Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Let's Scare Jessica To Death

Written by John D. Hancock & Lee Kalcheim
Directed by John D. Hancock

Jessica...Zohra Lampert
Duncan...Barton Heyman
Woody...Kevin O'Connor
Emily...Mariclaire Costello

Freshly released from a mental institution after suffering from a breakdown, Jessica moves from the noise of the big city to the country with her boyfriend Duncan and friend Woody.  Tooling around town in their hippie hearse, they're greeted with suspicion by the strange locals, and so spend most of their time on their farm, along with Emily, the seductive squatter they invite into their haphazard family.

Jessica's mental state is still a little off-kilter, that much is obvious right off the bat. She's hearing voices, suffering visions, and is acting slightly erratic. Whenever she voices her concerns, though, everyone questions her sanity, so she suffers in silence as best she can. She's certain that her sanity is in tact, and that she's being tormented by unseen forces.

But you can never really trust a lunatic, can you?

For a low budget picture made more than 40 years ago, it still looks and sounds pretty damn good on DVD. The picture is crisp, and there are some great retro moments on the musical score. Some of the dialogue amongst the characters seems improvised, which if done properly could have offered authenticity, but it's poorly done at times, and comes across as strangers trying to sound as if they're long time friends. Zohra Lampert puts in a fine, fragile performance as the haunted Jessica, though, which makes up for a few of the weaker links.

Jessica isn't the badass heroine that we are accustomed to these days. She doesn't know how to fight, and she's a hippie, so she probably wouldn't want to even if she could. She is, more often than not, a damsel in distress; but she's a damsel whose knight won't believe that her distress is real.

It's almost taboo to show a Final Girl as being weak. Maybe Jessica is, but what's wrong with that? In fact, it's her weakness and vulnerability--that she is a victim--that makes her character so great. We care for her and fear for her that much more, and it makes her survival this long all the more impressive.

Combing elements of the ghost story with vampirism and zombieism, Let's Scare Jessica To Death is deliberately paced and pretty low key at times. It's a subtle kind of horror that may not be for everyone. There are no jump scares to be found, but there's an inherent creepiness that gets under your skin and stays there for a while if you manage to stick around to the end.

89 Minutes
United States

"Dreams or nightmares?  Madness or sanity?  I don't know which is which."

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