There aren’t many B-movie Scream Queens left standing or working these days, so I guess that makes Barbara Crampton the queen of the Queens. Blonde, wide-eyed, perverse, and game for anything, she came to horror-movie fame with “Re-Animator” in 1985, tied to an operating table while a decapitated body lets its severed head have its evil way with her. (In the 1986 follow-up, “From Beyond,” she merely bit off the extruded pineal gland of a monster trying to eat her brain.)
That was almost 40 years ago, but Crampton keeps going in high drive-in style with “Jakob’s Wife,” a tongue-in-cheek thriller that mixes the DNA of a vampire movie with a female empowerment Lifetime special, adding a little apostasy for good measure. It’s newly available on demand.
The star plays Anne, meekly obedient wife to small-town minister Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). Once, Anne had energy, life, gumption; now she’s constantly talked over by her husband and kept awake by his snores. (There’s a close shot of him brushing his teeth that’s as appalling to us as it is to her.) A visit from Tom, an old high school boyfriend (Robert Rusler), offers adulterous temptations, but before anything can get going, a gruesome vampire attack leaves Tom without a neck and Anne with an unholy new thirst.
“Jakob’s Wife” plays this transformation for comedy and cheers. Anne ditches the high-collared church dresses for cleavage and a choker and starts calling the shots in ways that unnerve the good Pastor. The script by director Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, and Mark Steensland has a lot of fun mixing, matching, and modernizing vampire lore: There are old-school stakes and Bibles, and the main bloodsucker, an ancient being called The Master (Bonnie Arens), is a ringer for Nosferatu, but sunlight doesn’t do nearly as much damage to Anne’s skin as an LED teeth whitener at the dentist’s office.
More than anything, “Jakob’s Wife” offers the cheerful notion that vampirism can function as a form of marriage therapy and may even jumpstart a couple’s sex life. At a certain point in the plot, Pastor Jakob has to choose between his faith and an undead wife, and his commitment to the bonds of marriage ultimately extends to corpse removal and some purloined pot to take the edge off his wife’s cravings. Fessenden is himself a cult indie-horror director (“Wendigo,” “The Last Winter”) and he hops on this movie’s demented wavelength with a devilishly sly face.
Believability takes a back seat here, obviously, and the special effects are so over-the-top bloody as to be more comical than scary; unlike “In the Earth,” a much slicker British horror film opening in theaters this week, “Jakob’s Wife” proudly embraces its inherent B-ness. But it’s the star who makes this a low-down hoot while rooting it in some tart and deserved observations about the battle of the sexes. They picked the wrong title for the movie. They should have called it “Crampton Comes Alive.”
Directed by Travis Stevens. Written by Stevens, Kathy Charles, and Mark Steensland. Starring Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden. Available on demand. 98 minutes. Unrated (As R: language, brief nudity, lots and lots of vampire gore)