by Patrick Bromley
Barbara Crampton is one of my favorite people on the planet. Not just actors. People. It goes way beyond her being one of my biggest celebrity crushes, too. She has always been a great actor -- a superstar within our beloved horror genre but also a formidable star outside of it, with credits ranging from independent film to TV movies to several years on hugely popular daytime soaps (both The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless). But she's also an important ambassador for indie horror, lending her star power and talents both in front of and behind the camera, always doing her damndest to get the word out on new voices and movies that deserve to be seen. Her editorial for Birth.Movies.Death late last year, titled "Don't Call Me a Scream Queen," was both a terrific piece of writing and an important message for genre fans everywhere, as one of the premiere genre actors of the last 50 years was laying it out that the term is reductive and unwanted. That she is espousing this belief makes her a badass. That she took the time to write a thoughtful essay about it for one of the biggest film sites online makes her the best.
But it's not just her work in film that makes her the best. She's also a truly nice, truly wonderful human being. I've seen her interact with fans, always genuine, always taking the time to speak with them and really hear them. When we had our podcast-a-thon last year to raise money for the Magnolia Tree Foundation, Barbara Crampton agreed to come on and do a segment. She's a highly sought-after actor with a family. She didn't have to do that. She did it because she's the best. Then she gave a really warm and fun interview, because she's the best. And just in case you weren't yet sure if she's the best (she is), she even donated money to the foundation, which she really didn't have to do. Know why she did it? I'll give you one guess.
So it is in the spirit of that celebration that I offer this list of ten of her greatest performances. Now, I know that Barbara Crampton has more than 10 great performances. I also know that this list is very genre-heavy, probably because those are the kinds of movies I love best and served as my introduction to her as an actor. So while I wasn't trying to limit the list to just horror, a whole lot of horror appears on here.
1. Re-Animator (1985, dir. Stuart Gordon)
2. From Beyond (1986, dir. Stuart Gordon)
Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna and screenwriter Dennis Paoli for another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, this time essentially switching roles with Combs so that he played the character in distress and she played a version of the mad scientist. After playing such a "normal" character in Re-Animator, it's a joy to watch B. Cramps cut loose with her performance and to reclaim her strength and sexuality in a way that she wasn't allowed to in the previous film. On paper, the role of Dr. Katherine McMichaels has maybe too much of a Madonna/whore thing (a dichotomy the movie is interested in exploring), but in the hands of Barbara Crampton becomes so much more. Sure, she's under the influence of some sex energy from another dimension, but Crampton creates a character that is confident and intelligent and, it's suggested, has a bit of a wild side. Neither her buttoned-up scientist nor the leather-clad kinky persona are reduced to simple stereotypes, but rather represent two sides of the same nuanced person. You know, the way real people are in life.
3. "The Evil Clergyman" (1988, dir. Charles Band)
Full Moon Streaming.
4. Robot Wars (1993, dir. Albert Band)
5. Castle Freak (1995, dir. Stuart Gordon)
6. You're Next (2013, dir. Adam Wingard)
7. We Are Still Here (2015, dir. Ted Geoghegan)
8. Sun Choke (2016, dir. Ben Cresciman)
9. Blood Brothers (2016, dir. Jose Prendes)
10. Little Sister (2016, dir. Zach Clark)
Beyond the Gates on here because B. Cramps is so funny and stunning in it (and also because it was her foray into producing!), but I've shown that movie so much love on this site that I'm sure you're all sick of me talking about it. Instead, I'll highlight a supporting performance Barbara Crampton had in a non-horror movie last year: writer/director Zach Clark's Little Sister, in which she plays a Reverend Mother supervising a young would-be nun (Addison Timlin) who returns home to her family and experiences a small crisis of faith. Crampton's role is essentially that of a taskmaster, on hand to remind the audience what awaits Timlin's character upon her return, but she imbues the role with a level of humanity and understanding that keeps it from ever becoming a cartoon version of uptight religious authority. While a bit heavy on indie movie quirk for my taste, the things I like best about Little Sister are that it presents its characters with a tremendous amount of humanity and that it takes ideas of faith seriously. Barbara Crampton's performance represents both of those qualities perfectly.
Happy Barbara Crampton Day, everyone!