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Let's Scare Jessica to Death
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
Actors: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson
Director: John D. Hancock
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
PG-13     2006     1hr 29min

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 ...  more »

     

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Movie Details

Actors: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson
Director: John D. Hancock
Creators: Robert M. Baldwin, John D. Hancock, Murray Solomon, Bill Badalato, Charles B. Moss Jr., Lee Kalcheim, Sheridan Le Fanu
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Horror, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 08/29/2006
Original Release Date: 08/06/1971
Theatrical Release Date: 08/06/1971
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 29min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 12
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

"Nothing's ever completely dead."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 09/06/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"According to a great many of the reviews I've read a whole lot of people who saw Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) caught it off the television rather than in the theaters. Personally, last night was my first time watching the film, and after doing so I can't help feel I missed out on something in terms of not seeing this movie at a more impressionable age as I believe it would have truly scared the hell out of me...that's not to say I didn't find it frightening at my present age, but I have reached a point in my life where certain daily mundane activities (like paying bills) scare me more than cinematic ones...co-written and directed by John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly, California Dreaming), the film features Zohra Lampert (Splendor in the Grass), Barton Heyman (Dead Man Walking), Kevin O'Connor (The Brink's Job), Alan Manson (Bang the Drum Slowly), and Mariclare Costello (Ordinary People).

After a bit of clever misdirection, which I won't go into as not to spoil the fun, we meet a trio of hippies types traveling from New York to an farm on a cove in Connecticut. There's Duncan (Heyman), a balding man with enormous mutton chop sideburns, his girlfriend/common law wife Jessica (Lampert), and their friend Woody (O'Connor). Apparently, not too long ago, while living in New York, Jessica suffered some sort of mental breakdown and went away for a period of time, and after being released Duncan blew his savings on an apple farm in Connecticut to not only get `back to the Earth', but also to allow for him to provide a healthier atmosphere for Jessica's recovery (Woody's just along for the ride). Upon arriving at the house, the trio discovers someone's already in residence in the form of a spooky, redheaded hippie chick/drifter named Emily (Costello) whom they quickly befriend and invite to stay (Woody's taken a shine to Emily, but Emily seems to have a thing for Duncan). Anyway, various strange events, many of them witnessed mainly by Jessica, occur causing a strain on Jessica's fragile psyche and her relationship with Duncan, making the others wonder if Jessica's having some sort of relapse, none of which is helped by a strange, mute girl in white lurking about the orchard, creepy Emily's head games, and the fact that the townspeople, who are all old men for some reason or another, are just really weird (and they hate hippies to boot, but this wasn't an uncommon sentiment within the conservative population at the time). Things take a turn for the worse (as they're apt to do) and Jessica takes the express train to Nuttyville, leaving the rest of us wondering if the oddness permeating the story is a part of some concerted, indeterminate effort to drive Jessica looney tunes, or if it's all a product of her fractured mind...

There are three things potential viewers should be aware of prior to going into this film...

1. The feature is soaked with a rich, spooky, atmospheric quality, driven by a number of aspects, which causes the entire story to appear slightly askew.
2. The story moves along at a very deliberate pace (i.e. it's slow).
3. The story is entirely ambiguous, open to a whole lot of interpretation, which will certainly appeal to those who don't enjoy every aspect of a plot spoon fed to them, but will certainly annoy and frustrate those who prefer their celluloid experiences to be more straightforward.

As far as the last point I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle as I believe I can appreciate a certain amount of vagueness within a film dependant on the material, but I absolutely despise vagarious elements either due to the filmmakers trying to be overly cerebral or due to a sloppy and/or weak production. One element I really liked was the intimate nature of the story as there really weren't a lot of characters running around, most likely a result of the low budget, independent nature of the film. I had some difficulty relating to the character of Jessica mainly because she was a bit on the nutty side, and details of her previous breakdown were never disclosed, so I had little idea where she was coming from...I'm not a violent person, but there were times when I just wanted to whack her upside the head given her gradual growing histrionics. Since it's never really made clear, to me at least, whether her issues were the result of external or internal stimuli (or a combination of both), it was difficult to determine if she was a victim of her own mind, or if there was truly outside forces at work she may have been more sensitive to over the others. One thing's for sure, the character of Emily gave me a bad case of the heebee jeebees. She seemed a harmless hippie at first, but her later actions, along with her unsettling eyes, seemed to indicate something different. As far as the two men, they were pretty much along for the ride, drawn in by irresistible forces difficult to explain. All in all I thought this a very entertaining, hard to pin down, but worthwhile film if you're interested in ookie, offbeat, somewhat supernatural thrillers slathered in cryptic sauce.

