, every day. He just wouldn't stop so it was an incredibly difficult shoot and we had a much longer shoot for From Beyond.

Since you've come back, have you gotten the best roles of your career?

Mm-hmm. Yeah, like We Are Still Here, like the role I played in Sunchoke, also in a movie called Replace and Beyond the Gates. It feels like the roles are a big more multi-layered and more interesting than maybe collectively they've been in my past. From Beyond was an incredible role for me, much more really than Re-Animator which was kind of a one note part in a way. I feel like with the exception of Katherine McMichaels in From Beyond, the roles that I have today are more character driven and come from lots of different kinds of places that really maybe an older person can play. I don't know, part of it's my age and getting some of these more interesting roles and I also have felt since I was a young person acting in plays in college that I am kind of a character actress, but I don't think anybody ever saw me as that. So it's been important to me in the roles that I've played more recently that I create something that is entertaining for myself and is entertaining for a viewer and also has perhaps a little bit more depth than people have allowed me to play when I was a younger actor.

Are you on the set of Channel Zero now?

I already did it. I was sworn to secrecy for a few months. I did it a long time ago and they said, "We're not going to announce you yet. We're going to announce the main cast and then we'll announce you closer to the time it's going to start airing." So I couldn't tell anybody.

What kind of character will we see you play?

What can I say without giving anything away? I'm a fan of the show and I watched every season even before Nick Antosca called me and said, "Would you be interested in playing a role?" So I love the show. I love the writing. I love the creepiness of it and every season feels like it has a certain personality and a foundation of something that it's talking about. This season seems to be kind of about secrets and what do secrets do to us? What I've seen from the show is that it really reveals the best and the worst in terms of our fears about ourselves and others. There's a lot about maybe what we don't know about people and about secrets that's revealed in this season that's really interesting. That's all I can probably say is just be aware of the secrets that we hold to ourselves and don't reveal even to those closest to us. Be careful of those.