October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best Barbara Crampton horror films is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Putting the Queen in Scream Queen, Barbara Crampton is a living legend like no other. Her inimitable career in horror has spanned decades and included some of the best schlocky and spooky entries in the genre. It’s tempting to associate Crampton with her 1980s output, and indeed her early career was a formidable fright-fest. But Crampton has also seen a career resurgence over the last decade, allowing for entries on this list to range from 1985 up to this past year. When we talk about range, this is what we mean.
Crampton’s impressive career has also encompassed a wide variety of subgenres. So whether you love spooky sci-fi, understated thrillers, or gleefully gory horror, there’s a Crampton film for you. From HP Lovecraft to home invasions, here are the top 10 best Barbara Crampton horror movies, as chosen by Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, and myself.
10. Culture Shock (2019)
Gigi Saul Guerrero tackles immigration and the allure of the “American Dream” in Culture Shock, her entry in Hulu’s “Into the Dark” series. Martha Higareda stars as Marisol, a Mexican immigrant that crosses the border into the United States in hopes of a better life. Of course, it’s America, so what she really finds is a suburban nightmare masquerading as a pleasant utopia. Along the way, she wakes up in the pastel home of Betty, an all-American homemaker cut from the cloth of Donna Reed as played by the exceptional Barbara Crampton. Betty is over-the-top nice and always smiling too much. Pretty, blonde, and wholesome, Betty represents the face and personality that America wants the rest of the world to see. But underneath that pretty happy outer shell, something sinister awaits. And Crampton captures it perfectly. (Chris Coffel)
9. Road Games (2015)
When Barbara Crampton’s name appears in the credits, the entire manner with which I watch a movie shifts. I’m still registering the story and the characters, but mostly, I’m waiting for her to appear. And when she does, all focus and energy zeroes in on whatever section of the frame she’s occupying. Crampton’s Mary is a puzzle. She’s a friendly face, but there’s an electric charge behind each movement. You’re waiting for Crampton to crack, to strike out and reveal a twisted nature and a darker history. And it does finally reveal itself, and Road Games goes wild and mad and tragically delicious. Everything you desire in a Barbara Crampton horror reveal. (Brad Gullickson)
8. The Lords of Salem (2012)
You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Rob Zombie fan to appreciate Lords of Salem. As an ode to Italian Superstars like Michele Soavi and Lucio Fulci – not to mention the kaleidoscopic eye of Ken Russell – the film exudes imagery horror hounds hadn’t really seen since the maestri dell’orrore stopped making new work in the early 1990s.
Something else we hadn’t seen much from since the early 90s was actress Barbara Crampton. She landed back on the genre scene with 2011’s You’re Next, followed the next year by her cameo as Virginia Cable in The Lords of Salem. It’s a brief, but substantial, part in the context of the film, giving the audience a healthy dose of foreshadowing as we brace for the town to be taken over by the black magic of a coven of witches. As shock-rock DJs Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips), and Munster (Ken Foree) play a mysterious LP on their radio show, we watch a series of women – including Crampton – seemingly become possessed by the broadcast.
Problem is that Crampton’s role wasn’t originally intended to be relegated to such a fleeting moment. As horror websites reported prior to the film’s release, Crampton appeared to play a larger role in the original film, but clearly, all of that was left on the cutting room floor. Still, Crampton does a fine job quietly doing some heavy lifting helping Zombie build the world his coven of Massachusetts witches live in. (Jacob Trussell)
7. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
Whoever’s decision it was to cast Barbara Crampton as a sexy goth vampire wife to a faithful small-town minister deserves a medal for their services. Larry Fessenden and Crampton reunite in Travis Stevens’ second feature, Jakob’s Wife, a warm-hearted, blood-drenched tale of how demure church wife Anne (Crampton) gets her groove back after getting savaged by a Nosferatu look-alike in a lumber mill. Emboldened by a new undead zest for life, Anne and the titular Jakob (Fessenden) must negotiate a growing body count and an unexpected wrinkle in their power dynamic.
Filled with middle-aged female rage and an astute commentary on the restrictive expectations placed on women, Crampton is, as usual, an absolute delight, leaning fangs-first into the gooey camp and the tender-hearted relationship drama with equal vigor. Drenched in charm and… other fluids, Crampton makes it easy to stick by Anne’s side even as she inhales geysers of gore from her unfortunate victims. Jakob’s Wife is Barbara Crampton horror with giddy B-movie delights in spades, and she effortlessly elevates the whole shebang to a whole other bloody level. (Meg Shields)
6. We Are Still Here (2015)
Ted Geoghegan’s haunting ghost story We Are Still Here features a heart-wrenching performance from Barbara Crampton as a mother in throes of grief after the tragic death of her son. She and her husband (Andrew Sensenig) move to a new home in rural New England where they could start fresh and begin to heal. But the townsfolk have other plans. While Crampton typically portrays more exaggerated characters, here she absolutely nails a quieter, more understated role. It’s all about how she uses her eyes to portray that bone-deep grief she feels as she grasps onto the hope that perhaps the ghost of her son really is trying to speak with her. Here, Crampton was able to really showcase her acting chops and ability to craft complex characters. This is one of the performances that has truly marked the resurgence of her career as more than just a scream queen. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists