Her name is Anne and she’s a “nice middle-aged woman” who becomes a vampire.
We open on a congregation of all kinds of church-goers. Next, we follow an independent young Black woman who walks home alone from the service. We’re in small-town Americana (in this case it’s Canton, Mississippi, which has been a backdrop for films like Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and other big Hollywood productions). This gal’s name is Amelia Humphries, played wondrously by newcomer Nyisha Bell. Amelia disappears until we see her again, in another form. Nyisha shows us the innocence and vulnerabilities of the human Amelia and all the way to the deception and malevolence of the vampire Amelia, who we see multiple times later in the film.
There are so many great performances in this well-produced fun AF low-budget horror flick. A highlight to be on the look-out for in this story is Armani Desirae as the “Little Girl”. There has never been more perfect casting of a precocious smart kid. Keep an eye on this one. Bonnie Aarons (The Nun) gender-bends as “The Master”. Other notables are Jay DeVon Johnson as Sheriff Mike Hess who calls the shots and Monica L. Henry as Doctor Meda, who discovers Anne’s new teeth.
Making Jakob’s Wife has been a journey of over half a decade. The screenplay for the film was written by Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland, along with director Travis Stevens, who boarded the project from having been friends with and having worked on another project (We Are Still Here) with the star Barbara Crampton, who plays the lead “Anne Fedder”. Barbara began to develop the script upon hearing about it, after Mark Steensland won “Best Screenplay” at the 2015 Shriekfest. Barbara’s credited as a producer. You’ve seen her in all kinds of things since the 1980s, notably Lords of Salem (a Rob Zombie movie). Travis produced a couple of dozen films before he took a turn to directing them himself a couple of years ago. Together, this team is making vampires very cool again while having fun turning a Southern town into a gothic setting.
I get to talk with Travis about how everything came about and what influences they had. To be very plain about it, here’s a list of films the group drew from to create Jakob’s Wife and why they were drawn to these comparable motion pictures:
- Abel Ferrera’s THE ADDICTION (raw, stripped-down, single light source, contemporary setting)
- Tony Scott’s THE HUNGER (the dreamy elegance and sexuality and cool edge)
- Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (color and humor. absurdity. The edge to Kinski’s performance)
- Tomas Alfredson’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (does everything right)
- Bill Gunn’s GANJA & HESS (the experimental approach, the core relationship and the poetry)
- Harry Kümel’s DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (direct, stylish, feminine sexuality and power)
- Kathryn Bigelow’s NEAR DARK (the lived in grime and animal outlaw energy)
- Xan Cassavetes’ KISS OF THE DAMNED (sex)
- Richard Wenk’s VAMP (Grace Jones’ neon performance)
- Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT (gothic small town)
What’s unique about this vampire story is that “it’s not about staying beautiful and powerful forever or transforming yourself,” says Travis. The message here is that you are already enough. “Anne rediscovers her own voice. She recognizes that she stopped using her voice and decides that is going to change.” This is after decades of making herself feel indebted to her husband, a church pastor named Jakob who showed her some kindness in a time when she felt alone. Jakob is portrayed by Larry Fessenden, who also has been involved in countless film projects since the 1980s. He’s similar to the husband in Santa Clarita Diet and the companion Oskar in Let the Right One In, in that he becomes an accomplice to help his monster-gal survive. Where he had prohibited Anne’s growth before, he then assists in helping her fulfill her new appetite for life.
“Maybe you don’t notice that your world and you have both been shrinking” notes Travis about human relationships (like that of Anne and Jakob). After Anne “is turned”, she begins to take up space, literally. One memorable glorious point is a dance scene in the film where Anne swirls and feels herself, in a home in which all she previously did was mostly cook meals for and cater to Jakob’s needs. She abandons her domestic chores. Her space is now outside of the kitchen and out in the world, where she is now intrepid. Jakob has to deal with it.
Even before production began, the Jakob’s Wife team knew how they wanted the film to sound and that the sounds would be created by woman musicians. The feature is scored by Tara Busch aka I Speak Machine. They had Tara cover Concrete Blonde’s catchy track “Bloodletting” and played this while filming Barbara dancing around the Fedder household.
Besides also wearing the hat of music supervisor for this film, Travis is Barbara’s number one cheerleader. He says that Jakob’s Wife is a “victory that she fought for and earned”. It’s very deserved and pays homage to her career. One way the film does this is through the use of practical effects rather than modern digital touches. Yes, slick CGI-heavy vampire movies like Underworld with Kate Beckinsdale are lots of fun, but there’s just something down-homey and just right for old-school horror fans- with the tone and effects of Jakob’s Wife. This kind of filmmaking should win over new horror fans as well, along with its centering of a mature woman’s “coming of age” story and its low-key, unassuming charm. It’s a good time you can really sink your teeth into. It’s nice to see a super grown-up female lead coming into her power, throwing caution to the wind and living her life for herself, instead of living it for others or out of any sense of obligation. It’s about self-liberation. Anne Rice would approve.
The film was shot in January and February of 2020 and premiered at SXSW 2021. Now we get it in theaters and VOD on April 16th from RLJE, who also brought us greats like Mandy. I give Jakob’s Wife two thumbs up and two fangs out.