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Barbara Crampton on Shudder’s Jakob’s Wife, and older people’s stories in horror

Horror legend Barbara Crampton talks about making Shudder's Jakob's Wife, and shares what her favourite horror movie is

Barbara Crampton on Jakob's Wife and women in horror

Horror icon Barbara Crampton takes to the blood-soaked screen once again in Jakob’s Wife, a gory monster movie that is currently available on the streaming service Shudder. Directed by Travis Stevens, Crampton plays Anne, a timid wife of a minister who after meeting “The Master”, awakens a new, and deadly side of herself. Full of practical effects, and some gnarly vampiric fun, Jakob’s Wife pays homage to Crampton’s past iconic roles while also pointing towards her future trajectory as an actor and producer.

A legend in the horror genre, Crampton has been giving us scream-worthy gold since the ‘80s, and has worked consistently since her 2011 horror comeback in You’re Next. From her performance in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, to her more recent work on Creepshow, and Jakob’s Wife, Crampton has rightly earned her reputation as an significant figure, in the horror community. She is also a producer, as well as an actor, and is dedicated to helping new faces find their footing in the cinematic space where she continues to shine.

In our interview with the filmmaker on her time working on Jakob’s Wife, we discuss older women’s places in horror, talk scream queens, learn what it was like working during Covid-19, and finally, get the inside scoop on what her two favourite horror movies of all time are.

The Digital Fix: Firstly I loved the movie. I thought you were phenomenal in Jakob’s Wife. What first drew you to this story?

Barbara Crampton: Thank you so much. The script won a screenplay contest at Street Festival Los Angeles in 2015, and the writer and director of that festival reached out to me because they thought it might be of interest to me as an actor and as a producer – because I had started producing around that time. I read the script and I loved the story of a woman’s awakening to herself, and having a second chance at life, and I thought the writing was really great. I thought the story was important, it had something to say about older women – which I am one.

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So, I asked if I could take it on as a producer, and I started developing it over the next couple of years. Originally the story was focused more on Jakob’s point of view, and how he would deal with things if his wife was bitten by a vampire, and what that would mean for him, if he was actually dealing with somebody who had a terminal illness. It was more from his point of view, so we changed that a little bit, to make it more from Anne’s point of view, and also bring the aspect of feminism to the forefront. But there was also the idea of how do you keep a marriage going after so long, when one person changes, and what does that do to the dynamic of the couple? So as much as the movie is about a feminist point of view and a woman’s awakening into herself, it is also about a marriage.

As a huge horror fan, and a woman, roles like these are really important to me personally. By the end of the movie seeing Anne embrace this demonic side is empowering in a way. What do you think roles like this mean for representation for women in horror going forward?

Well, I think that horror has always been pretty good to women. They have always given us really big and bold roles to play. And I think, and I hope that this movie will also allow people to see that there is value in stories told by older characters. Right before this movie came out, around the time we were just finishing up editing, Anything for Jackson came out, and Relic, and I really love those stories as well because they were about older people. You know, I think that we can’t just tell stories about young people, although those are the ones that sell the most, we have to include everybody.

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So my hope is that we continue because I do think things have changed; I hope things continue to change about women’s roles, and seeing more points of view from women, and empowered women in film. But also, I hope we see movies about older people, and what their hopes, wants, and dreams are because the movie [Jakob’s Wife] is about that. It says that it Is never too late for you. I think that even someone in their thirties can relate to this movie.

Barbara Crampton interview on Jakob's Wife on women in horror

There is always a time in your life when you feel like, ‘I want to make a change, there is something else, I want to do something different with my life’, and it is never too early or too late to start thinking about that. You know, if I want to make a change, if I want to be a different person, if I have a certain job I am doing – but maybe I don’t want that job, maybe I want to do something else. I think that if this movie can help dispel that fear that you can’t change or that you can’t move on, maybe this movie can be of value for everybody, no matter what their age.

You keep bringing up this point about age, and I feel it is important to talk about. I feel like until recently, there has been an unspoken, and unjustified ‘sell by date’ rule for women in the media. Anne shatters those notions, and proves that older women aren’t just a mom or a wife, she is a desirable character, who also has a sexual awakening. With this new role, do you think we are ready to break away from gendered umbrella terms like scream queens, and all their accompanying tropes?

Yeah. I actually wrote an article called ‘Don’t Call me a Scream Queen’. It was an article that I wrote for Birth.Movies.Death. a couple of years ago. And yeah, I think that it is an antiquated term personally. I know that a lot of people don’t have trouble with it, and they use it in a very affectionate manner towards ladies of horror. But it doesn’t really illuminate all the things that a woman performer goes through, and the gravity of what we have brought to the genre over the years. I think the term sounds, you know, a little reductive and maybe a little silly to me. Haha, I could really get into it, but we’d be here for a while.

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I think women have been given a large voice in the horror genre for many years, and I think we are giving larger voices now. And I feel like we have more places to go as well, in terms of storytelling, and in terms of women helming films and writing films. Women are winning awards now, I mean, look at The Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Titane, and Issa Lopez wrote Tigers are Not Afraid and directed that. We are seeing women in more and more places where they should have been for many years.

I totally agree. On the topic of women making films, not just starring in them, you are stepping behind the camera now too, producing a number of movies, including this one. How is that dynamic? How did you balance being a producer while also being the lead actress in Jakob’s Wife?

Yeah! I guess this was the only one where I had to deal with that. Oh wait – I guess I was in Beyond the Gates, but my part was so small, and the movie was really more about the brothers, that is what we were really focusing on. There are a lot of other movies now where I am in development with the company that I made Jakob’s wife with, that I won’t be an actor in at all. I’m just helping the filmmakers bring their projects to life with those. But yeah, I do think that you have to separate yourself a little bit from producing a movie and acting in it, and wear a couple of different hats.

