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'Sacrifice' star Barbara Crampton: Modern horror defies labels

Renate's (Barbara Crampton) day job is town sheriff. Photo courtesy of Dread
Renate's (Barbara Crampton) day job is town sheriff. Photo courtesy of Dread

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Early in her career, Barbara Crampton starred in Re-Animator and From Beyond, two 1980s horror movies that still are popular. With more horror credits in the last 10 years, including the new film, Sacrifice, Crampton said horror has grown exponentially since her beginnings in the genre.

"The general population is more aware of horror and what it can do than they ever have been aware of it," Crampton told UPI in a Zoom interview. "We've known [what horror can do] for a long time as horror fans."

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In 1985 and 1986, Re-Animator and From Beyond combined macabre humor with gore and creatures. In Re-Animator, a scientist could revive the dead, but they returned as violent monsters. In From Beyond, scientists explored another dimension that brought to life their sexual fantasies. Evil Dead 2 in 1987 pushed horror-comedy even further.

Crampton said she was pleased to see recent horror movies combine even more genres than horror and comedy. She admired how Jordan Peele's Get Out and Us, and Oscar-winner Parasite, combined horrific violence with social commentary. She also enjoyed the creature love story of Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water.

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"You can tell a horror story in any genre," Crampton said. "We've layered it more lately."

Sacrifice is more of a traditional horror drama than Crampton's early films. She plays Renate, a Norwegian sheriff who also is a cult leader.

"This is pretty serious," Crampton said. "There are certain aspects of the human condition that I look for. Where's the love? Where's the sympathy? Where's the sadness? Where's the humor?"

In Sacrifice, Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) brings his pregnant wife, Emma (Sophie Stevens), to Norway to claim their inheritance. Renate invites the couple to her cult ceremonies to indoctrinate Isaac into staying.

"I think I'm a reluctant cult member or leader," Crampton said. "At the same time, this is my home and it's what I know. I've given myself over to it and I love it."

Themes of motherhood saturate Sacrifice. Isaac has just lost his mother, who escaped from her husband with Isaac when he was a child. Emma is about to become a mother, and Crampton feels Renate lulls them in by acting maternal toward the new visitors.

"You feel safe with your mom," Crampton said. "You feel safe with a woman's energy most of the time."

Crampton has explored many more facets of horror in the last 10 years. She had all but retired after her time on the soap opera The Young and the Restless ended in 2002.

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She returned for a 2006 episode and two 2007 episodes, but was content to focus on her family. The makers of the 2011 horror film You're Next, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, came looking for her and asked her to play the mother in their family-under-siege film.

You're Next premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, and Lionsgate ultimately released it in 2013. Once people saw Crampton acting again, more horror filmmakers kept calling her.

Credits include We Are Still Here, Sun Choke, Replace, Tales of Halloween, Beyond the Gates and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. The 62-year-old actor said directors and producers kept introducing her to filmmakers they knew, and her career reignited.

"God, it's a gift," Crampton said. "I'm the luckiest older woman working in horror today."

Among her recent output, Crampton has enjoyed diversity within the horror genre. She's played heroines and villains, with a variety of tones.

You're Next shares a macabre sense of humor with Crampton's earlier horror films. The Littlest Reich is also irreverent with killer Nazi puppets.

In We Are Still Here, Crampton plays a grieving mother who faces further trauma in a haunted house. In the whimsical Beyond the Gates, Crampton plays the host of a game that puts its players through hell.

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Crampton's earlier horror movies continue to achieve new acclaim. Turner Classic Movies showed Re-Animator and From Beyond after the death of their director, Stuart Gordon.

"Did it take Stuart Gordon's passing to make them classics?" Crampton said. "I don't know. I'm very proud to be part of something that people consider some of the foremost, creative, groundbreaking horror movies of all time."

Crampton plans to continue acting. She stars in Jacob's Wife, which will premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March.

She also is moving behind the scenes as a producer. Crampton said she has three films in development, and she may appear in two.

The one constant in all of her horror films, Crampton said, is an attention to character. That is what she takes into the projects she is producing.

"I'll carry on the lessons that I learned from working with [Gordon] hopefully through the work that I do," Crampton said.

Sacrifice is in theaters Friday, available on video-on-demand Tuesday and on Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 23.

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