Greetings, guys and ghouls. It’s Jennica. This week, I had the pleasure of talking horror, culture, and feminism with horror icon and Road Games star Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Chopping Mall) as well as Abner Pastoll, who has made his feature film directorial debut this year. Road Games was released on DVD and VOD on March 4, 2016.
JL: Hi, Barbara. Hey, Abner. I just want to let you know that I really enjoyed Road Games. Barbara, did you have to learn French for the movie or did you already speak it?
BC: I knew a little French because I had taken it in high school but I didn’t really remember so much of it. So, I did hire somebody to help me who speaks fluent French and she broke it down for me phonetically. And I had plenty of time to learn it, so it was fairly easy. Plus, I’m an American living in France in the movie, so it’s not like I had to be a French person speaking French. So, it wasn’t too difficult and I’d say only maybe twenty percent of my own lines were in French. Most of my stuff was still in English. So, it was fun to work with that and to think if I had been living in France for so many years, then how I would speak when I spoke English. To me, I tried to make my English language subtly different, like I was actually thinking in French but speaking in English, which was my original tongue. I spoke a little haltingly in a way, and I just wanted to use that as part of the character since I was kind of caught between two worlds.
JL: I did catch that. It was very distinct and you had a really great French accent but you switched back to American English so smoothly. It was really impressive. So, I’m actually a big fan of your 80s horror movies…
BC: Thank you so much!
AP: Who isn’t?
JL: Yeah, I love Re-Animator and a lot of those. I love Chopping Mall. And I know that in a lot of those movies, you tend to play the role of the victim. But in recent films, you’ve played more villainous characters like in Lords of Salem and now in Road Games. Do you have a preference as far as playing the villain or the victim? Is there one that you enjoy more?
BC: I’m having a lot of fun now playing characters that are a little more mature, and have a little more depth to them, and more layers. I think it’s just an indication of where I am in my life and being able to actually influence a story or move a story along a little bit more, whereas, in the 80s, Herbert West refers to me as a “bubble-headed co-ed.” Perhaps I was to a certain degree but I think I’ve always tried to play all my characters with a little bit of intelligence. Even if the story wasn’t written that way for my character, I tried to imbue them with some substance. But I feel like I’m really getting more interesting roles now than I’ve ever had before. And, yes, I’m definitely playing some more evil characters. I did a movie called Sun Choke that’s coming out in the summer and I definitely play a not very nice character in that movie.
AP: You’re pretty intense.
BC: I’m pretty intense in that movie. I think I’m nice as a real person but it’s always fun to play somebody who’s a little bit more villainous. And I have a few other things coming up in which I’m a little bit more intense and villainous. It’s fun to explore that side of your own psyche and character even if you would never act on those impulses. We all have those thoughts about, you know, “What if we could murder Donald Trump?”
AP: Uh oh, this is getting a little…
BC: But we wouldn’t. But it would be nice to. And how to do it if we did. So, yeah, I’m having a good time in this portion of my life playing a little bit more in-depth characters.
JL: That’s awesome. And that actually brings me to my next question. I know that Women in Horror Month just passed and you’ve spoken on the subject before that, as for women’s roles in horror films, art tends to imitate life, a lot of films are written from a man’s perspective, and that these films tend to be reflective of where women are in real life and where they are headed. So, given the recent roles of women in horror films, where do you think women stand right now and where do you think they are headed?
BC: I think I do see women taking a stronger turn in movies. We’ve always had the final girl, we’ve always had the girl who could be kick-ass and win in the end. I do think that we’re seeing a trend now to portray women even more so than ever to be stronger. We’re always going to have movies where the man is going to want to come in and help the female and that’s empowering for men to see themselves on screen actually caring for a woman and winning the day. But I also think that we do have a little more concentration on trying to give women a little more interesting and stronger characters to play. And I think the best movies actually do reflect our culture and our times, so as we become more evolved, we’re going to have stronger roles for women and minorities. I’m working on a few movies as a producer right now that are in development and I keep saying to people, “Can we make this person an African American? Can we make these people somebody from a different country? Let’s try to bring in everybody because America is a melting pot.” Obviously, there was a big problem over this past Oscars season with “Oscars so white.” So, I’m really thinking about that even though I’m an actor and just getting into producing. I’m just trying to make everybody have a voice, not just women but everybody that makes up the fabric of America, which is people from all different backgrounds. And I think that’s important.