Barbara Crampton on Jakob's Wife carrying a dead body

But I haven’t found it extremely difficult to do that, you know. It seems to be working ok. I don’t think going forward that there are going to be so many movies that I am going to have a leading role in. Maybe I’ll have a smaller part in them, because I really like the producing aspect as well. I really do like helping other filmmakers work on their scripts, and helping find a distributor, and helping them find the money so they can make their movie. I really enjoy that part. So it is just two different aspects of the business that I find equally challenging and rewarding.

Talking about challenges, what was it like working through Covid-19?

Well, when we made Jakob’s Wife, we actually finished filming it eight days before the lockdown happened in March. So we just got it in under the wire. I don’t know what we would have done if we had been delayed at all. So working on Jakob’s Wife, we were editing it through the pandemic, and we were just being really safe. I wasn’t in the editing room everyday but I was in the editing room a lot towards the end, and Travis Stevens and the editor, and one of our other producers worked very safely together when they could. They just kept far apart from one another, and thank god nothing happened before everyone was vaccinated.

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I have worked on a few other movies as an actor. I did an episode of Creepshow in Atlanta with Joe Lynch during the pandemic, and nobody was vaccinated. It was ok, I took a lot of tests, and did a lot of isolating, sort of kept to myself, and everybody wore masks. We were all completely compliant with all the rules and regulations, and it seemed to work out ok. We never had anybody come up sick or anything, and I have done that on a couple of other sets recently, and thank god – knock on wood – nothing has happened.

It is a challenging time for independent filmmakers, trying to make these lower budget movies when the Covid testing and all that adds 10% to your budget, if not 15 or 20 – depending on where you are working. Haha, so it has been quite challenging; if it wasn’t already difficult to get the money for your movie, it is even harder now. And to make a good film on a limited budget, it’s hard. If everybody would please get vaccinated, then we wouldn’t have so many problems.

Barbara Crampton on Jakob's Wife producing horror

It must have been quite surreal editing a film about a supernatural virus – vampirism, especially plague-like rat carrying vampirism, during a pandemic.

Yeah! Haha, I guess we didn’t really think of it in that way, but I wonder how many more pandemic movies we are going to see come out of this time. I’m not sure everybody wants to see movies about a pandemic, but that’s a good correlation that you mentioned. I guess we were sort of locked down editing on our own, you know the music people and everybody we were all working on our own, we couldn’t get together. It was all a little isolating.

You have some pretty gnarly scenes in Jakob’s wife. What are the changes in gore, and working on sets from the horror movies you made in the ‘80s like Re-Animator, to the ones you are making now?

Well, Travis wanted to include some of those bigger over the top scenes, I think, as an ode to some of my earlier movies. He also used practical effects, and he infused the movie with a lot of darkness, and realism. I think it worked for this particular movie because, in the beginning, my character is very sort of shy, and sad, keeps to herself and feels a little bit put upon by the relationship with her husband, and feels timid. And when she is bitten by the vampire, the movie really opens up and gets funnier and funnier, and messier.

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We see some over the top special effects, and again that is another deeper metaphor for the movie about embracing all of it, you know? Embracing your life, and it also harks back to some of the earlier films I did, which people remember fondly like Re-Animator. I think it was Travis’ intention to include that on purpose, so people would get a little bit of the forward motion of my trajectory as an actor and in the film, and my place in time now. But it also gives some voice to the past and what’s come before me, and what has come before this particular movie with me.

Jakob Wife's poster

Our time is almost up, and I just have to ask you this huge question. What is your favourite horror movie? Haha, do you ever watch your past flicks for fun, or do you have some go-to classics?

Yeah, I watch horror movies, and you know, working in the business as a producer, I feel like I have to keep up on everything. But yeah, I like the genre very much. I wasn’t one of those people who came at it from a very early age, say like five or ten. My parents didn’t bring me up watching horror movies. It was sort of something that I stepped into after working with Stuart Gordon, and realised ‘oh, ok, this is what I do. I’m a horror actress, and I really like it’. Although I did watch Dark Shadows when I was younger, so maybe that was foretelling of the future. I have two favourite movies.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the first horror movies that I saw in my early twenties that really affected me. I couldn’t sleep for three days, and it was so intense, it was such a ride of emotions that still sticks with me because it made such an impression on me. It felt like it was so real, like it was a home movie. So yeah, that movie is probably one of my favourites, as far as the scare factor of it, how well it was done, and I came to know Gunnar Hansen later on, and he had become a friend of mine for many years before he passed on. So that movie holds a special place in my heart.

It is a really good choice.

Right! It just came out of nowhere. It was just so amazing. I also really love The Shining.

Ah, I love that movie, yes.

Yeah, so I guess we are aligned on those, haha. I just think that it is a beautiful movie, it looks gorgeous, and it is so psychologically intense. Those are some of the movies that really affect me the most, the psychological ones, that I get the most frightened of. So I return to that movie again and again. Visually it is so beautiful, and the characters, and actors are so great, and it just works on so many levels. It is pretty much a flawless movie in my mind.

Barbara Crampton's favourite horror movie

We are very much of the same opinion there. It is my favourite movie.

Oh wow, yeah, it is amazing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me; it was so nice to meet you.

Emma! Thank you so much. Nice to meet you too.

I can’t wait for everyone to see Jakob’s Wife, and I am looking forward to seeing what you plan to release in the future.

Thank you, thank you so much.

Jakob’s Wife is currently available to stream on Shudder. If you are looking to sign-up for the horror-centric streaming service, and support us here at The Digital Fix check out our link here.