Barbara Crampton is a horror legend. From the Stuart Gordon classics Re-Animator and From Beyond to recent well-regarded genre entries like You’re Next and We Are Still Here, long has the actress been a staple on our screens. More recently, she’s been evolving to produce projects as well as starring in them, resulting in an unusually smart modern vampire tale, Jakob’s Wife.
I sat down with the actress-producer-horror icon to discuss the film, her involvement as a producer, and more.
What drew you to this project, and the character of Anne?
I read the script almost five years ago… it won a screenwriting contest at Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, and it was sent to me by Denise Gossett, who’s the fest director there, and the writer, Mark Steensland.
I immediately fell in love with the character of an older woman who’s long married but in an unsatisfying union. Through a chance encounter with something potentially horrific she actually finds herself and finds something new in her life that she can look forward to because she has new blood coursing through her veins. It’s sort of a metaphor, you know, being bitten by the vampire and getting new blood.
I felt like it was a new take on on vampire lore, whereas most of the time you become sort of a shrinking person when you’re bitten by the vampire. You become beholden to The Master’s wishes and [you] do what they want you to do. This movie really wasn’t like that; it was saying something horrible happens, but there’s an awakening that happens with this horrific happening. It opened the character to a life and a zest for life that she never knew she had, that she had lost… I felt like it was in a way similar to what had been going on with my career and my life for a while.
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JE: How so?
BC: I did a lot of movies in the 80s and had a nice career with with a few films and then really wasn’t getting a call to do anything for a very long time. I got married and I had kids and I had a very good home life, and I still do, but something kind of felt unfinished… and then when I came back with You’re Next everything opened up for me. The horror community welcomed me back and I was able to work again and make connections with people as far as being an actor, and also started to dabble in producing a little bit.
I felt like You’re Next was like the ‘bite in the neck’ that I received from The Master. I could see the parallels of my own life. I was [just] really drawn to the story of an older woman who finds herself again, and rekindled her lust for life.
JE: I loved the design for ‘The Master’. It clearly echoes the Nosferatu and Salem’s Lot-style vampire designs. Was that originally in the script?
BC: To be honest with you, I can’t remember if that was originally in the script. I don’t think it was—I think it was just a vampire, you know, and we hadn’t gotten that far yet, to have the designs on The Master. I do know that it was it was Travis Stevens’ idea to make The Master a ‘Nosferatu’, that he definitely wanted that in our movie. We talked a lot about different vampire movies for months before we started shooting, [about] what we liked about them all, and not many people have done the Nosferatu look… It’s been done a few times, but it’s not the ‘classic Bela Lugosi’ vampire. We wanted to do something different.
We didn’t even know that we were going to cast Bonnie Aarons in the part until we decided that it should be a woman. You know, this story is about a woman finding herself so maybe The Master should be a woman… We also wanted to highlight Bonnie Aarons as an actress and give her a really strong role… Bonnie was one of the first actors that we thought of, because she’s been a prolific actor for a very long time. She’s been in the business as long as I have, and she’s played The Nun in a few movies but not really given enough of a palette to work from.
We really wanted to highlight her and give her a role that she could really sink her teeth into, if you excuse my pun, give her something really fun to play and a bigger platform. And, you know, she’s just so beautiful and so interesting looking… just such a cool person. When we when we sent it to Bonnie, she said ‘Oh my god, I’d love to do this, this would be so fun for me!’
JE: Any interesting stories from the shoot?
BC: Just getting there. It took me five years… that was the hardest part of developing the story, and developing the project, and putting all the people together to work on getting the money together and finding a distributor and ‘where are you going to shoot it?’ I think once you get to the actual set, you almost can breathe a sigh of relief, even though every day is a challenge to get through. The hardest job is getting there and it taking five years.
For me, I really was reveling in every single day. We had a lot of rain in Mississippi. It was very cold, and we had a lot of exterior sets. Every day we had to turn our schedule on its head and all of a sudden we were shooting different scenes every day… that was a bit of a challenge. But in the scheme of things, for its taking as long as it did to get here, those were just small issues, such a small problem in the scheme of the whole project.
JE: How was it working with Travis?
BC: Oh, amazing. Travis and I had worked on We Are Still Here together a number of years ago so we’ve been friends for a number of years. None of us even at Alliance Media Partners, the production company that I’ve worked with… Travis wasn’t on our radar initially, only because we didn’t know that he wanted to direct… but then his movie The Girl on the Third Floor came out and we saw the movie and we all loved it.
We had just started meeting with directors around the time that his film came out and we said ‘well, we’ve got to meet with Travis, he’s a director now.’ He brings so much more to the table than than just being a director because he’s been a producer for so long, so we met with him.
He read the script and said ‘I love this story! I love this project, I love you guys. I really want to work on this, I want this to be my next movie.’ And I was shaking. I was just so excited, because I knew with his sense of fun, and him being in the business for so long and having so much success with his first movie, and because we were all friends… when he said, I want to work on it, we all said, ‘okay, it’s yours, you can do it.’
JE: Is there anything you’d like the audience to take home?
BC: Yeah… You know, I love working in horror movies. It’s become my life. And since You’re Next I decided to rededicate myself to the genre, to having a horror movie career. And I think horror movies and genre movies have roots in deep empathy and compassion in addition to being scary.
The thing I love about horror films is that it allows us to dissect our anxieties and face them in stronger ways that we may not do in our own life. I think that Jakob’s Wife hopefully can do that for people. If anybody’s felt through their life that they’ve ever been afraid to reach their potential or reach their full power, to watch somebody else onscreen, or watch Anne onscreen, being able to grapple with maybe what she’s lost and what she’d like to have in her life and she got a second chance… hopefully people will realize that it’s never too late to start again.
Jakob’s Wife will receive U.S. theatrical release on April 16th.