Q&A: ‘Jakob’s Wife’ director talks working with Barbara Crampton, rat actors, practical effects

Noah Levine

Once again, Barbara Crampton is covered in blood. 

Horror legends Crampton and Larry Fessenden unite in “Jakob’s Wife,” a new film directed by Travis Stevens (“Girl on the Third Floor”) that premiered at South by Southwest 2021 on Thursday. The narrative follows a disappointed wife (Crampton) who finds a renewed interest in her life after being bitten by a mysterious creature known only as “The Master.” Stevens chatted with The Daily Texan about his new vampiric flick. 

The Daily Texan: What are the challenges/benefits of working with practical FX?

Travis Stevens: As a kid, I practiced magic a lot, so the sort of mechanical aspect of a practical effect is something that I get a lot of pleasure out of  how to set the audience up and then do a little misdirection and then deliver the payoff. Because I’ve produced for a while, I have a pretty good understanding of practical effects, so at the writing stage, I try to come up with ideas that you could pull off with that budget. And then it's a matter of working through the engineering with the special effects team. They don’t always go as planned but I feel lucky because they are pretty close more often than not. 

DT: What’s it like working with horror royalty Barbara Crampton (“The Reanimator”)?

TS: She’s been such a fixture in horror for so long and is such a bright light. She's so warm and supportive of everyone, whether she’s working with them or not. She's just a genuine, kind person. So working with her just gives you confidence that you are doing the right things at all times. I really appreciated it. What she brings to this role and movie, there’s a sincerity to it that’s really refreshing for the horror genre, especially for a movie that gets as bloody and crazy as this one, to have it grounded by someone who genuinely loves the character and cares about the character. 

DT: What kinds of vampire interpretations inspired you?

TS: I felt like it’d been a while since we saw that kind of classic OG vampire design. Because we were doing some fun stuff with that character, I thought doing a classic design would be even more subversive. “Salem’s Lot,” Herzog’s “Nosferatu,” those are the sort of templates in terms of energy and aesthetic that I wanted this vamp to have. … It seems like each generation redefines vampires as they see fit. … Growing up, there were some key pop culture reference points for what a vampire should be. “Lost Boys” was one. “The Hunger” was another one, (and) “The Addiction” (and) “Near Dark.” 

DT: How did you do the scenes involving vampire rats?

TS: I had seen a very ultra-low budget sci-fi movie with giant rats eating a city. I was like, “Well if that guy can have giant rats eating a city, I can get some rats in this movie.” So I reached out to him, and his advice was to just reach out to a local pet store and just buy a bunch of rats. … We got the rats in the movie because there was a local woman who raises rats, … (so) I called her and said, “Hey, do you think you could give us 40 or 50 rats on these particular days for this movie?” and she was like, “Yeah, sure.” They weren’t the most trained so we would have to sort of supplement some of those scenes with either fake rats or a little bit of CGI augmentation. … I geek out over the fact that 40 rats were just pulled out of a truck and just put in the scene. I’m like, “Yes we’re doing it! We’re making movies!”