HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

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JAKOB’S WIFE (2021)

Story finds Anne Fedder (Barbara Crampton, who also co-produced) unhappy in her marriage to overbearing Minister Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). When on an ill-fated rendezvous with an old flame (Robert Rusler), Anne is bitten by a female vampire (Bonnie Aarons). Now Anne suddenly finds the strength to stand up to her husband and be her own person, but only the bad thing is, she also develops a strong appetite for blood.

Tale of female empowerment and vampirism is directed by Travis Stevens (The Girl on the Third Floor) from a script by he, Kathy Charles and Mark Steensland. It’s well intended and there are plenty of effective scenes, but the first third seems a bit bland and slow moving until the spooky stuff really begins. Once things get going, there is plenty of bloodshed and it is when dealing with it’s vampire elements that Travis’ flick really comes to life…pun intended. It’s fun to watch Crampton “vamp’ it up as the bitten Anne and also see Fessenden’s minister going all Van Helsing in order to save his wife. It has it’s slow spots, as Travis seems to be far better at the horror elements than the husband/wife drama between Anne and Jakob. It is fun, though, to see the tables turn, as Anne starts to wear the pants in the relationship and Jakob is revealed to be a bit of a coward. The vampire scenes are chilling and there is a subtle humor laced into the proceedings, so we can have a little fun between the darker and bloodier moments. Travis also avoids the clichés in this type of flick whenever possible and while it is not completely unconventional, the familiar tropes are used very well and it comes to a fitting conclusion. The film also has an effective visual style, as photographed by David Matthews and a fun vampire appropriate score by Tara Busch.

The cast are good, especially an excellent Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Chopping Mall) as the oppressed wife experiencing a supernaturally charged awakening. It’s one of her best roles in a long time. Larry Fessenden is also well cast as her boorish minister husband who realizes there are vampires afoot…and his wife is one of them. It’s fun to see Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Vamp) back in a horror, though his appearance is basically an extended cameo. The film also stars Nyisha Bell as a parishioner turned bloodsucker, Jay DeVon Johnson as Sheriff Mike Hess, along with a cameo by former WWE Superstar CM Punk (The Girl on the Third Floor) as a deputy and featuring Bonnie Aarons (The Nun), who is very effective as the master vampiress.

Overall, Jakob’s Wife starts off a little slowly, but finds it’s footing and presents a spooky and entertaining story of a woman rediscovering and asserting herself, with the help of a little vampirism. Some of the dramatic scenes can come across as a little flat, but director Travis Stevens handles the spooky and bloody stuff a lot more effectively to make up for it. The filmmaker has a good cast, especially with a strong performance by lead Crampton. Not a completely fresh take on the traditional vampire tale, but one that has some novel moments, does it’s own thing at times and mixes in some contemporary themes of female empowerment deftly into it’s story. Flick from RLJE Films and Shudder is now available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) fangs.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RABID (2019)

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RABID (2019)

The Soska Sisters are back in the director’s chair after a four year absence and this time it’s a remake of David Croneneberg’s classic 1977 horror Rabid. Update finds fashion designer Rose (Laura Vandervoot) suffering an accident on her way home from a party. Her face is badly damaged and she has received severe injuries. Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton) promises to heal her wounds at his clinic with an experimental stem cell treatment. It works, but there are a few disturbing side effects. Rose not only has some vivid nightmares, but the mild mannered vegetarian also starts to crave blood and meat, not to mention show violent tendencies. Even worse, any human she bites or scratches develops a mutant strain of rabies and become increasingly crazed and violent. As an epidemic spreads throughout the city, Rose tries to find out who…or what…she’s become.

Aside from directing, Jen and Sylivia Soska have written the script along with John Serge. They’ve updated the story well and have done a good job staying faithful to Cronenberg’s basic film, while taking it in their own direction, most notably in the last act. It’s one of the better remakes in a remake heavy era, one that maintains respect for the source. The film can be quite gruesome at times and there are some very disturbing moments. The FX are well done, especially in depicting Rose’s injuries and during the earlier operating sequences. The violence can be brutal, but is used sparingly, so it has impact when it comes. The last act does take things in an interesting direction, but also pays homage to Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror, while adding a Soska spin to the original story. Rabid accomplishes a lot on what appears to be a modest budget, especially when the disease spreads and the film has a strong visual style to portray it’s horrors. Also making it work very well is having a likable leading lady and sympathizing with Rose, not seeing her as a villain, is important to the story’s success. She’s never portrayed as a monster, even if she starts to believe she is one. The film is, overall, chilling and and disturbing and modernizes a forty year-old premise without losing it’s essence.

