Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I watched LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) this afternoon. I'd never seen this early '70s horror film, although it has a reputation as being a pretty good little film.
It is but I've got one minor gripe. The title implies a plot or conspiracy of some kind by "us" (as in "let us scare Jessica to death", whoever "us" is). Because of that, I was setup to expect some kind of "Scooby Doo" reveal in the third act in which all of the mysterious goings-on were revealed to be all part of an elaborately orchestrated plan to frighten poor Jessica into her demise.
That's not what the film is about at all. Instead, we find Jessica (Zohra Lampert), a young woman recently released from a sanatorium following a nervous breakdown trying to put her life back together with her husband, Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their friend, Woody (Kevin O'Connor). The trio have sold all of their worldly possessions to purchase an old house and apple orchard somewhere in New England. They've abandoned the stress of New York City and have "gone back to nature", as so many members of the '70s counter culture did.
Trouble is, Jessica may not be entirely cured of her mental illness. Her mind is still a very frail thing and she's obsessed with death (the trio drive a Cadillac hearse and Jessica takes rubbings of ancient tombstones). They discover an attractive young girl living in their house (she's a squatter and a wanderer with no place to go). They let her stay with them and things start to get interesting.
It seems there's a legend about a young bride who lived in the house in the 1880s. She was drowned in the cove behind the house on her wedding day and never got to wear her wedding gown. Rumor has it that the girl is still alive and is now a vampire who haunts the woods and drains the blood of the local townspeople. Is this legend real or not? Are the weird things that Jessica sees and experiences all part of her unbalanced mind or a terrifying reality?
The voice over at the end of the film implies that Jessica herself is incapable of discerning what's real and what's fantasy but if we are to believe what's shown in the film, there's the very real and distinct possibility that she's the last one left among a group of vampires and a beautiful, undead woman.
Director John Hancock brings unease and creeping dread to the beautiful New England countryside and he slowly builds the tension and suspense. With a rating of PG-13 the emphasis here is thankfully not on gore but on more psychological shocks and surprises.
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH is no masterpiece but it is an effective, handsomely mounted little horror film that is worth seeing if you like ghost stories and tales of psychological horror. Thumbs up.

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