Review: Jakob's Wife turns Barbara Crampton into a vampire

Barbara Crampton in Jakob's Wife. Picture: Shudder

Barbara Crampton in Jakob's Wife. Picture: Shudder

Jakob's Wife (Not rated, 98 minutes)

3 stars

Vampire movies have been popular since the early days of cinema, and it's not hard to see why. The vampire is a monster that can be seductive as well as scary, and able to take on all kinds of metaphorical meanings.

In the Shudder movie Jakob's Wife, vampirism represents female empowerment. This bloody horror comedy has some unexpected twists and subtleties though, particularly in the later stages, it sometimes spells things out too obviously.

The title is a big clue to the setup. Jakob Fedder (played by Larry Fessenden) is a minister in a small Mississippi town. His wife - very much HIS wife, in a very old-fashioned sense - is Anne (Barbara Crampton). She claims to be happy with her life and her long marriage, but there are early signs suggesting otherwise. She is constantly deferring to her husband as he talks over her and expects her to cook his meals and generally look after him.

But he won't be on top - literally or metaphorically - for long.

When an old flame, Tom Low (Robert Rusler) comes to town on business, Anne goes to see him and her old longings for a more exciting life beyond the town are stirred. Old passions are stirred, too, but she doesn't succumb to them.

What they both succumb to, however, is a vampire. Tom is killed and Anne changes markedly. After going home, she starts putting herself first: clothes, exercise, music, anything she likes. Jakob is bemused but says little.

However, the existence of vampires in the town means that other people start dying, and it can't remain a secret for too long.

What's really interesting here is the way the relationship between Anne and Jakob develops. Jakob is old-fashioned and sexist, but he's not evil, and he and Anne really do care about each other. It's a tribute to longtime horror actors Crampton (Re-Animator) and Fessenden that this works. While Jakob wants to kill vampires - he's a minister, after all - he doesn't consider staking Anne, who wants to help him - as an equal.

This is why Anne's transformation into a vampire is not complete. She wants respect and empowerment and what happened to her has emboldened her to pursue these, but she doesn't necessarily want to go all the way, even if the animal blood she buys at the supermarket might not sate her thirst for long.

There are some low-key comedic moments that work well, like the one in which the couple, on a pastoral visit, come across a woman who's died at home and take the corpse so that Anne can feed without guilt.

Crampton co-produced the movie and it seems to have been something of a passion project. Although it's quite well made it looks like the budget was modest.

There are several scenes of bodies gushing blood but some of the special effects don't hold up very convincingly if subjected to close scrutiny.

Presumably the filmmakers hoped people would be too busy screaming and shutting their eyes to notice.

I'm not quite sure who the audience for this is meant to be.

The characters are mostly middle-aged, so presumably it's aimed at Generation X gorehounds and the sort of adult Twilight fans who've decided it's time to move on from Robert Pattinson's brooding control-freak Edward and simpy doormat Bella to a more inspirational vampire.

And kudos to the fact the film has some ideas, even if they are a bit underdeveloped.

The movie's limitations notwithstanding, director Travis Stevens and his two co-writers show there's life in the undead yet.

This story Horror comedy with some bite first appeared on The Canberra Times.