Horror Heaven

As the phantasmagoric Florida retiree documentary Some Kind of Heaven lands on Hulu, Gemma Gracewood checks in with our new favorite B-grade-movie-loving retiree and future horror-film star, Barbara Stanton.

I would go anywhere... That’s how bad I want it. There wouldn’t be any, ‘Oh, I can’t come.’ I would get my friend to watch the pets, and that would be it.” —⁠Barbara Stanton

“If David Lynch and Tim Burton had a child, and that child made documentaries, it’d be like this,” writes one Letterboxd member of Lance Oppenheim’s directorial debut, Some Kind of Heaven. “Errol Morris… by way of John Waters,” writes another. When Some Kind of Heaven premiered earlier this year, Letterboxd members were utterly captivated by the “precise and strange” cinematography, which deliciously offsets the underlying, shared loneliness of retirement communities.

And we totally fell for Barbara Stanton, a widow who spent much of the film demonstrating life-affirming optimism in the face of various retirement-village challenges. (These include a margarita lovin’ golf-cart salesman who firmly put her in the friend-zone after having clearly raised her romantic hopes.)

The other occupants of the documentary, which meanders through The Villages, a massive, gated Florida community of 132,000 retirees from all over America, are certainly great screen material: the couple with a secret drug problem, the homeless gigolo looking for love (or a roof over his head). But there is something about Barbara, a Boston native who married at 60, lost her beloved Paul soon after, and continues to work full-time in The Villages. That she is so willing to let Oppenheim and the audience in on her feelings in any given moment—including when her horny dog goes off on one—is a gift in itself.

But then, right near the end of the film, it turns out that our Barb has a secret passion: the girl can act. In a community-theater class, she delivers a monologue so fierce and focused that every casting director reading this needs to get her on tape, stat. In fact, one scam-artist has already had her on the phone pretending to be a big-time agent: “For the first five minutes I was like, ‘This is a chance to do something.’ And it turned out it wasn’t a chance to do anything.”

Firstly, don’t be that guy. Secondly, know this: Barbara would not be wasted in a retirement rom-com, but she would be especially welcome in the horror genre, which, it turns out, is her kryptonite. When Oppenheim told us she is a physical-media-collecting, creature-feature-loving movie freak, we knew we needed to jump on Zoom for a Life in Film chat with Barb.

A resident of The Villages floats the days away in Lance Oppenheim’s Some Kind of Heaven.
A resident of The Villages floats the days away in Lance Oppenheim’s Some Kind of Heaven.

Hi Barbara! You have acting chops, girlfriend. Are you hoping to get on someone’s books as a result of your exposure in Lance’s film?
Barbara Stanton: If it were to happen, I’d be the happiest person on earth. If I got a role, I’ll work 24/7 without sleeping, if you need me to, because that’s what I love. To wake up in the morning and do that job, it’s something I can’t even express to you. I don’t know that anything’s ever going to happen, but we’ll see.

Why have you left it so long to pursue this passion?
I just wanna get this out of the way and say this: if I had listened to my mother, who was beautiful and talented, I would have been in a different place from now. I always wanted to be an actress, but I didn’t do the right things. I kept getting sidetracked. My first downfall—because I was starting to take dancing and my mother was calling the modeling agencies—was when I met my first boyfriend at nineteen. He was psychotic. My mother and my grandfather, whom I lived with, hated him, they saw right through him. But I was blind in love at nineteen. I was striking, I looked like my mother—and by the time we broke up, six years later, I didn’t look the same. We won’t go there, but it was the beginning of big mistakes in my life. I never extended myself out the way I should’ve, and now it’s killing me.

I’m so sorry. I mean, it’s not too late, right? There are plenty of people who have made their names later in life, and you’ve missed the whole part where Hollywood decides that any woman between the age of 30 and 60 is irrelevant.
I believe that it’s not too late. Age doesn’t have to be a factor in everything anymore.