JL: That’s great! As far as the role of the final girl, there are all kinds of final girls in horror. And I think one of the things that has always stood out to me about a lot of the roles you’ve been in is that you have this strength and intelligence about you as a final girl rather than portraying a final girl who is just very fragile. You’re very independent in your roles and I love that.
BC: Thank you.
JL: So, Abner, going back to Road Games, the movie sends a very clear message that anything could happen on an open road. Do you have any personal experience hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers? Any strange travel stories?
AP: No, originally when I first came up with the idea, I hadn’t been hitchhiking and I didn’t specifically have any firsthand knowledge of hitchhiking stories or anything like that. But during the casting process, I met one of the actors who’s in the beginning of the movie. He had been and still does hitchhike. So, he was joking around with me like, “How can you be making this movie and you’ve never hitchhiked.” But he told me all kinds of stories. He lives in Paris but he’s hitchhiked across Germany and he’s done all kinds of crazy things. He’s just this sort of free spirit actor who just goes with the wind, you know? So, hearing some stories from him, he never had any specifically bad things. But you see all these movies and you read stories about weird people that pick you up or the people that you pick up are weird, and I just wanted to play around with that a little bit. The original story came from when I was traveling in France when I was much younger, not hitchhiking, but I thought that would be a good kind of match.
JL: It’s a very bizarre story but it is something that could actually happen and I think that’s the most frightening aspect.
AP: Well, I think today most people probably wouldn’t hitchhike.
JL: Yeah, I wouldn’t.
AP: The thing is that the film is actually set in a nondescript time period, so it kind of could be believable within the world of the film. Also, Jack is a bit naïve, or is at least playing a naïve character.
JL: Very much so. Was there anything that you wanted to do with the film that you were unable to accomplish?
AP: Yeah, plenty. There’s always going to be something.
BC: Well, there were time constraints.
AP: There was a time constraint. There are plenty of things that didn’t work out just because of timing and affected certain moments and weakened certain moments because of the lack of time. But I think we made it work within those time constraints and those little details will maybe bother me forever but I’m kind of over it at the same time. I just aim to move on and do bigger and better things. I think one of my next projects is much more action-oriented because I wanted to do a bit more of that in Road Games and we didn’t. We couldn’t because of restrictions, so I will just strive to keep doing more and I think each project will feed into the next one somehow. I’ll put in details that I couldn’t do the last time or something like that.
JL: What is your next project? Are you able to talk about it?
AP: Well, that’s all I can say for now.
JL: Okay, no problem. I look forward to it, nonetheless. So, I know that you have a long history in film…
AP: A long history?
JL: I mean your parents owned a theater and…
AP: Oh, wow. You’ve been stalking me. [Laughing].
JL: And you have been making movies forever, since you were little.
AP: Yeah, that’s true.
JL: So, I was wondering, what are some of your earliest memories of watching movies in a theater?
AP: Okay, this is a funny one because it’s such a specific memory and it’s a memory that is so ingrained in my brain. My family had this two-screen cinema and I would watch the same performance four or five times a day. I would just sit in the theater and watch the same movie over and over again. The first movie that I remember doing that with was Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which Stuart Gordon wrote. Wasn’t that originally supposed to be a horror film? And then it was changed somehow to this family film.
BC: I think so because I think he made that through Disney and even though he had a studio deal, I think that they were afraid to make it as dark.
AP: Yeah, that’s right. But if you think about it, it would totally work as a dark film. Anyway, I watched that four or five times a day for like five days in a row when it was on in our cinema. I would go into the projection booth with the projectionist and help him thread the film through the projector and I would go back down to watch it. But apparently my dad said that I watched Back to the Future, when it was projected in the cinema but I think I was a bit too young to remember. I definitely remember watching it thousands of times. It’s probably one of my favorite movies ever. Everything about me is Back to the Future. But my dad said that’s the first film he took me to at the cinema. I was probably three or four but I really don’t remember. With Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, I remember watching that and I remember that they used to show cartoons before the movies. So, I used to watch The Pink Panther and all these short cartoons before the film.
