Saturday, February 13

Some quick thoughts on Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

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Jessica, her husband, and a friend look to start anew in a quiet Connecticut countryside homestead after her release from a psychiatric hospital. The old locals aren't the most welcoming and the out-of-towners find a new acquaintance in a fair-skinned woman who just seemed to come with the place. Jessica, still in a frail mental condition, deeply desires to find normalcy in her refreshed life with her hubby. But she starts seeing and hearing things again centering around the young woman who also appears to be trying to seduce her husband...

Spoilers throughout review /First off, it's usually harder to articulate one's feelings for films like Let's Scare Jessica to Death. It's fun (and cathartic) to create goofy sentences for equally goofy B-Side programmers or tear down the terribly rendered dreams of others, but psychologically dense films such as this are tough to translate into words. I guess what I'm saying is that it's better for one to either put it in their Netflix queue or place an order with Amazon than to read the ramblings of reviewers who'll end up waxing about a complex experience that's unique to that individual. That doesn't mean I'm not going to ramble anyway.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death is a horror thoroughbred, with mood so thick picturesque scenery becomes terrifying, that sadly slipped into obscurity for decades until interest was renewed by a much needed DVD release several news ago. What breaks director John D. Hancock's film from its fellow methodical horror pack is a superbly intense sense of ambiguity. It's a story not content with merely existing on one track, something that disappointed in House of the Devil. It might be a tale of outsiders coming upon a vampiric tourist trap with a mysterious blood slurping seductress toying with the meek Jessica. It might all be an elaborate, cruel hoax designed to convince Jessica of her illness once-and-for-all so her husband can rid himself of the burden. Or after a certain point, the events might possibly be constructs of Jessica's fractured psyche as she convinces herself that something is horribly wrong--even if it isn't. Lesser works would have a hard time juggling one of these lines, but Hancock and writer Lee Kalcheim craft with purpose and constantly give the viewer enough ammunition to seriously consider all of these possibilities.

It's a film anchored on an unreliable communicator, Jessica, and Zohra Lampert's performance is deserving to be among the best in Horror. If the film had a flaw, it would be that Lampert's co-stars don't shine nearly as bright. It's an extremely believable portrayal of a woman wanting to get better, and she probably really is, but the either intentional or unintentional events demand her to question her own mental stability. The voices in her head might be worsening psychosis or something more otherworldly capitalizing on her weakened state. Jessica ultimately can no longer decide, as the beginning and ending monologues refer to, and the true horror of Let's Scare Jessica to Death is the shattering turning point in which a person can no longer trust their perception of reality. This is perhaps the root of everything that frightens us--condensed into a idyllic New England setting and one amazing work of Horror.
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12 comments:

MrJeffery said...

love this film. why is the dvd cover art so bad?

Jayson said...

Yeah, the art isn't great, but at least it's is a play on this shot in the film:

http://www.e-imagesite.com/Files2/vlcsnap-3202534516315.jpg

The Film Connoisseur said...

Great movie, very atmospheric. I love the Jessica character, shes so unreliable as a protagonist, you want to identify with her, but you cant, cause shes just so damn crazy...or is she? Thats what I loved about the movie, the ambiguity that you mentioned.

An underrated horror gem from the 70s!

venoms5 said...

This is a great little movie. I remember seeing it as a kid and being scared by it, despite not really knowing what the hell was going on at the time.

Drunketh said...

Sweet review dude.

Perception of reality is indeed a seriously messed up thing.

Planet of Terror said...

Love this film. Such a classic. Still bummed you don't like House of the Devil though.

Pax Romano said...

This is less a horror film, and more a piece of cinematic poetry. Sloppy at times, sure, but it stays with the viewer like Poe's Annabelle Lee.

Bryce Wilson said...

I have to admit I was extremely underwhelmed when I saw this at the Aero's Horror fest a couple years back.

Still I can see why people like it. You should check out The Messiah Of Evil, which blew me away when I saw it last October. It has a similar tone, but for my money is the superior film.

Mike And Joe said...

This is one of my better "discoveries" of the last several years. This is an unsettling movie.

James said...

I've heard nothing but good things about this film - it appears to be an underappreciated classic. Must check it out. Thanks for the review!

Cinema Du Meep said...

This is my second favorite horror film of all time. I really love to see kind words directed towards this film. Makes my heart happy.

xo
CDM

Brett Gerry said...

An excellent film that really shows how powerful some folklore can be. My review here: http://bit.ly/bRofGr

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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