Morbidly Beautiful

Your Home for Horror

Posts

A vampire film with bite, “Jakob’s Wife” gives star Barbara Crampton one of the meatiest roles of her career — and it’s downright delicious.

Jakob’s Wife is the kind of film that, on paper, looks like an easy horror homerun. The pedigree involved is impressive, with indie icons Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton in starring roles and low-budget luminary Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) at the helm. It’s a film many genre fans, present company included, may be inclined to appreciate even before the flicker of the first frame.

Fortunately, if you’re the kind of horror fan desperate to love this film based on your admiration for those involved, Jackob’s Wife gives you plenty of reasons to feel great about your preconceived notions and unabashed bias.

We first meet pastor Jackob (Larry Fessenden) and his dutiful wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) in church. After decades of marriage, their life together has become dull and lifeless, held together by routine and deference. As Jakob preaches about the importance of a holy union between man and wife, the look in Anne’s eyes suggests she longs for more passion than piety.

We then witness the extent of Anne’s compassion and good nature when we’re introduced to Amelia (Nyisha Bell), a young parishioner with an alcoholic mother. When Amelia mysteriously goes missing on her way back from church, it’s Anne who is left to defend the young girl — however timidly — against the casual racism and misogyny of family members.

Anne’s life of routine and stifling familiarity is shaken up when an old flame, Tom (Robert Rusler), comes to town to assist with a business deal. When the two meet up at the old gin mill, we discover that the now meek and demure church mouse was once vivacious and adventurous. Alone and lost following the death of her mother, she turned to Jakob for comfort and support, unexpectedly falling into a much simpler and subdued life than she once dreamed of.

Tom’s return rekindles old feelings, not just of lost love but of lost youth. She allows herself a kiss, a moment of passion, before rebuking his advances and pledging her love for her husband, right before Tom is engulfed and consumed by a coffin-sized crate full of feral rats. As she stares in horror, a shadowy vampiric figure swoops down on Anne.

After the initial shock and horror of her brutal attack wears off, Anne finds a new zest for life, allowing herself to feel beautiful and desirable for the first time in a very long time.

As you might expect, she’s also developed a strange craving for blood, superhuman strength, and a severe aversion to UV light (discovered during an intense and stressful dentist appointment).

One of my favorite scenes in the entire film is watching a reinvigorated Anne drinking wine glasses full of animal blood while rearranging the living room — lifting heavy furniture with ease— and dancing gleefully to Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting”. It’s silly but absolutely joyful, and Crampton is at her most mesmerizing.

Anne’s transformation causes her to behave more erratically, initially leading Jakob to suspect she’s having an affair with Tom. But when he discovers the truth is actually much more shocking and sadistic, he must fight to protect his wife amidst the mounting body count, police intervention, and the ever-present threat of The Master (Bonnie Aarons).

Ironically, once Jakob realizes what his wife has become, he starts to really see and appreciate her for the first time in decades. After spending years as the controlling and dominant force in their marriage (and in the community), he seems to thrive being subservient to his now fierce and confident wife.  This leads to a renewed passion and some steamy, sexy intimacy. In spite of that, Jakob is eager to restore order and return his wife to the woman he expects her to be. He insists on finding and destroying The Master, releasing Anne from the seductive spell she is under.

The problem is Anne isn’t sure she wants to be released.

Vampirism as allegory and monster-as-metaphor is certainly not a new concept in the world of horror cinema.

However, Jakob’s Wife takes a fresh and interesting approach by using vampirism as a metaphor for self-discovery, a reawakening of the light long since snuffed out by complacency and years of passive servitude.

As such, we’re given a unique scenario where the villain is not clearly defined.

There’s certainly a central source of mayhem and bloodshed, but the vampire at the heart of the conflict also offers a message of liberation and empowerment. This isn’t about possession but rather the promise of freedom and personal autonomy; a female-centric power held outside of the constraints of patriarchal oppression.

As newly turned vampire Amelia explains when Jakob suggests salvation by scripture, she’s “found a love that gives me strength instead of fear; a love for myself.”

Thus, we’re led to question who or what the real evil is — and whether The Master offers damnation or salvation. We’re also left with a “victim” who isn’t sure she wants to be saved, considering the very real possibility that she was saved the moment she got bit.

This undoubtedly goes without saying, but both Fessenden and Crampton are extraordinary in this film, and their chemistry together is electric.

Every frame of the film featuring one of these outstanding performers is riveting to watch.

In comparison, the supporting cast does not shine as brightly, existing primarily to move the story along and ramp up the bloody body count. To Stevens’ credit, however, he understands the immensity of the talent at his disposal, and he puts his two dynamic stars front and center, with substantial lead roles, rather than relegating them to supporting roles or quirky cameos, as so many others have been apt to do.

It’s also incredibly refreshing to see two older actors carrying a film, in roles that don’t revolve around their children (they have none).

Crampton especially is allowed to embrace her timeless beauty and sex appeal, while getting to show off her comedic chops, deliver real moments of blood-soaked horror goodness, and thoughtfully address and challenge the perceptions of older women in Holly