Just a week ago, we poured scorn on Shudder’s vampire-movie-with-a-twist Bleed With Me; partly for its glacial pace, mostly because ‘vampire movie with a twist’ is one of the most dispiriting phrases in the horror movie world. Therein lies a doomed attempt to put a stamp on a genre that ran out of steam some time around the second Twilight film.
And now, we’re forced to retract. This week’s Shudder Original is Jakob’s Wife, another vampire movie with a twist – and it’s damn brilliant. The twist: this is a feminist vampire movie about a woman in her late fifties, and it shouldn’t be remarkable how rare the latter fact is in horror, but it is – the only notable recent exemption is Jamie Lee Curtis’s return as Halloween’s Laurie Strode.
Horror movies typically employ possession, witchcraft, cannibalism and vampirism as metaphors for a teenage girl’s burgeoning – and, apparently, frightening – sexuality. Here, it’s minister’s wife Anne (Barbara Crampton) who’s tired of her picket-fenced existence, and whose repressed urges come violently to a head when a business trip puts her back in touch with an old flame. Just as things are about to get steamy, her sleazy ex is ultimately cock-blocked – and devoured – by the same lurking vampire who turns Anne into a bloodsucker. Soon, Anne is fingering bloody steaks in the supermarket, dressing like Anna Wintour and dancing to Goldfrapp-style electro-glam-stomp music – all symptoms of her transformation from dutiful wife to blood-lusting mega-vamp.
The metaphorical subtext about marriage, menopause and mediocrity is clear, but director Travis Stevens certainly isn’t shy of being ultra-literal with the gore, spraying blood, goo and guts around like a food fight in a slaughterhouse. In a film that relies purely on practical effects, heads explode, vampire bites throb open and close like gills gasping for air and jugulars explode in fountains of cherry red plasma.
The title is a punchline, because this is Anne’s film really. Stuffy Jakob (Larry Fessenden), who looks like a doughy Jack Nicholson with his permanent sneer, tries to do the right thing but can’t ever work out quite what that is. “I want to lead a bigger life,” Anne explains at one point, to Jakob’s dismay. Despite the body count, the balance of good and evil here isn’t clear.
While none of the above sounds particularly funny, the movie is. Leads Crampton and Fessenden are such a dark joy to watch you hope there might be leeway for an Anne and Jakob crossover to the next Exotic Marigold Hotel movie. Elsewhere it’s hard to beat some of the dialogue for audacious zingers – memo to drop “I’m going to tongue-fuck a hole in your neck until you puke blood” in our next rap battle, whenever it may be.
- Director: Travis Stevens
- Starring: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden
- Release: August 19 (Shudder)