Contains minor spoilers.
If ever there was a horror sub-genre that you could accuse of being done to death it’s the vampire genre. Ironic as it might be, vampires, along with zombies, have had so many different visions, versions, imaginings, reboots and remakes over the years that it is hard to keep up.
Ever since 1922’s Nosferatu has been long credited as being the first ever vampire movie, many takes on the legend have been written and made, in one way or another, into books, comics, feature films, short films or made-for-TV films or series. But of course, this stems back to Bram Stoker’s infamous 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula, which also stems back to Stoker’s alleged influence for his titular vampire, Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian ruler known for his sadistic torture methods.
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As you can see, there is a lot of history to unpack, so needless to say, attempting a fresh take on the vampire legend in 2021 would be something of a mammoth task, but it’s one that director Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor) seemed to relish. His latest feature, Jakob’s Wife, might have quite a familiar plot, but is approached in a way that feels entertaining but also darkly funny.
It’s also possibly even relatable to some, as horror legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, We Are Still Here, Lords of Salem) plays Anne Fedder, a woman trapped in a boring, seemingly loveless marriage to Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden; Stakeland, Jug Face, The Dead Don’t Die), a local minister of the church in their small town. We see Anne’s visibly tired and stressed look as she goes about daily church business with Jakob, and as she lies in bed to the sound of his snoring it is obvious that Anne is in desperate need of change in her life. And sometimes change comes when you least expect it.
Enter the vampirism part. While out one day attempting that drastic change in her life, Anne is bitten by “The Master” (Bonnie Aarons, famous for playing demonic nun Valek in The Conjuring 2 and The Nun) and soon after this Anne is feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world – with some confusion from husband Jakob. But as far as Anne is concerned, she is enjoying her newfound freedom of sorts. Even apparently relishing her new appetite for blood as opposed to normal food. But when it becomes clear that Anne can’t just get by on animal blood and needs human blood to survive, it presents a new challenge – and this new challenge could be the thing that helps save Anne and Jakob’s marriage.
What makes Jakob’s Wife stand out from the crowd a bit is not only its cast of horror legends (Barbara Crampton being particularly great as put-upon wife turned vamp Anne Fedder) but its darkly comic thread throughout. A lot of horror thrives on suspending disbelief and using these unbelievable situations to the actor’s advantage, and there are moments in Jakob’s Wife – whether it’s a look, the delivery of a line, or moment of physical comedy – that are so well done that you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculously gory situation that certain characters have found themselves in.
Having veteran horror actors in the cast certainly helps, but the well-paced direction of Travis Stevens, and snappy screenplay by Stevens, Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, also make Jakob’s Wife hit the spot. But it’s not just the comedy side of things that Jakob’s Wife delivers in. The film is also very gory at times, using “splatter” to its advantage in those all important neck-biting scenes, so gore hounds everywhere should be pleased at the bloody delights on offer.
Another highlight is Bonnie Aarons’ Master vampire character. Aarons’ vamp having a lot more in common with the likes of Nosferatu and age-old vampires as opposed to the likes of Angel (David Boreanaz) from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, or Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) from the Twilight series of films. This works in the film’s favour, as a potentially centuries old vampire that looks centuries old instead of a handsome high school kid that just happens to be centuries old is definitely a scary prospect! And Bonnie Aarons definitely delivers the sinister, otherworldly performance you would want and expect from such a character.
Extras on the Jakob’s Wife Blu-ray aren’t too much to write home about. Just a short but sweet ‘Making Of’ documentary featuring interviews with the main cast and some deleted scenes. But overall, Jakob’s Wife is an entertaining, dark, and at times brutal black comedy horror that will satisfy fans that like a bit of comedy in their horror, or a bit of horror in their comedy!
Shudder Original Jakob’s Wife is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital from Acorn Media.