Tag Archives: Barbara Crampton

Feeling Miskatonic

Suitable Flesh

by Hope Madden

I’m going to guess Joe Lynch is a Stuart Gordon fan.

Who isn’t?!

The Mayhem director returns to the horror genre with a Lovecraftian fable, but this is no garden variety Lovecraft. Lynch’s vibe and manner – not to mention co-writer and cast – lean closer to Gordon homage than outright cosmic horror.

Lynch loosely adapts Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep, writing with Stewart’s longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon). Their tale shadows psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham), who – against her own better instincts – takes on a new patient. Asa (Judah Lewis) believes his father is trying to steal his body.

Cleaving to science and yet inexplicably attracted to the young man, Derby fails to understand her patient’s claims until it is too late – an evil entity has moved from Asa’s father into Asa and is now threatening to take over Dr. Derby’s body.

Graham’s a bit of campy fun in a dual role – far more fun when she gets to dig into the hedonistic villain character. It’s a performance that lets the actor stretch a bit and she seems to relish the darker side of the role. Likewise, Lewis excels in particular when the sinister force inhabits meek and terrified Asa.

Of course, no Gordonesque Lovecraftian flick is complete without the glorious Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak). Crampton’s Dani, Derby’s uptight colleague and best friend, becomes an ideal foil for the transformed psychiatrist. Graham and Crampton vamp it up as the demon oscillates between them, which is as much fun as it sounds like it would be.

The film feels very much like a Dennis Paoli film and fans of his Gordon collaborations have reason to celebrate. But Suitable Flesh doesn’t entirely deliver on its promise of mayhem. It never quite leaps off that cliff the way Paoli films usually do and for that reason feels a tad tame.

But a game cast and a bit of 80s inspired lunacy ensure a good time is had by all. Plus, that’s a great title.

With or Without You

Alone with You

by Hope Madden

A surreal meditation on emotionally abusive relationships, Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’s Alone with You brings eerie new meaning to lockdown.

Co-writer/co-director Bennett also stars as Charlie, a woman eagerly waiting for her lover Simone (Emma Myles) to return from a trip. It’s their first anniversary and Charlie would like it to be special.

What transpires never has two people in the same room, is set almost exclusively in one apartment, utilizes multiple device screens, and somehow pulls it off as not a Covid necessity but an effective way to create tension.

As Simone is later and later, Charlie finds herself stuck in the apartment. Literally stuck – the door is jammed. And though she’s able to raise her mother (Barbara Crampton) and her best friend (Dora Madison), neither will really follow the conversation and help her out.

Bizarre noises, missing objects, and creepy goings on all build a potent sense of foreboding. The allure of the film is this tension and the way Brooks and Bennett weave in surreal flourishes to give the piece a macabre quality.

But the reason it works as well as it does is because Alone with You becomes a cagey allegory. The film taps the horror of unhealthy relationships, but it also works that nerve of being trapped in the damn house—as we all have been.

In much the same way Sean King O’Grady’s We Need to Do Something picked that Covid scab with a family stuck in a bathroom together, Alone with You recalls the almost desperate desire to get out.

Each actor on screen does a credible job of interacting with tech. This can be a tough sell, but Bennett and the small cast all make it work. Crampton is a particular joy as Charlie’s judgy mom. She veers from nitpicky to loving to critical to nightmarish in the span of a single, beautifully crafted scene.

Even at a slight 83 minutes, though, Alone with You feels a little bloated. But the mystery at work binds with a horrifying sense of familiarity to manufacture enough scares to keep you guessing.

The Lady Is A Vamp

Jakob’s Wife

by George Wolf

Her name is Anne Fedder. But Jakob’s Wife pretty much sums up the nearly invisible routine Anne (Barbara Crampton) is living.

Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) is the well-known pastor of a small town church, and Anne is well known as his wife. Anne’s life seems to have only gotten smaller during her thirty-year marriage, and if pressed, she’d probably admit she wouldn’t mind a little shakeup.

A late-night meeting with old boyfriend Tom (Robert Rusler)? Intriguing, but his seduction skills got nuthin’ on The Master (Bonnie Aarrons, aka The Nun), who’s waiting on them both.

The next morning, Jakob gets the first clue that things will be changing.

“Did you make breakfast?” he asks.

Anne answers, “I’m not hungry.”

At least not for pancakes. After The Master’s touch, Anne is a brand new woman, sporting fresh hair and makeup, tight, low-cut dresses and provocative new appetites.

It’s no wonder this has been a passion project for Crampton (who’s also a producer), and she makes the extended feminist metaphor ring gloriously true.

Director/co-writer Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) wraps the bloodlusty tale in a fun retro vibe of ’80s low-budget practical, blood spurting gore, but it’s Crampton (and the chemistry with her fellow horror vet Fessenden) who truly elevates this beyond the standard vampire playbook.

To see a female character of this age experiencing a spiritual, philosophical and sexual awakening is alone refreshing, and Crampton (looking fantastic, by the way) makes Anne’s cautious embrace of her new ageless wonder an empowering – and even touching – journey.

Stevens revels in the B-movie underpinnings, stopping short of tackling any systemic issues inherent in a woman’s longtime restlessness. The focus stays intimate, and only on how Anne’s new freedom affects Jakob and their local community (which remains nameless, though filming was entirely in Mississippi).

But with Crampton and Fessenden so completely in their element, Jakob’s Wife is an irresistibly fun take on the bite of eternity. Here, it’s not about taking souls, it’s about empowering them. And once this lady is a vamp, we’re the lucky ones.

