The term ‘throwback horror’ gets tossed around a lot these days in reference to horror films making the festival circuit. While many may aim for that nostalgic vibe, few manage to hit it on the head as solidly and satisfyingly as Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates. Making effective use of an economical cast and plot, the film walks the line between tightly-wound supernatural horror and cleverly-amusing throwback. While humorous, the concept is never played for wink-and-nudge laughs in Beyond the Gates, and the film unfurls like the kids in The Gate grew up.
We spoke via e-mail with one of the film’s stars, the recently-returned scream queen Barbara Crampton (Chopping Mall, Re-Animator), who also served as a producer. In the film, she plays Evelyn, the mysterious guide to the VHS board game found by the film’s three leads. It’s a performance quite different than what you might expect from Crampton’s work in the ’80s, but it’s very much in line with her recent turns in the likes of We Are Still Here, so we asked her about that.
How’d you come to be involved with Beyond the Gates?
Barbara Crampton: Jack had been a friend for a few years. I met him through Stuart Gordon, for whom he had been an intern. I’d seen a few short films he’d done and been impressed by his growth as a storyteller. Also, he’s a real charmer. It’s very hard to meet Jack and not like him right away; impossible, really. His stories kind of fit his personality, too, which I think is true of most directors. His films are usually charming and warm. His wild side is tempered but only slightly. He has an amazing imagination.
So, I like him and I like to work with people I enjoy being around. He’d been hounding me to read the script for some time and I was busy and hadn’t gotten around to it. When he finally pressed me enough I called him within 10 minutes and said, “What do you need?”
What attracted you to the film?
BC: It was a charming tale! A horror adventure story that had a wonderful balance of horror and fun. Also, the characters were strong, too, and that really grounded the story for me. Character is story and story is character. Simply, I loved the script.
In terms of producing on the film, what did you lend to Beyond the Gates?
BC: I helped a bit with casting some roles, notes to make the script even better, notes on editing and reshoots, and I’m also an investor, among other things.
It seems like the film has a certain Italian/Fulci influence, which is interesting, especially after We Are Still Here. Did you notice that aspect, and did it interest you at all?
BC: Somewhat, yeah. Beyond the Gates has a compilation of feeling and tone of a few films – many from the ’80s – so, it felt like an environment I was comfortable being in.
Your performance in Beyond the Gates was very much like a Black Sunday-era Barbara Steele. Was that intentional?
BC: Yes, very much so. Jack wanted a Barbara Steele “feel” from Black Sunday. He also suggested the role of Sister Ruth played by Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus as a reference. After watching that movie (as I had never seen it), I found myself adopting David Farrar’s voice quality from his Black Narcissus character with a sort of faux slight English accent. Jack pulled me back from that a bit, but some of it still lives in my performance.
I didn’t watch any of those old original VCR boardgame videos, as we decided I would play the part just days before we shot my stuff and I found little time prepare. Now I’m glad I didn’t, because when I finally did watch them I think I would have over-acted all over the place.
Since you shot all of your scenes before principal photography, did you have any interaction with the rest of the cast?
BC: No, I didn’t, but we did add some extra scenes of me after we saw how our heroes were reacting to me when they shot their stuff watching the video on set. So, because of that, I was able to play to their reactions a bit more in our added scenes.
Given that Beyond the Gates has already won an award on its debut outing, what hopes do you have for it going forward?
BC: Out of the “gate,” we did really well and we are grateful and encouraged. Building momentum and interest is our key goal on our continuing festival run. Getting it sold to a great distributor – and in your lovely living rooms and in theaters, possibly – is our dream.
Beyond the Gates has its New York premiere as part of the first annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival on Friday, October 15. More information can be found here.