Jakob’s Wife (2021)
Churches that focus on couples and families while excluding single people is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve seen church signs that advertise themselves as a “family church” -- which is fine if everyone is welcomed as a part of a church family, but often churches mean they focus their ministries on a target group: a father and mother and an average of 2.5 school-aged children. You can look at church programming with marriage seminars and youth summer camps and family fun nights and wonder, “Would a single person (as in, not in a relationship) feel at home here?” (And quickly answer, “NO!”)
From what we see of Pastor Jakob Fedder of the Embrace Eternity Church in the pulpit, he seems to preach almost exclusively about marriage. We first see him preaching from Ephesians 5, the text exhorting husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. This is a very important portion of Scripture and should be preached, but it should be preached carefully to show how the themes of love, mutual submission, and Christ’s love for the Church apply to everyone and not just married people.
That’s not the way Jakob preaches it. With all of his sermons about marriage, he seems to be working out his frustrations, hopes, and dreams about his own marriage. (Yes, personal experience will influence one’s teaching and preaching but it shouldn't be the dominant influence.)
When a young woman named Amelia (Nyisha Bell) tells the pastor after the service, “I wish I had a husband. One who loved me like that,” Jakob assures her she’ll get a husband someday -- rather than encouraging her to find satisfaction apart from a husband, perhaps, say, in her relationship with Jesus. This exclusive interest in married ministry is the kind of thing that would give any Movie Church a low Steeple rating, but it doesn’t really matter so much because Jakob aids and abets murders in the film, which is pretty much an automatic Three Steeple deduction.
I suppose I should note that Jakob’s Wife is a vampire film, part of our Halloween Movie Churches Double Feature. The film came out this year with a brief theatrical release, simultaneously with streaming. I appreciated the film’s focus on the marriage of a pastor and his wife and the special pressures on a couple in ministry. And, well, the special pressures that arise when a member of a ministry couple is attacked by a master vampire and turns into a vampire herself.
I did have a hard time figuring out the ecclesiastic tradition of Pastor Jakob Fedder (Larry Fessenden). He wears clerical garb of someone in a mainline denomination and yet his teaching on the role of gender roles is of a more fundamentalist mode. He is quite judgmental at times (saying to his brother “How many times do I have to tell you not to use the Lord’s name in vain?”) but he drinks liquor openly like an Episcopalian. Seemed unusual for a pastor in Mississippi.
The central conflict in the film is found in Jakob’s relationship with his wife, Anne (Barbara Crampton.) Anne obviously feels constrained by their relationship and her role as a pastor’s wife. She does seem to have interests outside of the church, chiefly in preventing gentrification as part of their town’s development. (Going by political stereotypes, these do seem like concerns of a mainliner rather than a fundamentalist.)
Of course, the real trouble comes when Anne goes to dinner with an old love interest and considers taking the relationship further. But then they are attacked by a vampire. The man is killed but Anne is turned into a vampire.
When Jakob discovers that Anne is killing and feeding on other people, he must decide whether to protect his wife or those she puts in danger. He chooses his wife. As he continues to make choices for her, a much more powerful Anne resents this. A dangerous confrontation is to come. I won’t tell you how this confrontation is resolved, because the film itself leaves a rather ambiguous resolution.
(Before I go on to the next film, I must note that Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton are both very entertaining in their roles, but the person who really knocks it out of the park is the “Travel Consultant,” Diana Prince.)
The second feature for Halloween is 1987’s Prom Night II: Hello, Mary Lou. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen Prom Night with Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen, because the title is really the only thing these films have in common. Most importantly for this blog, the sequel has much more clergy and church.
The sequel opens in 1957. Before going to her senior prom, Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) goes to a Catholic Church for confession. She tells the priest she has used the Lord’s name in vain many times, she has disobeyed her parents, and she has had sex with many different boys. The priest in the booth tells her, “These are great sins.”
Prom doesn’t go well for Mary Lou. Her date, Billy Nordham (Steve Atkinson), discovers her making out with another boy, Buddy Cooper (Robert Lewis). Understandably upset, Billy decides to exact revenge. Mary Lou is elected Prom Queen. Billy throws a stink bomb on the stage, but the bomb sets Mary Lou’s dress on fire and she burns to death.
Thirty years later, we return to the same school, Hamilton High. Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyons) is a senior looking forward to her senior prom. Vicki’s strict mother won’t let her have a new prom dress, so Vicki goes to a basement in the high school looking for material to make her own dress. Finding an old trunk with some of Mary Lou’s prom queen crown, Vicki releases the spirit of Mary Lou who comes to possess Vicki.
We learn that Billy and Budd are still in town. Bill is now the principal of the high school (played now by Michael Ironside). Budd is now a priest (played by Richard Monette.) And in time, Mary Lou seeks revenge on those who brought about her death.
Father Cooper is the first to realize what is happening, but he proves to be an ineffective exorcist (in spite of being quite confident of his success, “She can’t touch me… I’m a priest.”) Principal Nordham is more effective using violence to battle the spirit of the past, but not effective enough.
Mary Lou, through the body of Vicki, has an opportunity to reenact her confession prank. Father Cooper is there to listen to Vicki's confession. (Vicki’s mother sends Vicki to confession often.) But this time, Mary Lou as Vicki flippantly tries to seduce the priest, using words that Mary Lou and Budd had used when they made out decades before. He refuses her, and she kills him.
When Bill finds the body of the dead priest, he has a crucifix in his mouth. So I’m afraid his utter uselessness brings Father Cooper a low Movie Churches Steeple Rating as well.