Directed by Travis Stevens
Written by Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles and Travis Stevens
Starring Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Sara Lind, Robert Rusler and Bonnie Aarons
There are certain cinematic pairings that leave an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of the viewer. Onscreen couples that seem like they’ve always been together waltzing through the frame, lighting up the screen. Bogart and Bacall, Cher and Cage, Douglas and Turner. And now, Crampton and Fessenden. Sure, for the mainstream audiences that only walk during the daylight hours, screen icons Barbara Crampton (From Beyond, You’re Next) and Larry Fessenden (Habit, We Are Still Here) may not seem like a classic duo – but Jakob’s Wife is here to change all that. A story about how the droll routine of a comfortable marriage can suddenly receive a much needed jolt, Travis Stevens’ new horror comedy out of SXSW is just as much about reigniting passions as it is about transformation.
Both an homage to classic vampire stories and a tribute to Barbara Crampton’s own film legacy, Jakob’s Wife already had great bones thanks to Mark Steensland’s award winning screenplay out of Shriekfest. Peppering in real-life connections from Crampton’s own marriage and life allowed for a much more personal and realistic depiction of complacency, grounding the story when things start getting gloriously out of control.
Beginning, as all things do, with a sermon, Jakob (Fessenden) inspires his flock to love your wife like you love yourself. Not taking his own advice, we see early on that Anne (Crampton) is unhappy in that Peggy Lee “Is that all there is?” kind of way. After barely even contemplating committing a sin with her old flame Tom (Rusler), a brutal attack immediately changes everything. Anne can never go back to what she once was, and more importantly, she doesn’t really want to.
As Anne’s transformation begins to replenish her sense of self, her sensuality, and her devil-may-care new attitude starts to guide her, a powerful connection with “The Master” threatens to do away with her old life forever. It’s up to Jakob to decide whether he wants to fight for her or not, even though she’s starting to really get on his nerves. The more change threatens to upend their quiet existence, the more Jakob’s Wife shifts into a blood-spurting horror comedy that fully embraces its more ghoulish, over-the-top core.
With nods to the Stephen King bloodsuckers in The Night Flier and Salem’s Lot, director Travis Stevens also took inspiration from the more indie modern takes like Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction and Kiss of the Damned from Xan Cassavetes. But the most obvious connective tissue comes from Larry Fessenden’s New York classic Habit and the Grace Jones seductive thriller Vamp starring Robert Rusler. It’s really in the creature design and theatrical entrances of “The Master” where all of these influences allow Jakob’s Wife to soar off the ground, leap off rooftops and start to have a lot more fun with the genre.
That sense of playfulness is seen through the entire production up and down. Yvonne Reddy’s loud and proud costume choices for Anne help bring her new life into focus; Tara Busch’s score soars when it should and patiently waits during the quieter moments; and the practical effects work by Oddtopsy FX never seems shy about blasting a blood cannon. The soundtrack choices, too, help set the tone with cuts from solo artist Kitten, Egg Drop Soup, a banger called “Bloodletting” by I Speak Machine and…”Piano Concerto 3 in D minor” from Rachmaninoff. Even the halloween sounds of bats and rats echoing in the night over the end credits add to the ambiance.
There are A LOT of rats in this and they do make their mark but, respectfully, this is really Barbara Crampton’s spotlight with Larry Fessenden complimenting her perfectly. After watching Jakob’s Wife, you’re going to want to watch them team up again like the screen couples during the Golden Age of moviemaking. A horror version of Wandavision perhaps reimagined by Travis Stevens and the rest of the team?
A story about how the droll routine of a comfortable marriage can suddenly receive a much needed jolt, Travis Steven’s new horror comedy out of SXSW is just as much about reigniting passions as it is about transformation.