What is your all-time favorite comfort film?
Ben-Hur. The opening of that movie, the very opening with the little star of Bethlehem that moves and the music. I can see that movie a hundred times and just that opening scene hits me right in the heart. There’s something comforting about Ben-Hur, what he goes through. His family lost, then getting them back, the miracle stuff. I mean, there was just something about that movie that hit me. I also love Spartacus, but Ben-Hur is my favorite.

What’s the first horror film you remember seeing?
Attack of the Crab Monsters. My mother, from the time I was five, six, we had a little chair that she would put me in on Saturdays in front of the TV for Creature Double Feature. It was on every Saturday and they had all the B movies, and that’s what set me on the road. My best friend John would say to me, “You know, Barbara, I honestly think instead of reading children’s books, you were reading books about freaks.”

There’s another one, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, where he cut her head off and it’s in the bowl and he’s got a monster in the closet that he created. It’s very campy because there’s a girl that models for him, all sexy. And now I look at it and I’m laughing, but I love it. And the classic, Freaks. I just loved horror and my mother loved scary movies.

What is your favorite movie creature?
The original Godzilla. I can’t watch the original King Kong and I can’t watch the one that was made after that. It has to be a King Kong where he lives. I will not watch him die. I’m past that. That’s why I like the Godzillas, because he keeps living. He keeps getting away.

I also love The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. But you know who I really love? I love Hammer films with Christopher Lee as Dracula. My two top ones were Dracula has Risen from the Grave and Scars of Dracula. They kind of went together because of him getting frozen. I love it when she rips her collar off and she says to him, “What about me? What about me?”

Christopher Lee played Count Dracula ten times between 1958 and 1976, including seven films for Hammer Productions.
Christopher Lee played Count Dracula ten times between 1958 and 1976, including seven films for Hammer Productions.

There was also a Frank Langella Dracula back in the ’70s. That movie was made for TV. What a fabulous movie. And the love scene in it: this strange music comes on, with these colored shadows, and it shows her going like this [shows her neck], then he’s sucking her. And oh my god, fabulous.

Would you let Frank suck your neck?
Well, back then I would have thought of it!

Let’s talk about your top three B movies.
The Blob, Palm Springs Weekend, and Valley of the Dolls. The Blob is so campy. When the kids are going to the sheriff… the acting is so bad, it’s funny, but it’s a good movie. Palm Springs Weekend was because I loved Connie Stevens. She also did a movie called Two on a Guillotine. I ordered that from Amazon, it’s one of my favorite movies. She finds her father, Cesar Romero; he was a magician and he was doing the guillotine and he accidentally killed his wife. He’s gone mad, and he finds his daughter and wants to attempt the same thing on her. That’s a great B movie. I didn’t put that down.

And Valley of the Dolls, oh, please. I know the words to that. I mean, I actually know when every scene is coming up and what the scene is. Like when Susan Hayward rips her hairpiece off and says, “I got a man waiting for me.” I’ll do that at work and it’ll kill them. They’ll just crack up laughing. Or Patty Duke in the alleyway yelling, “I need a man to hold me!” And poor Sharon Tate, you know that was her last movie.

Sir Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Sir Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Who is the all-time scariest movie villain in your opinion?
Hannibal Lecter, just because of his genius. He’s so brilliant. He gets away with so much. See, if I was Clarice [in The Silence of the Lambs], I would have a problem because I would have not been in love with him, but I wouldn’t have wanted them to lock him back up, because some of the people he killed weren’t nice people. He didn’t kill all these really nice people. I mean, he had reasons. I just love him.

