In 1972, George Romero directed a film called Jack’s Wife, which eventually got released as Hungry Wives or Season of the Witch. The eponymous housewife eventually rebelled against everyday oppression by practicing witchcraft. Director Travis Stevens, who also co-wrote with Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland, evokes that little bit of horror history in this sharp, sprightly vampire movie which stirs a little religion into the mix.
Anne (Barbara Crampton), supportive and submissive spouse of pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden), is initially tempted to loosen the chains of her marriage by the reappearance of an old boyfriend, architect Tom Low (Robert Rusler – who was a vampire in Vamp). She accompanies him to an old mill the church wants to redevelop as a community resource. However, after a kiss, she isn’t sure if she wants to go any further … and a cloaked, winged shadow falls on them both.
Later, with a scarf wrapped around her bitten neck, Anne undergoes a slow, steady transformation – finding that blood from the butcher’s only partially satisfies her needs, growing a new set of rat-teeth, suffering an acute sunburn from a dental-whitening process, and eventually tearing into arteries to produce a gush of blood and incidentally create short-lived get. It’s suggested that the wandering vampire can easily find lairs in economically-blighted towns with many shuttered industrial spaces, but it emerges that the old-world creature is being selective about those who get drained and those who get turned – with an unusual, sort-of revolutionary agenda.
Quite a few films have played with the vampirism-as-addiction/medical condition theme – Aaron’s Blood, Bliss, The Addiction, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, Afflicted, Fessenden’s own Habit, Ganja and Hess (a minor character is called Dr Meda in homage to Bill Gunn’s film). Jakob’s Wife complicates the set-up more by dwelling on Anne’s contradictory ties to her husband, who becomes a timid vampire-slayer/part-time minion, and her Master (Bonnie Aarons), a Nosferatu-look vampire who coheres with each feeding and seems as demanding as she is liberating. Aarons, best known as the title spook in The Nun, is a rare woman to wear the Max Schreck-Klaus Kinski-Reggie Nadler talons/bald cap/rat-dentition vampire makeup – most Queen Vampires go for the Ingrid Pitt or Demon Child image, but it makes sense here that this Dracula is a woman.
Jakob has a notion that Lost Boys rules apply and presumes staking the Master will ‘cure’ his wife – though Crampton’s Anne seems unlikely ever to go back in her box and Jakob also responds despite himself to being the junior partner for once (as demonstrated literally in a sex scene where he starts out on top and winds up underneath). This Master, when she gets a voice, mentions her own Master, so the chain isn’t likely to be broken by a conventional finale – and that’s not what Stevens delivers. Reuniting from Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, in which they played characters called Anne and Jacob, Crampton and Fessenden make a great horror icon couple. Crampton relishes the opportunity to play a mature yet violently sexual monster diva and Fessenden adds nuance to what could have been a stock annoying husband role. Stevens, following Girl on the 3rd Floor, embraces old-style supernatural vampirism, embedded in an understated contemporary drudgery. Nyisha Bell also impresses as a putupon parishioner who is an earlier instance of the Master’s liberation through transformation.