Available today in select theaters, On Demand, and iTunes is Ted Geoghegan‘s directorial debut, the throwback haunted house pic We Are Still Here. The film stars Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensineg as a married couple coping with the recent death of their college-aged son. The pair relocates to a quiet New England town in the hopes of starting anew, until it becomes apparent that their quaint new country home is host to a family of blood-thirsty corporeal specters. It’s a quietly bizarre, viscerally frightening film steeped in 1970s aesthetic, and yet another solid entry in the ever-growing cannon of throwback horror films like It Follows, The Guest and House of the Devil.
A few days ago, I jumped on the phone for an exclusive interview with horror icon Barbara Crampton to chat about the film and find out what’s up next on her radar. We talked about her collaboration with Geoghegan, how the film evolved during production, the impressive hands-on approach of producer Travis Stevens, and more. She also shared the most outrageous special effects she’s ever seen on set, the possibility of a reunion with Re-Animator and From Beyond collaborators Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs, and why she decided to take up producing. We even chat a bit about Collider’s own Evan Dickson, and the film they’re cooking up together.
You and Ted were friends before you started on the film. How was that experience of collaborating with and being directed by someone you knew socially?
BARBARA CRAMPTON: It’s been a wonderful collaboration between the two of us. I met him when he was one of the publicists for You’re Next, so we bonded over our love of horror movies and just because we really liked one another. When you’re working with friends, I think there’s a certain sensibility that you share, and it’s easy to coordinate your ideas and work together to bring them in a cohesive way. So it was really wonderful to be able to work with somebody that I like and admire. He’s been a prolific screenwriter over the years and has produced a few movies himself, and it was wonderful to work with him as a publicist as well. And because he has an encyclopedic knowledge of horror movies, he was just really ripe to be a director and to work on probably one of his most favorite scripts that he’s ever written. For me to be able to work with him on that was just fantastic.
I understand that you read the script before you knew he wanted you for the part and before you knew he was going to direct.
CRAMPTON: Yeah, I think it sort of evolved, the whole experience, for many of us, evolved. He wrote the script and because we became very friendly after working on You’re Next he sent me the script just to get my general take on it, and I thought it was very good and I loved the fact that he would be using some older characters as the main characters in the movie. I told him that I really liked the movie, and he didn’t say anything after that. Months went by and then he called me and he said, “You know, I’m looking at that script again and it looks like I might have some people interested in it. I sent it to Travis Stevens and he really likes it a lot.” I was a fan of Travis before we worked on We Are Still Here because he’s done so many wonderful movies and the last few years Starry Eyes, Cheap Thrills, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Aggression Scale – and also worked with my friends from You’re Next on A Horrible Way to Die. So I was quite excited that he was going to have Travis work on it with him, because I feel like Travis is just a Midas touch producer. Seemingly everything he touches turns to gold lately, so that was quite exciting looking at that prospect. Then at that point he said to me, “I really want you to play one of these parts, which part do you think is right for you?” I said, “Well of course, it has to be Anne.” He said, “Well, that’s what I was thinking too!”
So then there was another phone call weeks later saying, “Ok, we’re set to go, we’re going to make this movie. We’re going to shoot it in upstate New York, I’ve got Larry Fessenden, I want you to play this part, and we’re going to be doing this really soon.” And I said, “Great Ted, who’s going to direct?” And he said, “Well, me.” And I said, “You? I had no idea!” He had kind a left that out of the conversation. I’m not sure when he thought that he was going to be able to direct it or wanted to, but I think the more he worked on it, the more he talked to Travis and Dark Sky, and the more he talked to me over the past year before we actually started filming the movie, it occurred to him that he was really close to the material, loved the material, and why not try his hand at directing and being at the helm of the movie? So he also got a friend of his Karim Hussain to be the DP, and Karim is an amazing, wonderful artist and along with Travis, who also quite frequently does work with new directors. I think the team of those three guys really helped us set this movie on fire and get it to the point that it’s at now where it’s finished, we screened it at some festivals, and we’re ready for the greater population to take a look.
I’m curious during the process of that evolution you guys went through together, did the script a lot involved along the way as well or is what you ended up with pretty much what you read when Ted sent it over to you that first time?
