Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
Director: John D. Hancock
Just out of the loony bin, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) tags with her husband (Barton Heyman) and some mustached pal of theirs (Kevin O'Connor) and hit up a house in the country; one that they now own. Once there they encounter nymphet Emily (Mariclare Costello) while Jessica starts seeing and hearing spooky shit. Is Jessica losing her beans again or are the beans losing her?
I've owned LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (which happens to be one of Stephen King's favorite horror films BTW) since 2007 or something and it’s taken this long for me to snap its neck and stuff it in a dumpster. Why? Life baby, life. So it's on a rainy Sunday afternoon that I tossed this one in the player, not knowing what it was about, or even what to expect. It wound up being an ideal flick for that type of blah day.
Been catching myself saying this often now of late when it comes to older flicks and I’ll say it again, cause, well it's the f*cking truth: They don't make them like this anymore. LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH was a product of its time, a time when flower power was on its way out and them hippies found themselves lost in the motherf*cking wind. And to some degree the flick echoed that, as it itself, much like its lead chickadee were lost in the motherf*cking wind. Yup LETS SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH was a low budget, surreal and minimalist genre shin-dig. One that suggested a lot of shite and rarely explained Jack or Tracy. Yup this one mostly relied on its characters, its dread filled atmosphere, subtle yet chilling frights (rocking chair rocking solo, whispers, apparitions) and ambiguity to drive the horror home. Much like its lead character of Jessica who's stuck constantly questioning the events that befall her, we the audience were put in the same predicament. Throughout this watch, I had no idea if the happenings were real or all in our lead gals mind. And it's that cleverly executed ploy on my grey matter, coupled with the movie's efficient knack at using the minimal to evoke its frights that kept me in my seat throughout.
To say that this fucko got under my skin would be an understatement. You ever do the nasty in a graveyard? Yes? No? No matter. I have and let me tell ya it resulted in quite the odd rush. The bang-bang was good yet at the same time it felt oh so wrong and truly unsettling. Well I got the same feeling while watching this tramp, a mix of arousal and pure unfiltered dismay. Respect! It’s been a while since a genre flick affected me in that manner. Moreover the affair benefited from a fine cast. Zohra Lampert gave a spaced out, delicate and wounded show; I was with her the whole way, felt her confusion, frustration and anger (loved that voice over they used to communicate her inner thoughts). Barton Heyman and Kevin O'Connor also held their own on their end as the wandering eyed husband and the well meaning, tractor abusing third wheel. At the end of the kill though it was Mariclare Costello that stole the show. The chick was pretty but not in a typical sense. It was the dangerous sensuality that she emanated and her enigmatic nature that made her oh so enticing i.e. f*ckable. Add to that a brilliantly haunting score by Orville Stoeber (love that acoustic guitar jive), a stripped down/tripped out directing style (lots of static shots, wide shots, zoom ins… basic yet hard hitting), crazy sound design (ahhh the psychedelic 70’s), a sly handle on its locations (quiet lakes, thick fog, ominous sunrises) and a powerful finale that said "suck it" and you get a keeper!
On the meh side of things; for a flick that is so sexually charged , it felt like it held back wayyyy too much for its own good. Am not saying that i craved seeing a chick using some dude's face as a bar stool; but a more daring attitude would have elevated the sexiness of the picture. Same went for the kills, I dig low key as much as the next guy, but personally this one would have had more impact if blood seeped out when peeps were injured in any way. I know it sounds trivial, and some may say: “Oh Arrow you can't appreciate a movie if it has no bouncing jugs and ample plasma in it” and that is NOT true. I can. But when a film could have been stronger due to it, it needs to be spat. And in my useless opinion this was one of them times. Lastly the fight choreographies were a tad weak and that séance bit was a tad left field…but who gives a shit.
With that so eloquently put, LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH came through. It had me hypnotized the whole way, akin to watching a poetic nightmare unfold before my eyes, and its hazy nature just added to the brrr of it all. This is not a product, this is genre cinema and I highly recommend it to those who like a dose of LSD art with their horror. Now let’s scare this lassie to death already!
Dead bodies, light blood and bloodless bites. Somebody forgot to bring the Ketchup bottle to this BBQ!
T & A
Does heavy kissing count? BOOOOO!
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH was a bit of everything; a ghost story, a vampire-ish flick and a mind f*ck, all draped in mood, subtlety, an artsy-fartsy vibe and death. Moreover the flick put out solid performances, oozed of sexual tension and left me on a WTF note that I relished. Jacking up the gore and nudity would have made the thing stronger in my opinion; but on a whole this a little obscure gem deserves to be unearthed. Am sure I'll dig it even more if I watch it again, it's that kind of movie. Check it out if ya like your macabre rides different and old school!
The first night the crew got to the farmhouse location, a fog rolled in. They quickly shot the fog and used the footage throughout the film.
The hearse in the film was also the cast and crew transport vehicle.
They shot the lake scenes in the fall, hence the actors were freezing their asses off in there.