Movie Review ~ Jakob’s Wife

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a chance encounter with “The Master,” the wife of a small-town minister discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before…even as the body count around her grows.

Stars: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Sarah Lind, Phillip Jack Brooks, Robert Rusler, Mark Kelly

Director: Travis Stevens

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Growing up, movie length was a big deal to me for some reason.  I think it was because I enjoyed going to the movies (and film in general, let’s be real) so much that the longer the movies were, the more time I could be lost in that experience.  When a movie I was waiting forever for, like Batman Returns, clocked in over two hours, I rejoiced.  If the umpteenth horror sequel in a long running franchise along the lines of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later only made it to 86 minutes (with credits) it filled me with honest to goodness grief.  Eventually, I started to realize that 86 minutes might equal less character development in favor of pure audience pleasing thrills and over two hours could mean an overstuffed narrative that was unnecessary to the overall plot. It all depended on the movie. 

Now, reviewing movies as much as I do, you better believe I pay attention to time because it’s more precious than ever when you have multiple films to watch.  Did that Australian revenge drama I watched a month ago really need to be two and a half hours?  Could a documentary about the ‘90s been a bit longer?  Mostly, I fall on the side of everything needing some trimming; I like a well-paced film but not one that breathlessly needs to finish the race at lighting speed.  Horror films are typically the trickiest to get the timing right and lately I’ve noticed a trend away from the shorter, rock ‘em, sock ‘em thrills in favor of the more auteur-driven pieces, handsomely made efforts that milk all they can out of extra time that winds up counteracting their good intentions. 

Lonely Anne (Barbara Crampton, You’re Next) dreamed of traveling the world but instead has spent her formidable years as the wife of a minister in a tiny town on the outskirts of Nowheresville.  Her stoic husband (Larry Fessenden, The Dead Don’t Die) is a fuddy-duddy bore that appears to notice the unhappiness present in his congregants more than in her.  You understand why she jumps at the chance to meet up with a former flame (Robert Rusler, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street) who even in his current middle-aged state reminds her of the chances she didn’t take.  It turns out to be too little too late for both, because they wind up touring an abandoned warehouse where things heat up but blood runs cold as they come across the temporary resting spot of a new monster in town. 

That’s not the end of Anne’s story however, because she emerges from the warehouse a changed woman.  She’s stronger and more confident, able to speak up when once before she was less inclined to say what she wanted.  More importantly, she finds a nice big cup of blood makes all of her new senses amplified tenfold…the fresher, the better.  Her husband doesn’t understand what’s happening to his newly sexualized wife but gets an idea quickly after a run-in with a missing parishioner that also had a nighttime meet-up with The Master (Bonnie Aarons, The Nun), a Nosferatu-ish rat-like beast that likes to whisper names and rip open necks that explode with blood for feasting.  With Anne transitioning into a ghastly beast and Jakob waking up and realizing her value, it’s time to exterminate The Master once and for all. 

Nothing would have made me happier than to report that Jakob’s Wife is worthy of your time and, more importantly, of a horror icon like Barbara Crampton’s.  Sadly, it’s a gore snore that appears to have spent more time and energy on devising ways to get blood the color and consistency of Hawaiian Punch to gush like a geyser out of necks than it did on any other production value.  Aarons make-up as The Master is ghoulish to be sure but it also feels like vampire-rodent 101. As an actress, Aarons is quite good at selling these freaky creations but even she can’t get this fiend to frighten. 

If Crampton had been afforded more of the true spotlight with interesting moments we haven’t seen before, the film may have cut some new territory as well.  Instead, the revitalized Anne trades her gray sweats and mousy hair for the vamp tramp look which is about as cliché as you can get.  Crampton didn’t get to her legendary status in horror for her acting, let’s be honest, but she brings a certain aura of sophistication to her roles. Even she looks uncomfortably out of sorts for the majority of the film, a rare occurrence. It’s likely because Anne may change outwardly but screenwriters Kathy Charles, & Mark Steensland (who I discovered was a production intern on 1987’s Mannequin…a trivia fact I had to include) haven’t done much to show the true changes she feels within…and that can’t be left to Crampton to do on her own.  In a similar vein (heh heh) Fessenden has a certain genre following that I don’t quite understand, and he doesn’t fit this material in the least.  Dead or undead, Anne needs to pack it in and leave Jakob in the dust and we don’t need to wait 90 minutes to understand this.  As for the rest of the supporting cast, let’s leave them with their anonymity as they deserve. 

What a curiously bad film like Jakob’s Wife serves to remind us of is that no matter what, horror will live on in interesting forms.  I just don’t think it needed to be a feature film that’s quite so long.  At over 90 minutes, it doesn’t have the plot (or, frankly, the budget) to make its case and that becomes brutally clear with each passing frame.  Instead, I wish a director like Travis Stevens, who has begun to make a name for himself in horror with a buzzy calling card flick like Girl on the Third Floor, would gather his contemporaries and get back to the anthology days of the fight film.  A number of genre directors right now have interesting ideas, can attract decent names, know how to stretch a buck, but often feel the need to make everything feature length.  I’d be willing to bet a nickel or two that if Stevens, who also co-wrote, presented Jakob’s Wife as a thirty-minute chapter in a longer anthology the reaction to the film would be far different.  In its current state, it doesn’t do anyone, apart from the special effects folk, any favors. 

Indie horror is where the creative juices can flow and that’s why Jakob’s Wife should have found some more skilled ways to subvert the vampire genre considering its limitations.  Instead, it feels like the filmmakers embraced these shortcomings too much and tossed their money behind the wrong horse.  We’ve seen excessive blood flow and gore before…what we really want are the stories and characters to back-it all up.  Without that, it’s all rat droppings. 