CRAMPTON: To be honest with you, I think it must have changed somewhat. I think we got a few new pages here and there, but I don’t remember it changing drastically from the first time I read it. But I’m sure he had done a few drafts before he gave it to me the first time anyway. Also, when we were on the set, this frequently happens, you might add a few lines here and there or take some lines away, Sometimes it’s the director or writer who comes up with that idea, sometimes it’s the actor who says, “Well wait a minute, Could I say this instead of that?” Or, “This feels like it makes more sense to me.”
There was one big speech I remember that Monte Markham had – he plays Dave. It’s at the very end when we see him, Andrew Sensenig, Monte, and myself are together, and he kind of gives a big speech, and that whole speech was written I think the morning of. I don’t remember what was in the script originally or what it was supposed to say, but there was a lot of talk about that last speech over those few days before we found it, and they decided to tweak it quite a bit and kind of throw out what they had and start a new. Sometimes in the creative process of making a film things will really spark you on the day and then you might change it to fit your overall picture of what you wanted to be. But I think that that was the only thing in the big scheme of things that was changed or altered, the rest of it was just a little tweaks here and there, which is actually really fun to play with when you’re on the set with another actor. Andrew and I worked a lot together. We would say the words to one another in the morning, and we already memorize them and knew them, but occasionally we would look at one another and say, “Well how about you say that line and I’ll say this line?” It’s conversation, you want to make it sound as interesting as possible but also as real as possible, so sometimes you may alter a few speeches here and there.
You mentioned working Travis Stevens, and that’s actually something I wanted to talk about, because you’re right, he does seem to have this gift for cultivating new directors. What was he like on set in terms of being hands-on? How does he like to work?
CRAMPTON: I think he’s the most hands-on producer that I’ve ever seen. He was on the set every day sitting next to Ted, and he would have a lot of things to say. I would see he and Ted conferring a lot. Occasionally he would come over and give me a note or two, mostly he was discussing what is going on and then Ted would always be the one to give us the notes. I think Travis was very supportive of Ted in the directors chair and allowing him to really take the helm. But he was conferring with him a lot also conferring with the DP, also conferring with The make up people and the production team. I don’t think there was a moment when he wasn’t there, when he wasn’t around. Yeah, I feel like he knows a little bit about everybody’s job, and I think that’s really important as a producer. I felt completely taken care of by him and just supported. I just think he has a certain amount of creativity that he sprinkles into the whole system, and I think the movie wouldn’t be as good as it is without his influence.
That’s awesome. That is definitely not the case with all producers.
CRAMPTON: No! No, and such a welcome presence. Sometimes you don’t want the producers around [laughs], but he’s so wonderful and is an artist himself so he gets the whole process from beginning to end. From putting the money together, to the nuts-and-bolts of making a movie, to the creative aspect of it, and he’s so good at every aspect that you really want him around. So I felt very happy that he was as supportive and kind and with this as much as possible.
We Are Still Here has some really excellent effects, and over the course of your career you been the number of films that have really impressive practical effects. What is the craziest or freakiest or most amazing thing you’ve ever seen on the set of a film?
CRAMPTON: In this movie, I would have to tell you that the Dagmar family and what Markus Koch produced was really amazing and different than any other kind of ethereal specters that we’ve seen in movies before. So first of all I want to say that, but I won’t give away what they are.
But then probably the most outrageous special-effects creature that I’ve had to deal with was from the set of From Beyond, with Dr. Pretorius’ character and what he turns into. He’s slimy and gross [laughs], and that movie produced some of the top special-effects people working today. We had five or six teams on the set for six weeks and it just doesn’t get better than that. I was just looking at an old picture the other day because I think somebody put it on Twitter, and it was me in the shackles and the Pretorius character looking at me like he is going to lick me or something, and I realized how phallic that image is. For some reason, it hadn’t really struck me. I know a lot of Stuart’s movies have a lot of sexuality in them, but for some reasonI never looked at Pretorius’ head as the tip of a phallic symbol. So, that was sort of shocking to me after all these years that I looked at it and went, “Oh yeah, that’s what that is. Dr. Pretorius is the top of the penis. That’s exactly what that is.”
We used a solution called methylcellulose which is the thickener in McDonald’s shakes – I don’t know if they still use that today – but during that movie everything is coated with it so whatever the special-effects guys made they coated it with methylcellulose so I had methylcellulose all over me at different times.
