If you're working on any sort of horror project, there's a leading lady who will always be on your casting wishlist. Back 4 Blood, the spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, is no different, and recruited icon horror star Barbara Crampton for the role of Mom. Crampton has starred in notable horror movies for over 35 years, but Back 4 Blood is her first time voicing a character in a game.
"They didn't tell me what the game was," she tells GamesRadar. "I didn't know that it was Warner Brothers, I didn't know Turtle Rock Studios, I didn't know anything. In fact, they named it a different name – it was all very secretive."
Crampton was filming indie horror Sacrifice in Norway at the time and recorded her Back 4 Blood audition on her iPhone with just a few notes on the character to draw from. According to Simon Mackenzie, lead writer on the upcoming co-op shooter, she was always who he wanted to play the role even from "really early on" in the creative process.
"Mom is based on a friend of mine out of the Midwest, who's in a kind of biker group out there. And I start to think about who I want to play her. I started to think about Barbara," he explains. Reading about her, he realized she had grown up around some of the areas that feature in the game.
"And then, I think I was actually at a film festival here one weekend, and there's a film with Barbara and I go, 'OK, I'm gonna make this happen on Monday.' So I went in and told the casting team this is who I want for Mom."
As you might expect, Mom is a tough character. She's second in command at Fort Hope – the main hub for players and where Back 4 Blood begins – and after the death of her son Jason, she's made it her mission to make sure no one else suffers his fate. When Crampton started work on the project she only had the script and Mom's background to go on for her performance, but seeing concept art for her character really helped her understanding of inhabiting the role.
"I started recording without seeing the character," she says. I came in for multiple days over a period of a couple of years. I think it was after a few sessions that they said, this, this is you, this is Mom, and I went, 'Oh, wow, that's so that's so cool and exciting,' and it actually even informed me more for my character. I kind of took that into my brain and made some different adjustments, based on what she looked like."
One thing she wasn't prepared for was the brutal reality of recording for a game where your character could do a number of actions, over and over again, and in a bunch of different ways. "What I found really interesting, too, were the efforts that we had to do because you might be killed at one moment, or you might fall, or you might have to climb up a cliff, or, you know, fall from something or pick somebody up."
"They had specific efforts for all these kinds of situations. So they would say, 'okay, you know, you're pulling somebody out, do that like 10 different ways and times.' So you have to think, pulling somebody out, you know, how does that sound? So you just kind of make it up. And, somehow, one of them is gonna work?"
Horror is hot again
Between them, Mackenzie and Crampton have especially informed insights into the history of horror, from trends in the genre to the mainstream's reaction to it.
"Horror has been my life for 35 years. I feel like, at different times during this period that I've been working, there are ebbs and flows of when it's more popular and when it's not," says Crampton.
"I feel like it's more popular than ever, it keeps getting more popular. Sometimes we hit a plateau and nothing happens. But then movies like Parasite come out, or The Shape of Water, and win, huge, mainstream awards, and then people take a second look at horror. And I feel like we're in a really great period right now for horror everywhere."
Mackenzie, who has always had an interest in horror and who has written for projects like Vampyr and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, also thinks horror has always had more to say than people might initially have appreciated.
"A lot of horror is really smart," he says. "It can be very emotionally contextual. There are some great movies recently like Barbara mentioned, that really nailed the dynamics that a lot of horror is going for. I go back to George Romero's zombie movies, and they were kind of like social criticism. It was just wrapped with zombies. That's always been the exciting thing about this kind of movie. For me, it's not just the special effects or the visual thing. It's the drilling down. Like Barbara recently, with Jakob's Wife – it's a great story about older relationships, it just happens to have a vampire in it."
Crampton considers movies and games that deal with that most primal of emotions, fear, a way of processing it, and backs it up with her own experience of portraying it as an actress.
"It allows you to live through that and hopefully survive, and it makes you – in a funny way – feel better about the possibility of your own survival. So I think it's been psychologically beneficial for me to work in this genre, I feel more self-actualized."
Monsters with Mom
Back 4 Blood comes out on October 12 on Xbox Series X, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC, and some of the people who'll be playing on day one have been calling Crampton mom for a lot longer than Back 4 Blood fans.
"My stock went up with my children because they were really excited and they play video games," says Crampton. "My son had played Left 4 Dead he was like, 'Wow, you're gonna be Back 4 Blood!' and, and he told all of his friends, and they all sort of following me on Instagram because they want to hear about it."
"I'll totally play it and I look forward to playing with my kids. And if they want to bring their friends over, that'd be great."
For more on the co-op zombie survival shooter, check out what the recent Back 4 Blood beta revealed about the game.