The picture, presented in widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16X9 TVs, looks clean and comes across well, and the Dolby Digital mono audio comes across solid with no complaints. There aren't any extra features, but the disc does include English subtitles. I suppose an audio commentary by someone involved in the film would have been a nice touch, but, in a way, I'm sort of glad there isn't one as I think it's better to not have someone explaining (exposing) various details of the story, but rather leave the viewer to work out their own conclusions.

Cookieman108

If you enjoyed this feature, I'd recommend checking out a couple of other films titled Carnival of Souls (1962) and The Haunting (1963), as while the material is certainly different in the three, they all possess a spooky, ethereal quality that tends to get under the skin, especially when viewed at night with the lights out, preferably during a thunderstorm.
"
Creepy chiller is well worth your time...
Chris K. Wilson | Dallas, TX United States | 12/09/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"As many reviewers have stated, I saw this film as a child on late-night TV and it deeply disturbed me. Yes, I had to sleep with the light on for many nights afterwards. And yes, I saw this movie again recently and it was not as scary as originally imagined. This is not to say the 1971 dream-like thriller "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" is a mediocre horror film. In fact, this film may have been more influential than most realize.Horror master Stephen King has gone on record as stating this is one of his favorite horror films from this period. It must be noted the film's story is very similar to King's own novel "Salem's Lot," released seveal years later. "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" also bears an uncanny resemblance to the 1975 classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." And let's not forget the very John Carpenter-esque synthesizer musical score (yes, this movie pre-dates Carpenter too), which has much to do with why this film is so unsettling.Jessica (very well played by Zohra Lampert) has just been released from the asylum after a nervous breakdown. Her husband (Barton Heyman, who played the immortal Dr. Klein in "The Exorcist") has purchased an old house in the country where they hope to relocate and start life anew. A hippie best friend comes along for the ride and naturally, the youthful trio drive through the country in a Hearse with the word "Peace" painted on the side - well, this is 1971. The house is sinister, to say the least, with a dark past to include the legend of a ghost/vampire walking its grounds. I will not give away the rest of the tale, suffice to say the local town nor the characters are what they seem. The film's dream-like quality is further enhanced by a surpise ending left open to interpretation. "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" plays out like one long, unsettling nightmare. Scenes of Jessica running through the woods are reminiscent of similar scenes from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." In fact, take away the chainsaw, and "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" bear striking similarities - young people headed to the country, finding an old dark house, and encountering local yokels with an intense dislike for strangers.I think the low-budget quality of "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" enhances its creepiness. It is abundantly clear this film has been shot entirely on location, with scenes inside of the house having a claustrophobic feel. But I did find some of the supporting performances (Kevin O'Connor, the goofy townspeople) to be so bad as to be distracting, not to mention the at-times ridiculous dialogue. But with the lights turned out and alone at night, I can't think of a more enjoyable creepfest than "Let's Scare Jessica To Death" - an interesting, if not creative, horror film ripe for discovery."
One of the best horror films
Max Cady | in a galaxy far, far away... | 01/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Let's Scare Jessica to Death can scare you to death. This film is underrated but will be recognized in years to come for its creepy atmosphere and serious approach. The first time I saw it was on TV and I could not forget it. The scenes of a creepy girl dressed in white in a cemetery and a mysterious woman in an old scary house are just too terrifying. And the voices echoing Jessica's mind makes you wonder whether she is going mad or she is being haunted by ghosts or vampires. Either way the film is very intriguing and should be appreciated for its efforts. This is true serious horror--which is what horror should be about."
Largely Forgotten Gem
General Zombie | the West | 05/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It's not often, anymore, that I get to see a truly excellent horror movie for the first time, so "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" was quite a pleasant surprise. It's got a dumb title, but everything else about the film is quite good. It won't be to everyone's taste, since it's not a commercial, mainstream horror film nor is it a gruesome underground gore film. "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" is just a dreamy, slow-moving horror film where the supernatural creeps into a seemingly ordinary situation and gradually makes itself known. Lotsa of people will think it's boring, no doubt, but these people just have no taste for what I think is the truest, best distillation of horror in film. I like the sense of otherworldliness that you get in some of your more low-key horror, and "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" has about as much of this as any film I've seen. If that's what you're looking for, it doesn't get much better than this.

