As a fan of Travis Stevens’s previous film, Girl On The Third Floor, I had a pretty good sense that Jakob’s Wife would be loaded with great gore gags and complex characters, but I was genuinely surprised by the chemistry between leads Barbara Crampton (Chopping Mall, Sacrifice) and Larry Fessenden (Depraved, Habit). The secret vampire flick also features some fresh-but-familiar creature design, gallons and gallons of that good good red stuff, and a surprise appearance from Bonnie Aarons (The Conjuring 2, I Know Who Killed Me) as The Master, the centuries-old nosferatu-style vampire come to transform a preacher’s wife into something more than powerful and rewarding than just Jakob’s wife.
Jakob’s Wife celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival but the film has been a years-long passion project for star and producer Barbara Crampton. Originally written by Mark Steenland, who won Best Screenplay at the 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival, Crampton was developing the project with other actresses in mind for the lead before Travis Stevens urged her to bring new life to Anne Fedder. Although I was reeling at the idea of Susan Sarandon stepping back into the vampire arena (a surprisingly little detail recently shared by Crampton in a Clubhouse room), there was no one better suited to play the timid church mouse turned liberated bloodsucker.
“Come for the brilliantly heartfelt mid-life crisis, stay for vampires tearing people open like pressurized cans of human ravioli.”
Anne Fedder (Crampton) lives a quiet, obedient life as the wife of small-town preacher Jakob Fedder (Fessenden). She wakes up early to make her husband’s breakfast, works out regularly to stay in shape for him, and does her best not to look hurt when he talks over her as though she were a child. But when the opportunity to reconnect with an old flame comes along, Anne finds herself at a crossroads. She loves Jakob too much to break his heart but she hasn’t lived for herself in what feels like a lifetime of soul-sucking compromises. In a surprising turn though the pair are attacked by a winged monster! Suddenly, Anne’s world is turned upside and she’s left to navigate this new life on her own, guided only by her instincts and her unstoppable hunger for human blood. Yayyy 🦇
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Jakob didn’t realize it but he had been sucking the life out of his wife for years and now, it’s Anne‘s turn. High on her newfound lust for life, Anne takes a 360 on the stale, dried-out existence she’s always known and becomes the badass woman she always knew she could be. And I’m not exaggerating in calling Anne a badass either. Barbara Crampton is a walkin’, stalkin’ goth queen as the vampiric Mrs. Fedder. Even just watching her go grocery shopping is the coolest. Plus, who doesn’t want to see a middle-aged woman who’s over this shit! dance around the house, rearranging heavy furniture as though it weighs nothing, all while drinking blood from a wine glass?! Sure, she’s condemned to hunt humans like cattle the rest of her days but thanks to the vampire’s curse Anne is able to step out of her husband’s shadow. It’s bittersweet because she finally feels in charge of her own destiny but she does actually love Jakob, and this new evolution in their relationship is one of the biggest strengths of the story at the heart of Jakob’s Wife.
The dynamic between Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton cannot be undersold. These actors are both legends in the genre space but it’s rare to see “over-the-hill” characters explored in any meaningful way. Generally, they’re either there to warn the young teens of impending doom or they die after a handful of bland interactions in a loving gesture of self-sacrifice. Fessenden and Crampton both bring a lifetime of experience and understanding to these roles and every minute they are on screen together is a damn delight. Jakob and Anne may not have known it at the time but they were locked in a high-stakes battle long before one of them was in league with the devil. And while we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and skip straight to devil stuff, shall we? You know, the bread-and-butter of any vampire movie.
The practical effects in Jakob’s Wife are so f*cking good! One scene, in particular, I rewatched several times because I couldn’t stop laughing at its unhinged, blood-splattered glory. The movie also misses no opportunity to point its garden-hose-of-horror directly at the camera. I guess what I’m really saying is: Come for the brilliantly heartfelt midlife crisis, stay for vampires tearing people open like pressurized cans of human ravioli. The vampire design as well harkens back to some of cinema’s first interpretations of these blood-sucking bastards and they are wonderful. I might just be a sucker for red contacts and pointy middle teeth but the vampires of Jakob’s Wife are Nosferaturrific.
Me personally, I do prefer my monsters to be more of an elusive presence, which The Master (Aarons) is for the majority of the film. She appears in the distance with a dope hat or pops up out of the shadows for a quick gasp! before disappearing again. In the finale, however, she is a much larger presence like a creature of the night holding court in the Fedder’s home. Her speech really helps sell Anne’s desire for independence but the film is at its strongest when it’s just Crampton and Fessenden on-screen together, figuring this crazy shit out on their own.
Jakob’s Wife pulls its weight to re-imagine the age-old tropes and trappings of the classic vampire story including a gender reversal of the main villain that really opens up the floodgates on the Fedder’s struggle. It’s a fun little flick that is maybe a little too concerned with driving home what sets it apart from other films of the subgenre but a welcome addition to horror’s growing appreciation for stories with a fresh perspective. And who doesn’t love a monster living her best life, tearing our throats and guzzling blood like an all-you-can-kill buffet 🤩
“…the vampires of Jakob’s Wife are Nosferaturrific […] but the film is at its strongest when it’s just Crampton and Fessenden on-screen…”
Travis Stevens’ Jakob’s Wife celebrated its World Premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival and will be available in Theatres, On Demand, and Digital April 16th. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to check out our recent interview with Travis Stevens HERE. Let us know if you’re excited to check out this Nosferaturrific vampire story over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.