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Horror legend Barbara Crampton on her new film Jakob's Wife and 'awakening' for a second act

By Matthew Jackson
Jakob's Wife

Barbara Crampton's been around horror cinema long enough to be considered a living legend in the genre for her acting roles alone. Her sprawling body of work includes everything from 1980s classics such as Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) to modern masterpieces such as You're Next (2011) and We Are Still Here (2015). However, Crampton is still branching out. Her latest film, Jakob's Wife, which premieres this week at SXSW, is part of her ongoing effort to take on more work as a producer, something she's also done with films such as Beyond the Gates (2016) and the recent remake of Castle Freak (2020).

Because of that, and the five-year road to finishing Jakob's Wife, Crampton carries a real emotional connection to the material as well as the title character — particularly in the transformative experience they share.

"It all comes from me," Crampton told SYFY WIRE when asked how much of her character, Anne, is pulled from her own experience. "I guess that's why I was attracted to the material because I had left the business for a while kind of in my middle-30s because I really wasn't getting any phone calls for any roles anymore. I wasn't getting auditions, and there just wasn't a lot for me to do. I was contemplating switching careers."

In 2000, she married her husband Robert Bleckman, with whom she has three children. "My life became more about being a mom than anything else, taking care of our family and our home," she shares. "And then it was sort of a chance happening that I received a call to be in You're Next a number of years ago. And when that happened, that was sort of a renewal for me, sort of bringing me back to the horror genre in a way that I hadn't anticipated."

She continues: "I didn't think that I was going to be working again. But when I did that film and I saw all these young people working on the movie and they were so dynamic and they were all hyphenates: working as actors and producers and writers and cinematographers and editors... everybody who worked on that movie did other things, I thought, 'Oh, this is what people do now.' When I started out in the '80s, I just stayed in my lane. I was an actor, and I waited for the phone to ring. But I had an awakening to myself, just as Anne does in the movie, and getting shown that the reason things stopped happening for me is because I wasn't doing anything either. I wasn't making it happen, and I had to make some things happen for myself."

Barbara Crampton arrives at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival

Directed by Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) from a script by Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, Jakob's Wife follows Anne's dull existence as the supportive, dutiful, patient wife of a small-town minister (Larry Fessenden) who always seems to take up more space than she does. Still, Anne has projects of her own, and one of them leads to a chance encounter with "The Master," a life-changing experience that rekindles something in Anne she'd long ago thought was lost. We can't tell you much more than that about the film just yet, but it is a horror film, so it's safe to assume Anne's new sense of vitality will come with a cost.

It's that sense of "awakening," as she puts it, that helped draw Crampton into the original script and drove her to nurture the project along its long development road. For her, Anne was a character who hit close to home, and who grew even closer as the project evolved.

"So, I had a rekindling of my love for the horror genre and my love for acting, my love for working in the business, just as Anne has a rekindling," Crampton says. "So, I feel like it really mirrored what was going on with me in my life, and that's what attracted me to the story and to the material...

"When we were working on the script, we altered it a little bit to [fit me]," she continues. "Also, Travis, after he came on board [as director] about a year or so before we made the movie, he actually put things in the script that were just particular to me, asking me and asking Larry Fessenden about our own marriages and how we related to our partners and what kinds of things annoyed us about them, and vice versa. And Travis also put those things in the script. So there's a lot of things that are very personal to my relationship with my own husband."

Jakob's Wife arrives at a very good time to be a Crampton fan. The film will arrive in theaters and on-demand next month and hit Shudder late this year, as will Crampton's upcoming appearance in the second season of the horror streamer's hit Creepshow. Throw in other recent successes such as Sacrifice and the upcoming King Knight, and it's clear that Crampton's rekindling is still burning bright, something that's especially apparent when she speaks about her work as a producer. After all this time with horror films, she's still finding new ways to tell stories.

"Producing allows me to develop the project from the ground up," she says. "I really enjoy helping young filmmakers realize their vision from the script to filming the movie, editing — through all stages of post. A long time ago, someone told me that 'character is story and story is character.' In my early years, I was only concerned with my own character's journey but now I'm highly focused on how all the characters work together and complement each other to form the complete narrative. It's an exciting and satisfying vantage point to work from as I've gotten older. It's kind of like telling the story from the inside out after living a long life."

Jakob's Wife premieres March 17 at SXSW and hit theaters and on-demand platforms on April 16.