“Husbands, love your wives…”
…Because if you don’t, she may decide she’s finally had enough of your shit, make it with a cooler (and more respectful than you) vampire, and rip your goddamn head off. That’s just part of the message in director Travis Stevens’ (Girl on the Third Floor) excellent vampire flick, Jakob’s Wife, which has just arrived on Blu-ray/DVD from RLJE Films.
Written by Stevens, Kathy Charles (Castle Freak 2020) and Mark Steensland (The Special), Jakob’s Wife centers on Anne (Barbara Crampton), a dissatisfied woman married to a small-town minister named Jakob (Larry Fessenden). She lives a boring life, unfulfilled, and constantly talked down to and interrupted by her husband. So when an attempted fling goes bad and Anne ends up bitten by a vampire known only as The Master (Bonnie Aarons), Anne finds herself reawakened, thirsty for more out of life and ready to drink all she wants. Being a vampire isn’t so bad, if you don’t mind the trail of dead bodies being left behind.
As the “Making Of” feature on the disc makes clear, star Barbara Crampton got her hands on the script for Jakob’s Wife at one point and fought to get it made, and it’s easy to see why. This is a role that Barbara was born to play. Jakob’s Wife is How Stella Got Her Groove Back…with a vampire. Crampton is utterly hypnotic in the role, and is clearly having a blast playing a fed-up woman who starts slashing throats and taking the Lord’s name in vain. At first, Anne is portrayed as this quiet “church mouse”, interrupted by her husband every time she dare speak her mind, as we see in a moment with Sheriff Mike Hess (Jay DeVon Johnson) following the disappearance of her friend Amelia (Nyisha Bell). The chemistry between Crampton and Fessenden is electric, with Fessenden also owning the role as a man full of nervous tics and unsure of himself and his wife. Stevens uses extreme close-ups and excellent sound design to get us up close and personal with Anne’s frustrations over Jakob’s more obnoxious habits. Ex-lover Tom (Robert Rusler) is quick to point out to Anne that she used to be someone else. Someone adventurous. Someone free.
Vampirism is often portrayed as a curse, but in Jakob’s Wife, it’s presented as a kind of freedom, in which, for the first time in over thirty years, Anne is finally allowed to feel in control of herself again. Sure, she goes through all of the typical becoming a vampire tropes, such as that classic newfound craving for blood, but what Stevens does different with his film is flip the grim nature of those tropes on their heads, with Anne actually relishing in it all. Instead, she feels confident. Has re-discovered her sexuality. And will be goddamned if Jakob or anyone else tries to control her. The female empowerment theme of Jakob’s Wife is strong in all of the best ways, and vampire Anne, letting loose and dancing with a lamp, is a mood I think we can all get behind.
Jakob’s Wife is a classic vampire film for modern times, oozing spooky, suburban gothic atmosphere along with a titillating score from Tara Busch. The DNA of various vampiric favorites flow through the veins of Jakob’s Wife, blending Salem’s Lot with Daughters of Darkness. Stephen King fans will relish in the film’s similarities to his legendary novel about vampires running amok in a small town. While The Master seems focused more on freeing Anne from her chains rather than turning the entire town, there is still a decent amount of vampire carnage to go around, and damnit if the Old Mill where The Master lives doesn’t give off all sorts of King atmosphere. Meanwhile, Crampton is donned in ravishing outfits from costume designer Yvonne Reddy that fans will be quick to recognize as homaging Delphine Seyrig’s look in Daughters of Darkness, but with Crampton adding her own beautiful yet dangerous flare to it.
The Master themselves harkens back to Salem’s Lot’s Nosferatu inspired vamp, with Aarons living deliciously in the role. The make-up effects on these vampires, in particular The Master, is terrific, unsettling, and will satisfy cravings for anyone missing old-fashioned blood-suckers. Interesting to note is that there’s also a somewhat rat-like appearance to these vamps—along with plenty of blood-thirsty rats in tow with The Master—reflective of Anne’s initial “church mouse” label, and the idea that “mice” like Anne have taken ownership of that label and are using it as the vicious visage tearing out the throats of those who would look down on them.
Speaking of vicious, between Jakob’s Wife and Girl on the Third Floor, Stevens has proven himself to be a fan of gore, and he lets the blood rain in this gory as hell vampire flick. Jakob’s Wife is quite literally over-flowing with Evil Dead 2 style gore, bodies not just bleeding but blood erupting from torn throats and severed heads like a geyser. The vamps in Jakob’s Wife are the type that like to shower in blood and look good while doing it, and Steven and crew make sure there’s enough to go around and then some for them to do so. The gore in Jakob’s Wife goes for the jugular and fits well into the film’s tongue in cheek sense of humor—a humor that understandably won’t work for everyone, as it walks a very fine line between over the top and becoming a little too ridiculous—making this one of the most entertaining vampire films of the last decade.
The only disappointment here has nothing to do with Stevens’ film and everything to do with the disc itself. The “Making Of” offers a few interesting tidbits such as Crampton’s influence on casting and her view on the similarities between her career and Fessenden’s, but it’s all too brief. Deleted Scenes give us a deeper glimpse into the film’s themes and extra screen time for characters such as Naveed (Ned Yousef), but overall the special features here are just a taste that will leave you thirsty for more. With a cast this talented and a director this brilliant, it’s a shame there’s no commentary or interviews that cut deeper and spill more bloody knowledge from behind the scenes.
Still, the transfer looks great, and Jakob’s Wife is a vampire film worth seeking your teeth into, regardless of the features on the disc.
Jakob's Wife is now on Blu-ray/DVD from RLJE Films.
By Matt Konopka