Exclusive Interview: Barbara Crampton on SUN CHOKE and Her Triumphant Return to Horror

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SHOCK talks to iconic actress Barbara Crampton about her role in the film SUN CHOKE.

Lady Barbara Crampton, she who came of age cheating on Craig Wasson in Brian DePalma’s BODY DOUBLE, being sexually assaulted by a severed head in Stuart Gordon’s still astonishing 1985 classic RE-ANIMATOR, and later, as an intellectual turned leather clad pineal perv in Gordon’s FROM BEYOND, is having quite the career renaissance.

The beautiful, talented and genuinely kind actress had followed her genre film work with a long run in daytime soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and then, after starting a family and battling a serious health issue, she virtually retired from her craft.

Then, in 2011, she emerged again, guns blazing, older but still immaculate, in Adam Wingard’s acclaimed thriller YOU’RE NEXT; that was followed quickly by an appearance in Rob Zombie’s psychedelic THE LORDS OF SALEM and then, most recently in director Ted Geoghegan’s supernatural thriller WE ARE STILL HERE.

In between these three prominent pictures, Crampton also appeared in filmmaker Ben Cresciman’s sophisticated arthouse, female-driven psychodrama SUN CHOKE, a Polanski-tinted picture that has been garnering rave reviews on the festival circuit and has now been picked up by XLrator Media for a Summer release.

SUN CHOKE stars Sarah Hagan as Janie, a young girl trying to recover from a breakdown. Janie’s efforts to heal are aided by her intense Nanny Irma (Crampton) who smothers her with a strange, new age health regimen. But things get very strange when Janie meets Savanah (Sarah Malakul Lane), a girl whom she develops an unsettling obsession with. A three hander between the women develops as Janie spirals deeper down into psychosis.

In an exclusive interview, SHOCK spoke to Barbara Crampton about her work in SUN CHOKE and her triumphant return to the screen. And beware, there are minor spoilers below…

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SHOCK: SUN CHOKE is a much more cerebral horror film, something I appreciate. Is this what attracted you to the film?

CRAMPTON: Yes. It is quite cerebral. You don’t know where these characters are coming from, especially in the beginning. I think you’re not sure who to root for either in terms of my character or Sarah Hagan’s. It changes at various moments. I asked Ben (Cresciman), our writer/director, if I was a good character or a bad one, because really, I couldn’t tell from the script. He said he didn’t know. At first I felt sort of anxious with that answer. But I didn’t question him and I thought there must be a reason he responded in that way. So I decided I had to embrace that answer and just go with whatever situations my character found herself in. I believe every character is capable of and should be able to justify their actions so I tried to do that. However I’m quite certain some people may think I’m not so nice…

SHOCK: Janie is in the thralls of an intensive healing regimen following a health crisis. You yourself bounced back from a serious illness. Did you see any of your struggle in Janie? Or Irma for that matter?

CRAMPTON: Well, I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome a number of years ago following a long parasite infection. This was a purely physical problem although some people do think it comes from the mind. I don’t know. I’m completely better now and I got that way from being a very good patient and following all my doctor’s suggestions, physical and spiritual. He examined every system in my body to get everything working in top form so my body or mind could fight off whatever was causing my fatigue: from my diet, to possible food allergies to checking my endocrine and other systems to going into an infrared sauna 3x per week for long heat sessions – in case it was a virus which can’t survive in heat. I took a lot of crazy supplements and gave more blood in that time for tests than a vampire could drink in a year! I also went to a TM center and received a mantra and meditated twice a day for 2 years. I took homeopathy remedies and studied zen Buddhism. In total it all made me feel better after some time. I did drink healthy juices and practice yoga, so, yeah, just about everything my character tries on Janie in the movie I’ve attempted or has been attempted on me. Except for the dog collar thingy. None of my doctors were that controlling or desperate to get me well. My character of Irma does take drastic measures. From all of what I went through, I understood about crazy therapies that may or may not work and about applying them every day and being consistent (just in case) So this did feel quite familiar to me.

SHOCK: Crescimen really shows his chops here. As a veteran actor, did you sense from the get go that SUN CHOKE would be a quality piece of work?

CRAMPTON: Honestly, you never know. We all had moments during shooting where we felt things were working and there was an excitement about that. But there are so many variables that go into making a finished film. I’ve heard it said that there’s the movie you make and the one the audience tells you you’ve made. I think that’s true. So you never know until an audience watches it. We didn’t do test screenings but friends in the business watched it and gave notes until the final cut. Ben as kind of a first timer, was very specific though, about a lot of things. It felt like a movie made by one guy with a very distinct point of view. I really like and appreciate that in a director. As an actress I want to be in YOUR movie. I want to serve the writer and director and be part of something that doesn’t feel like it’s a mash-up of too many different ideas. This movie feels somewhat ambiguous but it’s all on purpose, with great style. I believe Ben feels and thinks very deeply and he gave the two gals, Sara Malakul Lane, Sarah Hagan and myself, some very rich things themes to play. I do think you’ll see more wonderful movies from him.

SHOCK: It seems that your return to acting happened very quickly. What do you attribute to this sudden surge in amazing roles for you?

CRAMPTON: It really began again with YOU’RE NEXT. I’m forever grateful to Simon Barrett for thinking of me in the first place and for Adam Wingard and the producers to take me on that wonderful ride with them. It was a great movie to return in and because of its success, I think people were a bit more aware of me again. I am playing some very interesting and different characters with heftier substance and it’s continually surprising to me every time I get an email to be in another movie. I’m having a nice run. I hope it continues because I’m having a ball!

SHOCK: Now that you can be considerably more selective about the projects you choose, will you continue to seek out more sophisticated indie fare like SUN CHOKE and WE ARE STILL HERE?

CRAMPTON: For me, it all depends on the people involved and the script. For the most part I’m working with friends or people I’ve greatly admired. I was on the producing team for BEYOND THE GATES, a movie by Jackson Stewart. He was an intern for Stuart Gordon and so I’ve known him for a few years. He wrote a very cool and different kind of horror story and he was just ready, so I joined the team he had already put together. We have just begun submitting to film festivals so I hope you’ll hear more about this one soon. I have a few other projects in various stages of development or pre-production most with people I know, adore and can’t wait to work with…

Keep on the look out for SUN CHOKE this summer and be sure to follow the immaculate Barbara Crampton at at her Twitter page.