There’s a perverse gothic sex comedy located somewhere in Jakob’s Wife, but it’s buried under reams of flat, deadening horror comedy.
The work that made Barbara Crampton an icon is the work she did with Stuart Gordon in outre horror pictures, where she was used as much more than mere sex symbol even while still appealing to legions of horny nerds. Her best performance among these is in From Beyond, in which she both appears in leather dominatrix gear and gets to play the type of unhinged megalomaniacal role usually reserved for her co-star Jeffrey Combs. Despite a rather small CV in the ’80s — though she’s taken on quite a lot of work this century — Crampton is an institution for a reason: she possesses everything you could want in a scream queen, her beauty matched pound for pound by a sharp comic sensibility and unmatched manic energy. At 62 she still has it, too. Her latest film, Jakob’s Wife, also starring (slightly less sexy) icon Larry Fessenden, is at its best when it recalls the energy of those Gordon films and just lets Crampton vamp. Unfortunately, it’s not usually at its best. There’s a perverse gothic sex comedy located somewhere in the film, but director Travis Stevens buries it all under reams of flat, deadening horror comedy with little in the way of tone control.
Crampton’s Anne is the obviously unsatisfied wife of a minister, Jakob (Fessenden), who seemingly only delivers sermons about how husbands are meant to love their wives fully. And he might love Anne with his whole spirit, but he certainly isn’t doing the job sexually. On a visit with an old flame that threatens her marriage, Anne is bitten by a vampire and turned. With the thirst for blood comes a sexual reawakening, completely changing the way she dresses and further exacerbating her unfulfilled desire. Watching this transformation and Jakob’s response to it is the most pleasurable thing in the film, especially when his reaction to finding a decapitated body is pointedly much less severe than his response to catching his wife masturbating. Were this simply a marital comedy about a Reverend and his horny vampire wife trying to work through their animosity, it might have been a pretty good flick, and the few scenes that are exactly this show the promise of something more. Instead, too much of the film is devoted to a plot involving the vampire that turned Anne — disappointingly not even played up as a cuckolding thing — and filled with actors who aren’t nearly up to par with Fessenden and Crampton. Very little of the comedy is memorable or worth more than light acknowledgment, the gore effects are uninspired despite fountains of blood, and no scene featuring two or more characters is better than watching Crampton alone in a room. The final shot is yet a final reminder of what is actually good about Jakob’s Wife — it’s just a shame that the rest of the film is so clueless to its potential.
Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 4.