Babs has a solid career as a soap opera star, but it’s her balls-out performances in director Stuart Gordon’s oeuvre that give her such badass cred. She’s carried weighty roles with admirable dedication, committing herself to some fully disturbing exhibitions. Crampton first appears as wholesome college student Megan Halsey in Re-Animator (1985). Megan provides the pristine counterpoint to the amoral Herbert West and the purely evil Dr. Hill, somehow never cloying in her guilelessness. And then this happens.
Crampton’s next Gordon role is as the buttoned-up Dr. Katherine McMichaels in the 1986 film From Beyond, whose experiments with the pineal gland lead to her, uhm, unbuttoning.
Crampton also plays bitter mother Susan Reilly in Stu’s 1995 film Castle Freak, wrenched with fury at her husband’s tragic mistake. She spends much of the movie glaring at Jeffrey Combs with chilly rage.
The three roles are wildly disparate, and the only common factor is Crampton’s utterly naked
commitment to the performances. And also her utterly naked nudity, because girlfriend is unafraid to show some skin! She’s a fearless physical actor, thrashing and flailing, portraying passion, fury and terror with equal ardor. Gordon is incredibly fortunate to have found a leading lady who exhibits this dauntless devotion to his twisted whims, and in turn Crampton is lucky to be given such meaty roles in his films. Megan, Katherine and Susan are all brave, capable women with complexities and intelligence. The women she depicts are not merely victims or tramps, and the sad truth is that in a horror movie, particularly a horror movie made ten to twenty years ago, that is a rarity. Crampton has never taken her good fortune lightly, bringing a profundity to these B-movie roles—roles that allow her more opportunity to evolve than most current mainstream movies offer women. None of these characters is preoccupied with Getting A Man; Megan and Katherine are both academics, and Susan is a fiercely courageous mother. That alone is an achievement in a female character.
Of course, each of these roles has the potential to be two-dimensional, but through Crampton’s
powerful performances they transcend clichés. Megan’s unsullied virtue in Re-Animator is tempered by her decisiveness and strength of character. Crampton turns Megan’s sugary speeches about right and wrong into forceful declarations through her delivery. Katherine’s inevitable sexualization in From Beyond is never exploitative, despite how totally, awesomely freaky she becomes. The transformation is by Katherine’s design and intent, and Crampton owns the shit out of it.
And in Castle Freak, Susan, a potentially banal embittered shrew-type, is made relatable by Crampton’s nuanced portrayal. Her unconditional bravery in protecting her daughter and unceasing grief caused by the death of her son make Susan an incredibly complex and significant character.
Crampton’s chemistry with main man Jeffrey Combs is incomparable, and the two have cultivated stunning performances under Gordon’s direction. Crampton and Combs are both said to be cast in the perpetual dangling carrot that is House of Re-Animator, should that film ever be made, and I hope it is, because I’d love to see Crampton kick some ass as the First Lady of the United States of America.
Barbara Crampton is the perfect B-movie star, an actress with lungs and legs and heart. Her partnership with Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs has created some of my favorite horror movies ever, and I’d love to see her in more films. So quit dicking us around, Stu, and make House of Re-Animator already!
You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com.