Three Great Things: Barbara Crampton

The iconic horror actress, who's currently starring in Alone with You and King Knight, on her love of writing, hiking and family.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this latest column, legendary horror actress Barbara Crampton – who is now starring in both Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’ indie horror Alone with You and Richard Bates Jr.’s horror comedy King Knight – shares the things she loves most in life. — N.D.

Writing About Horror Movies
A few years ago, somebody was talking to my friend Brea Grant, who’s been an actress for a long time and is now also a writer-director, and wanted her view on what it means to be a scream queen. She said, “If you want to talk to somebody about that, you should really speak to Barbara Crampton, because she’s more of a scream queen than I am.” It then prompted me to send out a tweet saying that people who use the term “scream queen” may mean it to be flattering, but to me, it’s reductive and not something that I prefer to be called, and I think we should look at that. That led to one of the editors at Birth.Movies.Death asking, “Would you write an article about that?” The piece I wrote was widely discussed on different websites and on social media and shortly after that, Fangoria asked me if I wanted to have an ongoing column in the magazine, to write about whatever I wanted. I thought it was a really nice opportunity to try something new, so I said yes and named my column “Scene Queen,” instead of Scream Queen.

Barbara Crampton, Fangoria columnist! (Image courtesy Barbara Crampton.)

I’ve been working in horror for almost 40 years, and it’s a genre that I’ve grown up with and grown into, so the Fangoria column gave me an opportunity to write about what moves me, things I’ve been working on, and things I’ve thought about the genre over the years. I’ve written about my favorite masked villains, why there aren’t as many female equivalents and where that disparity could potentially go in the future. I’ve tackled toxic fandom, and most recently the reboot renaissance and how returning to favorite horror films in difficult times gave me and other people much comfort.

Sometimes I interview people, and I’ve reached out to other filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Don Mancini for their thoughts on things. It’s been really exciting and enjoyable for me, and the more you study even your own expertise, the more you learn. Writing the column has been a pleasurable thing for me to return to, every couple of months. I have to turn an article in four times per year, to reflect on the genre and where it’s going, and talk to different people. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to try something new.

I’d never really hiked much before the pandemic, but I learned to enjoy it during lockdown, because it was something one could do alone. All the gyms were closed, we were stuck in our homes and starting to go stir crazy. So I just said, “Well, I could walk outside!” I had been living in Marin County, outside of San Francisco, for almost 20 years, and all of a sudden I just decided I was going to walk up the mountains, and then walk back down.

Barbara Crampton in full hiking mode. (Image courtesy Barbara Crampton.)

Suddenly, I found myself doing that five days a week and surrendering to the isolation while being in the expansiveness of the outdoors. There’s a hill that I would climb, which is in the town of Corte Madera, and it’s one-and-a-half miles straight up, with a beautiful view of the Bay. The hike is hard, but it’s sort of like a meditation, a way of reminding myself what I was doing every day, just being alive. It seemed to me to be a metaphor of what was happening in our lives, and it really helped me to get through those darker times at the beginning of the pandemic when we couldn’t be with people. Going up and down and repeating, knowing I could tackle each day and then rest at the end.

My Family
For a long time, I concentrated on my career. After college, where I studied theater, I thought I was going to become a Broadway actress, then I moved from New York to California and started working in film and television. I was so focused on my career and it was really hard for me to find lasting love in my life. It wasn’t until I reached my late thirties that I met my current husband, and I had my two children in my early forties, at the eleventh hour.

Having a family teaches you to put others’ needs ahead of your own and makes you practice a lot of letting go and being in the mindset of allowing. Caring for others puts your whole life and problems in perspective, and I feel like it’s made me a better person. The most important thing parenthood taught me is patience, because in life, nothing happens on the timetable you expect, and when you throw children into the mix, you really have to learn to go with the flow.

Barbara Crampton with her children, Olivia and Luke, and her husband, Bob. (Image courtesy Barbara Crampton.)

Nurturing my children and watching them grow into the thoughtful people they are now is probably the most rewarding experience of my life. My youngest child just went to college and along with my husband, I am now an empty nester. It’s been incredibly hard. I thought I was going to feel so free, that my life would be my own again and I could do anything I wanted; that’s all true, but it’s also incredibly lonely without my kids. Even though my husband and I have a great relationship, we’re both sad that the kids are gone. I wasn’t prepared for the shock to the system that it has given me, but I’ve been reading a lot about empty nesting and was consoled by the fact I’ve read it can take almost 18 months to get used to the new setup. So I’m continuing to do my favorite things – my hiking and my writing – and I’m also producing movies as well as acting in them, which is a newer component to my life. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and concentrating on all these other aspects of my life, while still cheering my kids on from the sideline in their new lives, and trying to carve out my new identity going forward.

Barbara Crampton‘s career as an iconic figure in the horror/thriller genres has spanned five decades and continues to gain momentum. Currently, she is starring in the horror films Alone with You and King Knight, and she recently starred in and produced the genre thriller Jakob’s Wife and produced a remake of the Stuart Gordon classic Castle Freak, based on the H.P. Lovecraft story. Other recent titles as an actress include We Are Still Here, Little Sister, Sun Choke and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Barbara guest-starred on the last season of Channel Zero: The Dream Door and starred in the Culture Shock episode of the highly acclaimed film series Into the Dark. Barbara can also be seen in the latest season of Creepshow from award-winning producer and SFX wiz Greg Nicotero. She made her screen debut in 1984’s Body Double, and Stuart Gordon’s 1985 cult classic Re-Animator, in which Barbara portrayed the leading role of Megan Halsey, continues to be a huge fan favorite. Other films Crampton starred in during her early career include From Beyond, and the original versions of Puppet Master and Castle Freak. Barbara lives in California with her husband, Robert.