Available in Select Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on April 16th

31 Days to Scare ~ Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

The Facts:

Synopsis: Sets the records straight about the controversial sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which ended Mark Patton’s acting career, just as it was about to begin.

Stars: Mark Patton, Marshall Bell, David Chaskin, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Kim Myers, Clu Gulager

Director: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen

Rated: NR

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: For a long time, whenever I was in the mood to have a marathon of the films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series I faced a dilemma early on in the run.  What to do about that first sequel?  A completist by nature, I hated the thought of skipping over our first foray back to the world of Freddy Krueger but it was so different than the original and positioned itself as a standalone tale that it pretty much took itself out of the line-up.  Not that I thought the film was bad, mind you, it just didn’t give off the same uneasy vibe of it predecessor nor did it advance the mythology like the next two sequels which are arguably the high-points of the entire lengthy series.  Still, when you see how jokey and not-so-scary Freddy became it’s interesting to look back at A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and give some credit to the filmmakers for producing another chapter that didn’t come out of the gate looking for cheap thrills.

Debuting to mixed reviews but good box-office, the success of the sequel made it possible for Freddy to go on slicing his way for the next several decades but there was one major casualty of the film and he’s by and large the subject of the new documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street.  Screened at the 2019 Twin Cities Film Festival with the directors and star in attendance, this documentary offers a tiny bit of behind-the scenes info on Freddy’s Revenge but is mostly centered on actor Mark Patton and the journey he’s been on since the movie debuted in 1985.  An actor on the rise, starring in this huge sequel should have cemented his entry into stardom but it wound up closing the door on his dreams.

To hear him tell it, Patton made it big in New York City almost from the moment he arrived.  National commercials led to a role in a Robert Altman play (co-starring Cher) which was then filmed as a well-regarded movie.  Not long after that, he got the offer to star in the Nightmare sequel and though his acting friends scoffed at ever starring in a horror film, he saw it as an opportunity to take his career to the next level.  As filming commenced, Patton came to realize a subtext intended to be subtle in the screenplay by David Chaskin was coming through loud and clear but ultimately trusted director Jack Sholder to ensure his performance wasn’t straying too far off course.  Seeing the film for the first time his worst fears were confirmed and that’s when Patton’s career was forever changed.

Freddy’s Revenge was released in the midst of the rise of the AIDS epidemic when there was still a lot of uncertainty regarding the disease and how it was transmitted.  That led to fear, suspicion, and for most gay men in Hollywood to keep their sexuality a secret for fear of losing jobs and friends.  Patton, a gay man not out of the closet, was living with his actor boyfriend in California and found himself in the spotlight when the homoerotic tones of the movie were pointed out by several publications.  Looking at the movie now, it’s pretty blatant what Chaskin was trying to say and what Sholder had filmed (though Sholder unconvincingly claims he was clueless) so it’s not as if people went seeking for something that wasn’t there to begin with like Room 237 did a few years back.

With his agents claiming they were unable to send him in for leading man roles thinking he could no longer play straight, Patton retreated to Mexico where he lived in obscurity for the next two decades.  He likely would have spent his years there, too, if the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again hadn’t interviewed him and brought back to the forefront of the Freddy fandom.  Reigniting interest in the movie and sadly fanning the flames of old hatred and bigotry, Patton emerged from his imposed retirement to reclaim his title as the first male Scream Queen and has spent the last years touring fan conventions and meeting the fans he has had an impact on.  Along the way, he achieves (or attempts to achieve) some closure with former cast mates, the director who didn’t realize how high the stakes were for his star, and the screenwriter that originally distanced himself from the movie and blamed Patton for its gay leaning only to begin to take credit when the film found a new audience that embraced its outsider status.

Directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen have been working on the documentary with Patton for a number of years and it doesn’t hold back from showing the good and bad side of the fame game.  Patton knows this is a business and his job is to show up for his fans because they’re paying a lot of money to meet him at these conventions.  He also knows the toll it takes on him physically and the movie follows him through endless days of travel and public appearances, with Patton miraculously never losing his temper or being brusque after the fans have left for the day.  You get the sense that Patton is genuine in all areas of his life and he’s remarkably candid about his experiences over the years.

At the Q & A afterward, Patton mentioned the movie was edited 70 times and it shows.  While it’s well filmed, it does feel choppy in certain places as it jumps around showing Patton’s home life with his husband, fan appearances, talking about the filming of the movie, and then detailing his personal story growing  up.  There’s also a wealth of interviews from other gay filmmakers, scholars, and horror fans speaking about not only what this particular movie means to them but what it’s like to live as a gay person now and throughout history.  It’s a lot of information to digest and, while valuable, sometimes appears a bit unfocused in what story is truly being told.  Another whole film is in there somewhere about horror movies and the AIDS epidemic and Chimienti and Jensen just needed to flesh it out a bit more.

Patton is such an engaging person that you’ll want to spend this time with him and by the end of the documentary you’ll likely wonder what his career would have been had minds not been so narrow in 1985.  The reality is this.  The movie didn’t feature an awards worthy turn from him and, truth-be-told, some of it is a bit overblown for my taste but it’s certainly infused with more pathos than the genre required.  As for it being a “gay” movie, well, you just have to watch the movie and decide for yourself.  It’s difficult to see the movie now knowing its reputation and not see the signs but considering it was conceived as a quick sequel to a horror film it has had remarkable way of staying in the conversation.  Thankfully, so has Patton.