Producers: Barbara Crampton, Bob Portal, Inderpal Singh and Travis Stevens Director: Travis Stevens Screenplay: Mark Steensland, Kathy Charles and Travis Stevens Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Nyisha Bell, Mark Kelly, Sarah Lind, Robert Rusler, Jay DeVon Johnson, Phil Brooks (aka C.M. Punk) and Bonnie Aarons Distributor: Shudder
A fable about a woman’s mid-life crisis told in the form of a horror fantasy, Travis Stevens’ “Jakob’s Wife” unfortunately proves neither scary enough nor funny enough, and on the message front it’s certainly not insightful.
Barbara Crampton stars as Anne Fedder, the fifty-something wife of Jakob (Larry Fessenden), the pastor of a small fundamentalist congregation. She’s played her role well over the years, supporting her husband in his work and quietly putting up with his less attractive qualities.
But something is happening in town. Amelia Humphries (Nyisha Bell), who’s been caring for her alcoholic mother, disappears while walking home from church one night, and Sheriff Hess (Jay DeVon Johnson) and Deputy Colton (Phil Brooks, whose moniker as a pro wrestler is C.M. Punk) are stumped. Jakob’s brother Bob (Mark Kelly) and his wife Carol (Sarah Lind) don’t help matters with their blasé, dismissive attitude.
Anne discovers the unpleasant truth when she and old boyfriend Tom Low (Robert Rusler) visit an abandoned mill they used to go years back when he returns to town. There they encounter a box of feral rats that Tom makes the mistake of opening, leading to Rusler’s quick departure, “Willard” style, along with Amelia, who’s been turned into a bloodthirsty vampire. The Master (Bonnie Aarons), who transformed Amelia, is also there, and she changes Anne too.
Her sudden transformation stuns Jakob. Her neglect of household work is a minor point beside her exchange of drab dresses and unkempt hair for slinky outfits and what seems to be a silver bobs wig. But when what’s actually occurred becomes clear to him, something made clear by her new taste for blood, his reaction is, oddly enough, to become her confederate. Together they’ll not only attempt to defeat The Master but, until they can, get Anne the sanguinary sustenance she requires.
This sounds pretty ghoulish, and it is; the body count is pretty high, and the cheap effects frequent. But Stevens and his writing collaborators attempt to add humor to the mix, though with little success. The Keystone Kops material provided to the sheriff and deputy is a low point, but even worse is the bit when Anne and Jakob trundle a corpse out to their car—an embarrassing bit to be foisted on old pros like Crampton and Fessenden, and made worse when they’re accosted by a little girl who demands an odd payment in return for keeping her silence. Other funny bits of business are similarly anemic.
One has to give the two stars credit for putting so much energy into trying to put such weak material across, and Johnson and Brooks as well. It would be a pleasure to report that Rusler—who may be remembered for his supporting turns in movies like “Vamp” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” years ago—had made an auspicious reappearance, but sadly such is not the case; he comes in a distant second to Ernest Borgnine in the eaten-by-rats category.
“Jakob’s Wife” was obviously modestly budgeted, and looks it: Lily Bolles’s nondescript production design is matched by David Matthews’ grubby cinematography, while the editing by Stevens and Aaron Crozier is choppy and Tara Busch’s score forgettable.
One has to give this movie some credit for ambitions that go beyond merely grossing audiences out. In the end, however, having ambitions means little if you fail to achieve them.