The film opens with Jessica on a boat, alone in the midst of foggy lake. She wonders what has happened, and what is real just as the narrative moves back to the beginning, with Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody moving to a small, unassuming rural town in New England. Jessica has, apparently, just finished a stay in a mental institution, and this move represents a new beginning for her and Duncan, as they plan to begin a new low-key life on an apple ranch. Not all is well with Jessica, however, and she sees strange things, things that, perhaps, the others can't see. Furthermore, they arrive at their new rural home to find a mysterious, pretty redheaded girl by the name of Emily who has been squatting in their home. She seems pleasant enough, though, so they let Emily stick around for a while, and they even grow somewhat attached to her. (Perhaps too attached, in Duncan's case.) Everything seems more or less fine, but strange occurrences and odd behavior by the local townspeople begin to add up, and Jessica gradually comes to believe that more is going on here than meets the eye or, perhaps even worse, that she's lost her mind.

"Jessica"s critics generally accuse it of being dull, and though I don't agree, I can see where they're coming from. Virtually nothing happens for the films first half, and it doesn't really kick into top-gear until the climax late in the film. Still, it has a certain air to it from the very first frame that I just love. The film isn't about major action or great scenes, it's about the slow buildup of seemingly minor scenes and details which combine to generate a palpable sense of the unnatural. This all begins with the pitch perfect score, mostly slow, mournful piano and guitar with some occasional ominous synth that build a proper feeling of sorrow and foreboding. And then we get the seemingly trivial details: They drive a hearse (cheaper than a station wagon, apparently); The town is populated entirely by old men, hostile old men with strange marks and wounds; Jessica makes grave rubbings, and keeps them in her bedroom where they shudder and seem to whisper at night; Emily herself is just a bit odd, with her long red hair and impish smile. Who is she where did she come from? While exploring their new home, Jessica finds a painting in the attic which looks strangely like Emily. Coincidence? (A great scene by the way, with Jessica being unknowingly trailed by a vague, half-seen black force. What is it, if anything? We never know.)

Eventually, the film becomes more forthright. Turns out Jessica and Duncan bought the the old Bishop place, a long empty home with a tragic history with superstitious connotations in the community. Even worse, Jessica's visions become more common and intense, as she again sees a mysterious white gowned woman roaming the area and believes that she is attacked by a pale figure beneath the surface of the nearby lake. Tension rises: Duncan wants to send Jessica back to New York and his attraction to Emily becomes more and more overt, and now Jessica has to fight to save her mind, her marriage and her life.

"Jessica" really benefits from being a cheap film from 1971: They don't ruin the eeriness with phony CGI or unnecessary cheap scares, nor is the pacing forced in anyway. It builds as is necessary. Equally significant, we get to have mature, adult characters rather than a pack of tiresome teenagers, well-played by a generally unknown cast. (Some have complained about the acting. Anyone who does so clearly hasn't watched much low-budget horror, cause this is way above average in that respect.) Zohra Lampert is particularly good in the lead, as is Mariclare Costello, though her effectiveness is more her basic look than the real acting. For a film of limited means, the technical aspects are solid, with some generally nice photography, though the occasional zooms are a bit dated.

Normally I'm not too hesitant to give away late film details in horror movies since they're generally so formulaic, but I'm going to avoid doing this here, because "Jessica" follows no specific horror movie formula. Sure, it is, at heart, a mystery-horror movie, where the supernatural occurrences function as clue towards the central secret, but even within this form it doesn't follow the traditional routes and clichés. I doubt anyone will be too shocked by the end, but it's not nearly as inevitable as the ending of your typical horror movie. The film does become a bit more conventional at the end, dispensing with the subtle, atmospheric horror and working the standard run-and-chase angle, but I think they do this fairly well, and it is ultimately necessary. Even though the climax rarely lives up to the buildup in this kind of movie, to exclude it is a cheat, because half of the interest in the mysterious occurrences lies in finding out what they ultimately mean. You gotta lay your cards down sooner or later. This isn't to say you need to explain absolutely everything, and the film doesn't, but I've never bought the ludicrous "incoherence is a virtue" principle that so many lazy critics invoke and almost as many obliging filmmakers cater to.

Anyway, I hate to invoke the old cliché, but they really don't make `em like this anymore. Too bad, but at least we've got plenty of classics to fall back on, like this one.

Grade: A-"