Review: Campy throwback 'Jakob's Wife' gives Barbara Crampton something to sink her teeth into
Courtesy RLJE Films
Nothing like a bloody and ridiculous campy B-movie starring Barbara Crampton to get the adrenaline flowing. At least that’s how Travis Stevens’ latest: “Jakob’s Wife” seems to be operating. Featuring the horror icon in one of her most personal roles, “Jakob’s Wife” has a pro-feminisit message wrapped in a cheesy, vampire-riddled package, but something tells me audiences peaking their curiosity aren’t here for a lesson in women’s rights. But good on Stevens for sneaking in the underlying metaphor and Crampton’s diabolically game performance will make this horror flick an easy staple among splatterfest connoisseurs even if the uneven messaging and ambiguity sour the vibe.
Crampton is locked and loaded playing Anne Fedder, wife to Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden), who leads a fairly standard, rural lifestyle. She cooks, cleans, and assists Jakob with sermons and dozens of miscellaneous church services. There’s an aura of tension in the earlier scenes, leaving Stevens ample time to flesh out Jakob and Anne’s awkward relationship before the latter inadvertently gets herself bitten by a horny vampire. Suddenly, the church mouse has a crisp, busty new look and isn’t focused on cooking breakfast in the morning, but doing exercises and quenching her hankering for blood.
“Jakob’s Wife” is obviously an homage to the heyday of cheap vampire flicks that wound up getting passed around on VHS tapes until they stopped working. Here, the vampire who bites Anne is known as “The Master “ (Bonnie Aarons), a Nosferatu-looking goon who possesses his victims and causes them to perform acts of aggression and pleasure. Though not always intentional, “The Master” - along with Crampton’s over-the-top zaniness, lends itself to a comedic story. In one sequence, an unsuspecting neighbor is getting their head chopped off, and in the next Jakob is pulled over with an arsenal of vampire killing equipment: “I know how this looks” he tells the officer. What’s interesting about “The Master,” compared to other slimy vampire ghouls, is his wokeness allows the victims to choose their path. Stevens doesn’t delve deep enough into this topic, but it's a noteworthy addition in a worn-out genre.
A character study of a female’s place in society and sticking it to the patriarch, “Jakob’s Wife” flirts with progressive ideologies but seemingly bites off more than it can chew. For a movie whose clear purpose is to give its main character an identity, the last shot doesn’t indicate much has changed. Or perhaps I’m simply asking too much of a film where half the budget was spent on practical effects and fake blood? In any case, “Jakob’s Wife” gives Crampton plenty to sink her teeth into and despite the ending coming up slightly empty-handed this cunning midnight thriller gets style points for inventiveness.
RLJE Films and Shudder will release the horror film JAKOB’S WIFE In Theaters, On Demand and Digital on April 16, 2021.