By SCOTT FEINBLATT
Since starring as Megan Halsey in RE-ANIMATOR, Barbara Crampton has been on the radar of most every horror fan with a heartbeat. But beyond her continuing work in the genre, Crampton has demonstrated that she is also a fan, as well as a champion of new blood. She stars, for example, in REPLACE, the first feature written and directed by Norbert Keil, and RUE MORGUE spoke to Crampton, leading lady Rebecca Forsythe and Keil (pictured below, with producer Felix von Poser at left) about the film.
REPLACE makes its Canadian premiere this Sunday, July 16 at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, following its North American premiere last month at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where this interview took place. Co-written by HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL mastermind Richard Stanley, REPLACE is a body-horror film steeped in atmosphere and boasting some terrific acting (see our review here). Thematically, Crampton points out, “This is a movie that explores the notion of beauty, how far you will go to get what you’re looking for and what it costs you.” Essentially, it is the tale of a young lady named Kira (Forsythe) who suffers from a unique condition that has her skin rapidly dying, so she continually hunts for fresh flesh.
Forsythe is the daughter of prolific character actor William Forsythe (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), and sitting across from her at the historic Culver Hotel, she is the picture of the sweet American ingenue. Recalling her initial involvement with the film, she says, “I came back from Christmas for pilot season, and it was one of the first scripts I got. I read it, loved it and thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m never going to get this.’ ” One audition and two callbacks later, she had the job.
Once Forsythe disappears into the role of Kira, however, she demonstrates that beyond projecting an image of innocence, she is quite convincing as a bloodthirsty predator. She explains the primal connection she has to her character’s savage survival instinct: “[I just put] myself into a life-or-death situation. It’s like, ‘Either I have to kill someone, or I will be killed; I will die.’ We talked about how to physicalize that in how she looks at the skin. It’s as if she’s admiring it, and coveting it like a predator would—like a leopard with a water buffalo, I don’t know [laughs]. It’s very primal. I think everything just kind of goes out the window for her when she’s focused on the skin.”
Beyond the flesh-hunting side of the story, REPLACE explores physical beauty in depth. In so doing, it features plenty of nudity, but the film’s treatment of that exposure ranges from sublime eroticism to repulsiveness. As it’s part and parcel of playing Kira, Forsythe commits to this side of the role in ways that few brave actresses have on film—Crampton in RE-ANIMATOR being a notable exception. In regards to Forsythe being bound naked to an operating table and unclothed in various other sequences, Crampton points out that she had her co-star’s back. “We had a few talks about it,” Crampton recalls. “I wanted to make sure she had an advocate in me if there was anything she didn’t like or something went awry. Norbert took very good care of her—everybody did—but you know, sometimes you feel very vulnerable. She was vulnerable, and you have to commit to that and submit yourself to it, but it’s important to know that you have people around you who are going to take care of you. I don’t think anybody did that for me when I was younger.”
While her last statement begs the question, “Did that lead you to regret doing it?” Crampton is quick to reply, “Oh no, why would I? I knew what I was getting into when I did a lot of the stuff I did, and thank God, speaking in particular about RE-ANIMATOR, that I was in a movie that really pushed boundaries in many ways, but also had a great foundation in wonderful storytelling and good characters—something that has lived on and become a fan favorite and a cult classic.”
When asked how Crampton enjoyed playing a role on the opposite side of the operating table, as Kira’s skin doctor, the group shares a hearty laugh. Crampton then reveals that the part wasn’t even originally written for a woman, but when she was cast, Keil felt it made sense. As for her portrayal of Dr. Crober, Crampton says, “To be a doctor is something quite different, and I didn’t want to reveal too much about her [the film has a twist], so although I tend to make big choices with my characters, I felt that for this one, I had to be much more subtle about it.” In reference to how she has changed since RE-ANIMATOR, she adds, “I’m not the girl on the table who’s being defiled, so yes…I’ve grown up!”
On that subject, Keil notes that his inspiration for writing the script was his own fear of aging. Visionary filmmaker Richard Stanley, he divulges, came in later in the process. “I wrote the first four or five drafts,” Keil says, “and then, me not being a native English speaker, we realized we needed a rewrite, a polish, and somebody suggested Richard Stanley, and I was a fanboy. I met Richard and I was starstruck. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I own a 35mm print of HARDWARE, so that says it all, probably.”
Once the screenplay was completed, Keil recalls, it attracted positive attention, yet funding the film was difficult. “Everybody loved the uniqueness of the project,” he says, “and that drew in a lot of people, but the getting the money was really tough because it’s so unique, because it’s so different. Also, I had done a lot of shorts before, not features, so of course it’s hard because financiers want safety in return. In this movie, you don’t know what you’re getting. It’s not a slasher, where you know exactly what’s going to happen; it’s sort of elevated.”
One would not guess it, but the budgetary constraints posed some interesting issues during the shoot outside Munich, Germany, where the production was based. Since the film required non-German exterior shots, it was necessary to shoot abroad, and Keil explains, “We sent a skeleton crew of seven people to Toronto to film all the exteriors. We had our DP, one camera assistant, one sound guy, our makeup girl, Felix, my producer, myself and my wife, who filled in as 1st AD, and that was it. We shot everything that takes place outside there, which was amazing. I think it’s unbelievable that we pulled it off.”
Given the remarkable artistry evident in REPLACE, it is difficult to imagine how humble a production it was. The level of commitment Crampton, Forsythe and Keil demonstrated clearly contributed to the project’s artistic success, and as a final note, Keil reveals the heart of the narrative: “We tried to make this body-horror film a very emotional experience, and it’s not actually focused on the horror aspect, but on the journey—the emotional human journey that takes place for all the characters involved. All three female characters [the third being Lucie Aron as Kira’s friend and neighbor Sophia] have strong story arcs. Those are really the backbone of the film, and what I hope draws the audience in.”