CRAMPTON: Yeah! So they put it on the stairs, they put it on my body, and it was Gelatinous, Gooey, and pretty disgusting, but I think the creatures all those guys created were very impressive and I haven’t worked with any creatures like that since. I think they’re pretty compelling.
Yeah, absolutely, amazing designs. I have to ask, now that your back working a lot are we going to see a reunion with you and Stuart Gordon?
CRAMPTON: You know we talk about stuff. It’s just so hard to get a movie made and harder, I think, the older filmmakers get. Stuart hasn’t made a movie in a number of years. I would love to work with him again and I have something in the works with him as far as him directing me, it’s not something you would think it is. It’s not a film, it’s something else, but I won’t say anymore about that. I hope that I can continue to collaborate with him on things. We’re still quite good friends and I see him pretty regularly so I’m hopeful that we can do something at some point. I love to work with Jeffrey Combs again. It almost happened once a couple years ago but didn’t, so I think we’ll try to make it happen. I know I’d really like to and they’d like to too, so we’ll see what we can come up with.
Fantastic! That answer had a lot more hope in it than I was expecting, so that’s great news. You got a bit of a second wind to your career with You’re Next and from the looks of the projects stacked up, you have no intention of slowing down. You’re also moving into producing with Beyond the Gates, what motivated that decision and why is producing something you’re excited to take on?
CRAMPTON: Well I’m at a different stage in my life right now. I did come back to acting with You’re Next, but it started me thinking that I wanted to help other young filmmakers and I’ve become friends with a couple guys who I think are fantastic writers, and one is Evan Dickson and I’m trying to get one of his projects off the ground. It’s called The Wildness and I think it’s an amazing, amazing script. It’s a bigger movie than I’m used to being in. It’s a bigger budget, but it’s not beyond reach. So I’ve been talking to some people about that project, just because I think he has an amazing, wonderful story to tell.
Jackson Stewart is somebody that I’ve known for a number of years because he was an intern for Stuart Gordon for many years, and he and I have become very good friends. I’ve been in a couple of his short films just because I want to help him and I think he’s really talented. He wrote this script, and I was quite busy filming and doing some other things, and he’d been asking me for a couple months, “Would you please read this? I’m going to make this movie, it’s going to be low budget but I’m going to do it and I really want you to read it.” And I kept saying, “Yes I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it,” and finally I got to it [laughs]. And I thought it was amazing and such a really kind of a crazy story with a lot of scares and some bad things happening, but very firmly rooted in wonderful characters. I thought, “You’ve got to make this.” And he said, “Well I’ve got some of that money I just need a little more, and this is the team I have.” So he was really already probably 75% on his way to making the movie and I help them with the last little bit of it, and I was really happy to do so and happy so far with the outcome. We just finished principal photography a few weeks ago, and the actors that we got and the DP that we got and the special-effects teams were really wonderful. So I’m very much looking forward to working with him on the editing process, seeing where he and the other guys get to, and giving them a few notes here and there. But he’s an amazing new voice and the horror genre and I just want to help these guys because I think they are the new wave, and I just want to be a part of that and shepherd them as much as I can.
That’s so great and I have to say I think the horror community is one of the loveliest communities of people in the world, and unlike some other actors who end up being horror icons sort of begrudgingly, you seem to embrace that community just as much as it embraces you. I just think that’s wonderful.
CRAMPTON: I appreciate you saying that and I actually realize that I was part of this wonderful group when I came back to do You’re Next because I hadn’t been on Twitter Facebook, I really wasn’t connected to the community the way I was in the 80s, and I realized coming back how much more connected you could be with the community. I’ve met so many filmmakers that I haven’t worked with but I’ve just become friends with over the past few years, because all these guys get together and they stream movies together, and they do horror trivia night, or they do karaoke. I live in San Francisco but I go down to LA quite frequently and they invite me out. And I’ve come to know some of these people. Also going to the film festivals I’ve met some really wonderful filmmakers. At Stanley I’m at the Spectrevision guys. So it’s been wonderful to get to know all these young filmmakers and feel that I am part of a group and our community. I think over the years the horror community has really strengthened and there’s a bond between people because of social media and these film festivals everybody seems to be going to. So it’s really a fun way for me to come back and I’m enjoying my second wind.
We Are Still Here is now available On Demand and iTunes. You can also see the film on the big screen at Cinema Village in NYC and Laemmle Music Hall in LA.