The Soska’s have a solid cast. Laura Vandervoot is really good as Rose. At first she is a meek and mild mannered woman in a cutthroat industry. After her treatment, she gains her confidence and begins wowing her prima donna boss Gunter with her work. As the side effects progress, Vandervoot gives us a very troubled and confused woman, as well as a vicious predator. We like her and have empathy for her, even when she’s on the attack. As the before mentioned Gunter, Mackenzie Gray delivers the designer exactly as one would expect someone like him to behave. He’s not a villain, just extremely demanding and not above humiliating those who he feels failed him. Ted Atherton is good as Dr. William Burroughs. He doesn’t really turn into a true villain till the last act, but at first seems like a man legitimately wanting to help Rose and provide advancements in medicine. When he reveals his inner Frankenstein, Atherton is a solid mad scientist and his villainous turn keeps any blame off the tragic Rose, who needs to remain sympathetic. Rounding out is Hanneke Talbot as Rose’s friend and one of the firm’s models and Ben Hollingsworth as a fashion photographer who has a personal interest in Rose. The Soska’s are wrestling fans, so guest appearances by former WWE Superstars Phil “CM Punk” Brooks and A.J. “A.J. Lee” Mendez are no surprise, nor is a cameo from the Twisted Twins themselves.

Rabid may not be a classic in itself, but does successfully put a contemporary spin on one. It’s good to see the Soska’s back in the director’s chair (chairs?) and back in horror, as their last film Vendetta was a violent prison/revenge drama that didn’t quite feel like a right fit for the duo. Their take on Cronenberg’s classic pays proper homage and respect, but also updates the story and does a few new things with it. It’s not quite as starkly original as their American Mary, but is still a gory, disturbing thriller that proves The Soska’s are here to stay.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) raw steaks.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

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GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR (2019)

Flick has Don Koch (Phil Brooks, a.k.a. former WWE Superstar CM Punk) trying to right past wrongs for his pregnant wife, Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) by buying an old house and renovating it. The house has a history, though, and there were acts committed in the former brothel that may come back to haunt Don and his family…literally.

Haunted house horror is effectively directed by Travis Stevens from a script and story by he, Paul Johnstone and Ben Parker. The flick is entertaining, though a bit uneven, which does hold it back a little. There are some nice subtle, spooky touches early on in the proceedings, some good gore and some amusingly bonkers stuff here and there that achieve more Evil Dead II level supernatural hi-jinx. There are also stretches that are a bit dull, the tone is a little uneven and it’s hard to feel concerned or sorry…not that we’re supposed to…for Don when he is such a jerk. Don cheats on his wife, he deceived his clients, he’s a liar, a drinker and just seems like a bit of an all around a-hole in general. It’s like he’s getting what’s coming to him, especially when dealing with the sexy, mysterious and troublesome Sarah (Sarah Brooks). As such, it’s hard to sympathize and be afraid for a guy meeting the karma train head on. By centering the film on an unlikable character, you get more apathy than empathy from your audience, whether his comeuppance is the point or not. The flick does switch focus to his far more likable wife in the last act and douche Don seems to disappear for quite some time, while his pregnant spouse then deals with the horrors of the house. The sudden switch of focus is s a little off-putting, but we do like and fear for Liz far more and it makes for a very effective last act.

On a production level, the flick looks great and the FX well rendered. Stevens also makes great use of the old house location. The cast are fine with Brooks doing a good job in a role that is often a one man (and dog) show at times and pretty Trieste Kelly Dunn doing strong work when she shows up in the last act and the house reveals all. Sarah Brooks (no relation to Phil) is both sexy and spooky as Sarah, Karen Woditsch is good as insightful neighbor Ellie and Travis Delgado is effective as Don’s fed-up friend Milo.

Overall, flick is definitely worth a watch. A few things hold it back from firing on all cylinders, but it is atmospheric, spooky and can be both effectively subtle and delightfully over-the-top when it needs to be. There is some good gore, a few novel twists added to the haunted house tropes and the cast are all solid. Travis Stevens could be a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) marbles.

 

 

 

 

 

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