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SXSW 2021: Barbara Crampton Is Wasted in the ‘Salem’s Lot Knockoff Jakob’s Wife

The vampire horror–comedy Jakob’s Wife has a fun Barbara Crampton performance going for it, but that’s about all worth seeing here.

Jakob's Wife
Courtesy SXSW

In Stephen King’s early novel ‘Salem’s Lot, an ancient vampire moves into a dying town in Maine and begins to infect the residents one by one, until only a handful are still able to reject his evil. The new horror­–comedy Jakob’s Wife has a similar plot, with another wizened yet powerful vampire taking over a dying mill town one person at a time, though this one doesn’t appear to be located in Maine. The film attempts to distinguish itself from King’s masterful early novel (and Tobe Hooper’s well-regarded miniseries adaptation) by focusing on the plight of a bored housewife, Anne Fedder (scream queen Barbara Crampton), who’s afraid to articulate how bored she is in her 30-year marriage to her pastor husband Jakob (the actor and filmmaker Larry Fessenden). When she’s turned into a vampire, she not only has to figure out how to integrate drinking blood into her daily routine but also what that means for her loveless marriage. Crampton does her best in this uninspired film, but it doesn’t start to take off until it transforms into a comedy halfway through, and even then it’s too late to save Jakob’s Wife.

The film opens with plenty of ominous synthesizer music as Anne watches her husband preach during Sunday service as if the totally innocuous event is supposed to inspire dread for some reason. There are unnecessary closeups as she looks at Jakob and a young woman in their congregation, which make it look as if she thinks he’s having an affair, something the film isn’t trying to suggest. Back at home, Anne cooks Jakob’s meals and tidies up their house, but she takes no pleasure in anything, even a visit from a couple they’re close with.

It’s not until an old beau arrives in town for a business deal that she contemplates doing something reckless. But their chaste kiss in a warehouse ends with him getting eaten and her being turned into a vampire. That’s when Jakob’s Wife starts to lighten up, as she goes through the clichés of learning that regular food doesn’t cut it anymore and only blood will do, preferably from a human being. The oppressive gloom lifts even more once Jakob learns what has become of his wife and has to square his religious convictions with his love for Anne.

Jakob's Wife
Courtesy AMP

Jakob’s Wife bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s an illustration of how difficult it is to navigate that tricky subgenre rather than a genuine success. It might have helped to telegraph early on, even slightly, that the film would be taking a comic turn eventually, but the movie lays it on thick with the dour music and the leaden acting. Even when it finally pivots to comedy, neither the director Travis Stevens or his co-screenwriters Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland show much affinity for comedy. There aren’t any jokes that really land and there’s little in the way of physical comedy as if it’s a depressed person’s idea of a horror-comedy. The scares aren’t anything to write home about either, leaving Jakob’s Wife in an uncomfortable nether region.

It’s easy to see why Barbara Crampton is so beloved among horror fans, and she’s without a doubt the best part of the film. You get the sense that she’s having fun once her character becomes a vampire, and the film is worth watching if only for her performance. Fessenden also does an admirable job with his part, first as the overly serious minister and then as the conflicted husband to a vampire, but he doesn’t quite stick the transition to comedy, and his dialogue doesn’t help him along. Your mileage may vary when it comes to the comedy, and Crampton fans will want to seek out Jakob’s Wife, but too often it feels as if it’s stuck in limbo, neither here nor there.

South by Southwest celebrates the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Follow our coverage from March 16–20, 2021.

Written By

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

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