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Let's Scare Jessica to Death
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Jessica goes to the Connecticut countryside for some rest following her release from an institution where she has just recovered from a nervous breakdown. She arrives with her husband and friend, but the three find little relaxation. Instead, they become entangled in a creepy tale of the supernatural which involves murder, an attempted drowning, a séance, disappearing bodies, vampires and constant torment for Jessica. Her marriage is strained, she hears voices, and she cant escape the mental turbulence which haunts her for there really is something after Jessica.
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Taking place in the beautiful Connecticut countryside, Jessica and friends take some free time after Jessica has been released from a mental hospital. Coming across a mysterious, albeit quite attractive lady, they all share the house on the lakeside before the ever chilling and eerie series of events sets in. Being a psychological horror film that pre-dates "The Shining", "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" is original in every sense of the word, and a film far beyond its time, having been made in 1971. The dark and mysterious atmosphere is captivating and at times, almost quite surreal, which makes for a fantastic tone to the movie. The setting of the house and the lake, and all the surrounding scenery adds to the optical beauty, making for some great landscapes for such chilling, psychological events to take place.
Overall, this is a great and extremely underrated psychological horror movie that's almost perfect. The only thing I wish would have been changed is the ending; it feels as though the ending was almost rushed and never given a proper conclusion. The other thing that bugs me is not about the movie itself, but about the DVD. The only thing the disc contains is the movie, the scene selection, and the language selection. It's really a loss that there's no special features included on this disc, because I love looking at the special features after a movie. Also, it's a loss because "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" is a movie where the bonus material may have been really interesting, especially regarding the nature of the film, how unknown the actors are and how the movie seemed to disappear under years of other horror films.
Be that as it may, "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" is an awesome horror movie that should be viewed by anybody interested in surreal, atmospheric horror or psychological horror films. Enjoy this classic in time for Halloween, too! Thanks for the time, and peace.
This is an intense, surreal atmospheric horror movie.
A rare horror gem from director John Hancock.
Scary enough to scare even Stephen King who listed it as one of the top ten scariest movies ever in his book
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
The film is more psychological thriller than actual horror. While it does have some macabre elements, most seem inserted for no real purpose; the title character likes to ride in the back of an old hearse with a coffin size contrabass case, she spending a lot of time in cemeteries, and she decorates her bedroom with tombstone rubbing's (just a typical Manhattan chick I guess). The film should appeal to anyone who enjoyed "Carnival of Souls" (1962), "Repulsion" (1965), and "Heart of Midnight" (1988).
Like the other three films, "Let's scare Jessica to Death" is a somewhat ambiguous story. But unlike some current viewers, back in 1971 no one considered this a vampire film or something with any supernatural elements. It was promoted as straight psychological suspense. The ambiguity was between whether a specific sequence was Jessica's imagination or a part of a conspiracy by her husband to drive her completely insane. The conspiracy idea derives from the title and from some of the obviously staged scares.
Working against the conspiracy/imagination idea are film conventions, which would normally require any scene in which Jessica is not present to be a truthful depiction of events (not her hallucination nor something staged for her benefit by the other characters). But occasionally directors and editors don't play by the rules. They already have the advantage of including only material they want a viewer to know, and they can include it in ways that should lead to a particular interpretation. In this case they cheat and the ambiguity is deliberate, an easy (insert lazy here) way to give some depth to an otherwise shallow storyline.
Directed by John D. Hancock, the title role is played by the ethnic-looking Zohra Lampert. The film is book-ended by the title character's voice-over narration; showing that at least physically she was none the worse for the events. But in her commentary Jessica discloses an uncertainty as to whether any of the events actually took place, or at least that looking back they do not seem real to her.
Jessica is recovering from a nervous breakdown and her classical musician husband Duncan (Barton Heyman who would work with Director Hancock again in "Bang the Drum Slowly") is moving her out of NYC to a Connecticut apple farm. The couple is accompanied by Woody (Kevin O'Connor), a friend from the city. Because the film often feels like "Alice's Restaurant" (1969) I've always assumed the name was Hancock's tribute to Woody Guthrie.
Things quickly go off-kilter as the trio finds that the local villagers are strangely hostile and that a young redhead (Emily played by Mariclare Costello) is living in their farmhouse. We learn that Jessica's husband invested virtually their last penny in the farm. None of the characters are much in the photogenic department but Emily has no problem getting the two males interested. They become so pre-occupied with her that only Jessica sees another young woman (a pre "Rockford Files" Gretchen Corbett) wondering around the farm or notices that all the men of the village have strange scars on their necks and faces. Or is all this just Jessica's imagination? No one is telling.
Although the establishment shots feature a New England countryside in full fall color and the production design is quilting bee country; the camera work, score, and editing manage to transform this niceness into something atmospherically creepy. This is the film's real strength as the casting, scripting, and acting for the camera direction are nothing to write home about.
The 16X9 DVD comes from a nice print and has no audio problems. It also has no special features so don't expect any story clarifications from the cast or crew.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.