Fjords of Forgettable


by Brandon Thomas

If we’ve learned anything from horror cinema over the decades, it’s that Europe is a scary place and to avoid it at all costs. Werewolves on the moors, rage zombies, predatory hostels – just go to Myrtle Beach again and try your luck with the drunk rednecks. And now, with Sacrifice, co-writers/co-directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian give us a taste of the unsavory side of Norway.

Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) return to Isaac’s birthplace on a remote Norwegian island to claim his inheritance. Unknown family truths bubble to the surface as Isaac confronts a dark legacy and Emma fears not only for her husband’s sanity but for the life of her unborn child. 

Sacrifice is a frustrating film from the start. The basic “fish out of water” premise is one we’ve seen time and time again, and Sacrifice offers nothing new to this subgenre. The opening credits promise a story built around the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but the closest we get to Lovecraft is unsubtle nods to Cthulhu.

Subtlety in horror certainly has its place. There are countless horror movies that take a more methodical approach to dole out the scares. These movies eventually pay off, though. Sacrifice is a film that tries to build tension and atmosphere, but whiffs at every opportunity. Semi-odd behavior from backwoods Norwegian folk isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat material. And I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t mention how the film uses the tried and true “character wakes up from a nightmare that seemed real” device a grand total of four times. 

At this point, I was hoping the movie was a dream.

So much of the films’s tension is built around the unraveling of Isaac and Emma’s relationship. The problem with this is that the characters toggle between unlikable and uninteresting from the get-go. Isaac’s descent into madness never once borders on tragedy. Instead, this turn feels like the filmmaker’s checking off a box on their genre bingo card. 

Even the illustrious Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) doesn’t come out unscathed. It’s a role that asks her to do little more than be a suspicious local and deliver an uneven Norwegian accent. 

The film does get a lot out of the location shooting in Norway. The lush green fjords with their raging waterfalls inject a strong sense of place. These scenic establishing shots help set an “otherness” to the island, even if the remainder of the film does a poor job of maintaining the eerie mood. 

Sacrifice tries to set itself alongside Europe-centric horror movies like The Wicker Man and Midsommar, but instead comes off as a watered-down, and quite lazy, copy of better movies. 

In Search of a Purpose

In Search of Darkness

by Hope Madden

The first thing you know about Shudder’s new original doc In Search of Darkness is that it’s an encyclopedic look at horror movies from the Eighties.

The second thing you need to know is that it’s 4 hours and 20 minutes long.


Why filmmaker David A. Weiner decided this had to be a standalone doc rather than a short series is beyond me. Certainly you can (and no doubt will) pause the film and come back to it, which is simple enough to do with Shudder. Still, having devoted about 1/3 of my waking day to a single documentary, I feel as if I should have learned more about Eighties horror than I did.

The bright spots: Tom Atkins is as delightful as you hope he is, as, of course, is Barbara Crampton. John Carpenter and Larry Cohen are as curmudgeonly; Keith David’s saucy baritone makes every anecdote extra fun; Alex Winter makes some interesting connections between films and society at large; and some of the industry insider talking heads seem knowledgeable.

There’s no real rhyme or reason to the specific titles discussed, but more problematic is the superficial treatment of the genre. In four and a half hours, I should have learned something, should have heard of a movie I’d never known about. In Search of Darkness refuses to connect any dots.

Some of the asides about VHS cover art, for instance, are briefly interesting, but other such tangents only emphasize the film’s overall weaknesses. The discussion of the final girl or of gratuitous nudity in 80s horror lacks any kind of insight, but when the piece on horror soundtracks did not mention Goblin, it dawned on me that in early 4 ½ hours, not a single foreign title is discussed.

No Argento, no Fulci, no Deodado – niente.

A ninety minute doc that contents itself with a nostalgic traipse down VHS store aisles would be fun. A doc series that contextualizes the phenomenal explosion in the popularity of horror in the Eighties, digging into sexism, feminism, foreign titles, changing music, the Reagan influence, the impact of VHS and MTV – that would be amazing. In Search of Darkness is neither.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to France

Road Games

by Hope Madden

Writer/director Abner Pastoll takes his cues from existing genre efforts, but the tale he weaves with Road Games is more than fresh and intriguing enough to stand on its own.

The film opens with unnervingly effective sound editing, as we witness the disposal of a body, pulled from a car trunk on its way in pieces to the overgrown countryside. Cut to Jack (Andrew Simpson) standing roadside, his thumb proudly announcing his purpose. He stands directly in front of a roadway sign warning in French: Danger! Do not pick up hitchhikers.

We’ll soon realize that Jack doesn’t speak French.

Pastoll continually uses this type of clever shorthand to utilize language barriers and heighten Jack’s helplessness – a state Jack himself is blissfully unaware of.

Unsurprisingly, Jack’s having no luck on the road, but soon he comes to the aid of a young woman – a fellow traveler – whose ride has become belligerent. Veronique (Josephine de la Baum) and Jack make the most of the time they have to kill on the sun dappled countryside until a kindly if odd man offers both a ride to his home for the night, with the promise of a lift to the ferry in the morning. Weird things get weirder in a film with an equal volume of red herrings and road kill.

Pastoll develops atmospheric dread reminiscent of that 1970 doomed road trip through the French countryside, And Soon the Darkness. In both films, there’s plenty you don’t know, language barriers heighten tensions, and pastoral isolation amplifies the danger.

But Pastoll inverses the narrative. And Soon the Darkness asked you to participate in the unraveling of a mystery. In Road Games, you can’t quite figure out what the mystery is.

The film has its share of problems. It too often feels contrived, it relies a bit heavily on stock genre images for shock value, and its slow pace sometimes feels leaden rather than languid. But in the end, the film succeeds due to Pastoll’s slyly layered writing combined with committed, idiosyncratic performances – especially from genre favorite Barbara Crampton and French character actor Federic Pierrot, as the couple who puts up the travelers for the night.