This came to me originally as a little guy when I watched 1931’s Frankenstein for the very first time. While others were dumbstruck by the seeming ruthlessness of that lumbering giant, I couldn’t help but wrestle with the idea that plagues every one of us at some time in our lives: namely, “I didn’t ask to be born this way.” Dr. Frankenstein’s singular creation is perhaps the finest cinematic example of that psychological hang-up, cobbled together surgical as it is with an assortment of spare parts, hand-me-down clothing, and an inferior brain. It’s only natural that the monster would eventually rebel (every teenager does), and it suffered the ignominious fate at the hands of some truly unsympathetic citizens.
Such is the framework for every successful monster movie. The creature from the black lagoon just wanted to swim, but mankind intruded upon his territory. Godzilla was just a wayward reptile until scientists began flirting with atomic energy. Even King Kong himself – the eighth wonder of the world – was only looking to hang loose with the natives while enjoying the occasional sexual arousal compliments of Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, or Naomi Watts – good choices, respectively – when capitalism saw fit to put him on a stage where promoters could make a buck. Heartbreak (of a sort) befalls each of these supreme beings, and our sympathy for them makes us universally root for the underdog even though the underdog itself would probably devour us whole were the shoe on the other foot.
2021’s Jakob’s Wife is another variation on the traditional monster movie, and its biggest twists are that it deposits its creature in the veritable heartland of America (the classic small town), in the guise of a quintessentially American role (a preacher’s wife), and in the face of Barbara Crampton (one of the silver screen’s loveliest scream queens).
Get ready to have your heart stolen yet again.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“Anne is married to a small-town minister and feels like her life and marriage have been shrinking over the past 30 years. After a chance encounter with ‘The Master,’ she discovers bite marks on her neck, a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than ever. As Anne is increasingly torn between her enticing new existence and her life before, the body count grows and Jakob realizes he will have to fight for the wife he took for granted.”
Last week, I penned a review on Crampton’s work and her continued elegance in filmdom’s best B-Movies (available here), and I wanted to put up a bit more about Jakob’s Wife as I found it a powerful independent feature deserving of more reflection. As this disk streets tomorrow (07/20/2021), I couldn’t think of a better time to post some additional thoughts on it and maybe encourage readers to seek out and explore this one for its entertainment value.
For what it’s worth, I’ve never much thought of vampires as traditional monsters, not so much akin to Frankensteins, werewolves, zombies, or ghosts. What I’ve always thought makes them different is that at the core they’re still ‘humans’ of a sort: many a vamp has the same motivations they’ve lived with all their lives even after they’re transformed. What evokes my sympathy? Well, because they’re now essentially immortal, they’re going to be dealing with things normally requiring therapy for a very, very, very long time instead of those of us who remain worldly. Sure, I might be afraid of spiders, but that fear is of little consequence once I’m worm food. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even be spider food!
While Anne succumbs to the temptations of her immortality early in Jakob’s Wife, she inevitably reaches that epiphany reminding her that no blissfulness of longevity, no satiation of her ghastly hunger, no power over the powerless is going to replace her single driving motivation in life: she loves her husband, a somewhat simple, narrow-minded minister (played winningly by Larry Fessenden). Despite the fact that he rarely notices her, her daily struggles, or even pain he might inflict upon her unintentionally, Anne continues to eke a living under the dourest circumstances.
But the beauty of good writing is that the epiphany of her awakening rebounds with equal measure by the unsuspecting pastor Jakob Fedder.
“What has come over the love of my life?” he wonders. She’s suddenly glowing, practically incandescent, and outspoken. Has she found someone else – the usual culprit in situations involving marriages that have perhaps outlived a usefulness – or has she given in to some other desire? Naturally, this man of God wants to do the right thing as he’s preached to others for years, but he can’t easily turn the other cheek in matters of the heart. Prompted by the advice of his brother, Jakob pursues the most logical course of investigation (Anne’s high school suitor has returned to town), only to realize suddenly that his wife is now drawn to the power of another master – this one a thing of the Undead – and he discovers that he’ll stop at nothing to save her immortal soul and even their eternal pairing.
At this point, Jakob’s Wife becomes a wonderfully shared journey, oft times punctuated by comic relief. Each turn of Anne’s requires an equal response from Jakob. She develops a hunger for blood, and he’s happy to see her fed. When this feeding unlocks Anne’s sexual appetite, he’s even happier to see that fulfilled … right there on the dining room floor. And when he decides that it’s time to sever the otherworldly connection between his wife and her ever-oppressing vampire master, Anne refuses to let her husband ‘go it alone,’ even fashioning her own stake to pierce its still-beating heart.
What would drive any sane man and woman apart only forces these two characters to work together, and this is because – despite the appearance early on that the love has dried out in their relationship – they’re only growing closer by embracing these new roles, these new challenges, and these new opportunities for intimacy. As Anne continues to reject her long-served role in the community, Jakob does the same, growing a little less interested in the lives of his flock and a little more in preserving what made him a man in the first place: the love of a good woman.
It isn’t every monster movie that can sustain a commitment to love to justify the resulting bloodshed, but Jakob’s Wife succeeds on their strength of Crampton and Fessenden’s performances. Besides, would it really be a match made in Heaven if only she knew where the bodies were buried? Much like I felt sorry for Frankenstein, I rooted for the two of them to come together and prove once and for all that attraction knows no bounds. That last frame? Where Anne’s leaning into Jakob while he’s still clutching that stake (just out of her reach) yet professing his undying love for her? It looks like they’re headed in the right direction … but we can only know for sure if we get a sequel.
Jakob’s Wife (2021) is produced by AMP International and Eyevox. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by RLJE Films. As for the technical specifications? There was a sequence wherein I noticed a drop in audio – not sure it was a production glitch or perhaps something “intended” by the storytellers – but it wasn’t a major distraction from the plot. As for the special features? Well … meh. It would’ve been nice to have a bit more than some trimmed scenes and a five minute ‘making of’ that serves more like a bloated commercial, but it is what it is. Seriously, it would’ve been nice to hear from Crampton as those of us who love her work don’t get to see her enough these days.
Recommended. The dirty little secret of Jakob’s Wife ending is that we’ll never truly know whether or not ‘love triumphs all’ as it leaves you hanging on a last note suggesting that there’s more to this story … but there’s always more to every story! What’s refreshing about this monster movie is that love isn’t the perennial B-story – as often happens to films of this type – but instead it’s up-front-and-center the entire time. Anne loves her husband – despite the fact that she’s felt ignored for decades – and it’s this shared emotion that compels these two to put aside their differences, work together, vanquish an enemy, and (maybe) enjoy their golden years. This isn’t ‘Beauty And The Beast’ for here ‘Beauty’ is the beast, and these two just might do anything for love even at the cost of their own souls. That’s a metaphor we can all appreciate, especially in these troubled times.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJE Films provided me with a complimentary DVD of Jakob’s Wife by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.