The familiar roles people fall into… and the hell to pay getting back out.
Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden) presides as minister over a dying town. His wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) is the very model of a soft-spoken companion ever at her husband’s side. After three decades of “doing the dutiful,” Anne’s former lover Tom Low (Robert Rusler) comes back to town, renovating an old brewery in an attempt to bring tourism dollars in. Hoping to rekindle an old spark, Anne passes up her temptation to cheat — perhaps content it was there for the taking — but something hiding in the shadows (Bonnie Aarons) refuses to relinquish such an opportunity. As members of his congregation and other townspeople begin to disappear, Jakob notices a peculiar defiance growing in his once-loyal Anne, not to mention a new appetite to go along with her newfound strengths.
Soap opera star and horror icon Barbara Crampton has had a varied career over her sixty-plus years on this Earth… yet still appears to be at the top of her game. Viewers unfamiliar with Ms. Crampton’s work may be fooled by her initial appearance as Anne and unaware of the transformation that’s about to take place. Similarly, the slightly younger Larry Fessenden has also had a varied career in genre film, yet neither of them have reportedly worked together prior to this. Yes, this a vampire tale with all the trappings, but it’s also the testing of a relationship where a former “alpha” is about to reassert her position in a relationship she’d already surrendered to. Which is the more frightening prospect: finding everything taken for granted gone, or suddenly getting back everything one thought they’d lost?
Director and co-writer Travis Stevens has crafted a feminist horror film about a couple going through the craziest possible midlife crisis together. Steeped in folklore with its own unique spin, Jakob’s Wife sets out to question the complications of a relationship taken for granted when it’s no longer one sided… or even still alive, in the classic sense. The bread and butter of the film is Crampton’s transformation, culminating in a scene redecorating her house to Tara Busch’s brilliant remake of the Concrete Blonde song “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song).” Twisted, unusual, and often unpredictable, the few missteps that slipped into the final cut don’t take away from the accomplishment of this little vampire story that could.
A few parts of the film feel threadbare, ideas touched upon that deserved exploration but were sidelined for running time. Where most vampire films capitalize on the bat aspect in their appearance, Jakob’s Wife embraces a rat-like visage mixed with a Murnau’s Nosferatu, a concept fully embraced in the makeup worn by Bonnie Aarons — who most modern audiences would recognize as the title character from The Nun. This leads up to one of the most curious choices made in the film: why victims have the dual piercing of canine cuspid fangs — classic vampires — while the Master has ratlike incisors incapable of leaving such marks. It’s never addressed, making a late appearance in the film that no character notices.
There’s a subtext about falling into lifestyle patterns, relinquishing power to live a quiet life, and the later regrets a strong woman has about leaving her life’s decisions and ambitions to a husband only too eager to accept them. In the final frames of the film, one can easily imagine a sequel or even a series wrapped around this concept in the same way What We Do in The Shadows made the leap from the silver screen to television while losing none of its punch. Neither the DVD nor Blu-ray have much in the way of extras, so fans will have to hope there’s a special edition hidden away in a casket somewhere with all the real goodies.
Jakob’s Wife is unrated with ample gore, thematic elements, some nudity, and vows stretching well beyond till death do we part.
Three skull recommendation out of four