Halloween Scenes: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

lets-scare-jessica-to-death-dvdAfter I successfully stuck to my very first themed week with posts all revolving around the year 1988 I promptly failed in my attempt to write about another theme: vampires. A few posts in the wheels fell off the bus because of the whole work-and-parenting thing, but I actually started working on another year for reasons I can’t quite remember.

With 1971 selected, I started looking around for potential horror movies I hadn’t written about and Let’s Scare Jessica To Death jumped right out. How could it not with a title like that? Plus, I know I’ve heard people talk about it, but had absolutely no idea what it was about. And neither should you, frankly. If you haven’t seen it, don’t watch the trailer, don’t look at the poster and definitely don’t hit the jump for more info. Go watch it. Seriously, right now. It’s a great, off-beat indie psychological thriller that has stuck with me for weeks.

Still here? Okay. Wow, right? What a movie! Over and over I find myself writing something along the lines of, “This was a fun movie, but not a hidden classic,” but I think Jessica easily fits in that category. Right off the bat, the title gets you thinking. Who wants to scare Jessica? Why would they want to kill her with fear? The very wording not only implies harm to the subject, but also a conspiracy or plot of more than one person planning on this nefarious act. By then again, what if it’s just a saying? What if it’s more about a prank than anything else? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, they get you going right from the beginning and make you question what you’re seeing at just about every turn. In other words, the suspense is literally there as soon as you turn the film on.

Co-writer and director John D. Hancock (who also directed Prancer of all things) helps keep the proceedings off-kilter by integrating some really interesting shots, angles and perspectives into the film. I’m sure it happened a few times before, but the first time I really noticed all this was when they got on the ferry. There was something about the wild view as the boat pulled away that clued me into the fact that this would be an unexpected ride.

And boy is it. You’ve got Jessica (Zohra Lampert), who just got out of an asylum, her seems-like-a-good-dude husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their pal Woody (Kevin O’Connor) all heading to this remote farmhouse to get away from it all. But when they show up a woman named Emily (Mariclare Costello) is just living in the house. AND THEY’RE ALL COOL WITH IT AND ASK HER TO STAY! Watching this movie made it very clear to me that I would not have done well in a commune oriented setting. As such, I never trusted her nearly as much as they did.

lets-scare-jessica-to-death-movie-posterThe longer they’re in the house and interact with the townspeople (some of the creepiest on record even before the end) the more things start to fall apart. Jessica’s seeing and hearing things that no one else is. This drives a wedge between her and Duncan while also making the audience wonder exactly what she was in an asylum for. Is it possible she really is making these things up or is it all happening?

You walk away from the film with some answers, but not all of them, which might infuriate a good portion of the audience (most Lost fans) but I love that I still don’t know why Jessica was actually in the asylum. I love that we don’t know the full story on the movie’s supernatural elements and I’m completely okay being left in that kind of dark, because the movie tells you and shows you all the important pieces, they’re not sloppily left off the table.

And, for a bunch of unknown actors, this cast really does a great job of not only playing their parts, but playing them in such a way that you really don’t know which direction they’re going. Jessica could be sane or nuts, Woody could be a good guy or a lunatic, Duncan could be really supportive or planning something. And Emily might be super nice or something else altogether.

All of these pieces — the title, the shots, the plot, the acting, the suspense — all come together to form a movie that all horror and suspense fans need to see. Maybe they have and I’m just the last one to the party. I know I’ve heard this title talked about, but don’t remember actually talking about it with anyone. It should be talked about. A lot. And often.

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