JL: So, you also made movies starting when you were about four years old. How did you go about making those movies?
AP: My dad was into technology and gadgets and stuff like that. So, I had access to these tools like Super 8, Video 8, an editing deck. When I was a kid, I would literally practice shooting everything, and cut it together, and actually learn to tell stories with images. So, that’s how I started making movies when I was young. None of that is really good. I actually found a couple old tapes recently and I was like, “Wow, this is not that good.” It’s interesting to see what I was doing and you could see that I was learning film language. I could film somebody’s face and them film something else and cut them together and it looks like they’re reacting to something. You could see I was playing with that when I was around six. So, I just kept doing that. I never really thought specifically about what it was to be a director. It was because of Back to the Future that I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be Marty McFly, I wanted to be on the big screen, and I wanted to time travel. But because I was making these movies, I was way more excited about being behind the camera. I wanted to control the action. So, I was piecing all of that together and I just kept making films with my friends and eventually I ended up doing it professionally. I met people who saw my no so great work and were like, “What? You can actually shoot, and edit, and you can do all this stuff yourself?” I ended up doing some music videos and then I started doing short films and it was like a natural progression.
JL: That’s just really impressive. A lot of people don’t learn to make films or learn about the technology behind it until they go to film school or college. So, the fact that a child can do that is just amazing.
BC: Abner, you’ve made yourself a triple threat because you’re a writer, a director, and you can edit.
AP: But like I said, I’m an editor primarily because that’s how I learned to make films. I was shooting stuff and I learned by editing, and I actually learned how to write because of the editing. It was reversed somehow. And from watching millions of movies over and over again, you start to understand how they’re being put together, not just how it’s filmed but the stories and characters and everything. Imagine watching a film five times a day for several days in a row. You would have to really love the movie but you would really know it inside and out. I watched Honey, I Shrunk the Kids again a few years ago and it was amazing. I knew every detail.
JL: So, when you’re watching movies now, do you find yourself sitting there and just sort of analyzing how they were made?
AP: I try not to. When a film is really working, I’m not thinking about that. There’s always going to be one of two moments when I’m thinking, “Oh my god, how did they do that?” But it doesn’t really affect me too much. I really love watching films and if I’m really into the story and the characters, I’m not going to be thinking about that. If that’s all I’m thinking about when I’m watching a movie, the movie is not necessarily working. But I always try to look at it in a way that every film has something good in it. I always learn something or take something away from each movie.
JL: That’s a really smart perspective to have. Well, my last question is for both of you. What is your favorite horror movie?
AP: Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
BC: Oh, no! You can’t say that because that’s mine! [Laughing].
AP: I wanted to say it quickly. [Laughing].
BC: You knew that.
AP: I never really thought about this, but when people ask me what my influences are, I get muddled up because there’s so many. But if you watch TCM, you will see that there are a lot of similarities with Road Games. It’s really something. But I think there’s the brightness of it. You know, it’s really colorful, there’s a little bit of roadkill, and there are all these subtle details.
BC: You don’t see the horror. It’s not so blatant.
BC: It’s there and it’s implied but it’s not as blatant. I think that’s my favorite horror movie too because when I first watched it, I couldn’t sleep for three days. I mean, literally, it scared the crap out of me. And shot on 16mm, it feels like a home movie and the grittiness of that is just so impactful. All the performances feel so real and strong. And years later, I have to say I met Gunnar Hansen and we became quite good friends, may he rest in peace. Even after meeting him, he was such a dear and sweet man that it made me even more in love with the film, knowing there was a real person. The guy behind the mask was such a teddy bear.
AP: A teddy bear with a chainsaw.
BC: Yeah, that’s a good image. He would appreciate that. TCM is a simple, good story, and has fantastic performances, and looks real. It scares me even today. Not many movies that I watch—that I’ve seen over and over again in the horror genre—continue to scare me and every time I watch that movie, I’m still frightened.