What’s the film that first gave you teenage feelings?
I would say Where the Boys Are, but really, when I was seventeen, on Hallowe’en night, my mother took me to see Carrie. We lived in an old, big Victorian house at that time and right next door to us were these woods, and in the woods was a place called the Adams House [the Adams-Nervine Asylum]. And the Adams House was part of the Faulkner Hospital in Boston, where they had psychiatric offices. It was a beautiful facility. It’s been turned into condos. But when we came home from Carrie on Hallowe’en night, and as we were approaching my house, there was spooky organ music coming out of the Adams House facility. I guess some of the doctors had had a party, and my mom and I just pulled in that driveway and we just listened. It was amazing.

Is there a movie that, for you, is sort of the pinnacle of filmmaking, or at least the pinnacle of film viewing?
A couple of movies by Christopher Guest just kill me: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind. They all kill me, but Waiting for Guffman absolutely keeps me in stitches. “I buy most of her clothes.” I love Christopher Guest. I love him.

Catherine O’Hara and the late Fred Willard as Sheila and Ron Albertson in Waiting for Guffman (1996).
Catherine O’Hara and the late Fred Willard as Sheila and Ron Albertson in Waiting for Guffman (1996).

Is there a film from this decade that you have loved that sits up there alongside your favorites from years past? Some of the horrors that have come out recently, like Jordan Peele’s films, or Ari Aster’s?
I have Midsommar and I haven’t watched it yet. I have it. It’s not even unwrapped yet. I’m going to watch it.

So, are you a physical media girl? Do you order the discs?
I do.

How many do you have?
I have a lot of movies. I have a lot of movies. I have hundreds of movies.

And how do you file them?
I try to put them horror with horror and funny with funny, but they get mixed up sometimes and I still have some that I haven’t even put in the holders yet. They’re still in my drawers.

People can’t see you right now, but you are beaming from ear to ear. You’re almost blushing at the thought of the joy that horror films bring you, which is so great. Is there a film club in The Villages?
No. The only thing I was doing was the acting class every other Friday night. And then I stopped that when the new teacher came along. There’s an old-time radio club. I don’t think there’s a film club. I’ve never heard of it, and I’ve been here for thirteen years.

How’s the pandemic been at The Villages?
Well, the Villagers do what they want to do. They are out there right now. Hundreds of people in the town squares with the bands dancing with no masks, no masks in restaurants. There’s no social distancing. They’re on top of each other, no masks. What happens, happens. I mean, if they get sick, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Well, when the time is right, you have to start up The Villages film club. If you were programming a double feature that would absolutely freak them out, what would that double feature be?
It would be I Spit On Your Grave and [its sequel], or The Hills Have Eyes and Part II, or my beloved Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. House of 1,000 Corpses is just about my favorite horror movie of all time. I love Rob Zombie. I love the music he puts in the movies. That movie is bizarre. It’s got a couple of monster-like human characters in it that are just… I still can’t figure out what their face is, but I love it.

Sid Haig in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses (2003).
Sid Haig in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses (2003).

We need you on Letterboxd, Barbara. You need to be making lists of your favorite creature features!
Is it hard to do?

No. Get Lance to help you out! Okay last question, what would be your dream role, in your dream genre?
I think, even though horror is my dream genre, I think drama, dramatics, something with the feeling in your gut. There was a movie years ago called ’night, Mother, with Sissy Spacek. She tells her mother she is going to kill herself, and Anne Bancroft tries to talk her out of it the whole night. Something that’s really either like that, or the kind of horror that’s not necessarily campy, but a true horror movie. When Misery came out that made Kathy Bates famous, without any prompting from anybody, my best friend Sean said to me, “Oh my god, you should’ve been in that movie. That’s perfect for you.”

Well, I hope someone comes calling soon.
I want you to know, even with the pandemic, if someone wanted [me for] something, I would go anywhere. I would find the money and I would go anywhere to either do it or try it or… That’s how bad I want it. There wouldn’t be any, “Oh, I can’t come.” I would get my friend to watch the pets, and that would be it.

Some Kind of Heaven’ is streaming in the US on Hulu courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, and in select UK cinemas courtesy of Dogwoof Films.

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