Confessional Review: "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" (1971)
Here we are with another movie that I’ve never seen before. This is my absolute favorite thing on Earth.
Did you ever sit in a daze after a movie ended? Mind you, I don’t say that as a figure of speech. I mean that in an utterly sincere way. My dear, sainted mother has been extolling the virtues of this movie ever since I was a small child. I’ve literally heard of this movie since I was 8 years old, and I didn’t watch it until the ripe old age of 39. And, I’ll be damned, I’m HARD-pressed to think of a movie that provoked this kind of a response on first viewing since Wake In Fright.
Fuck me running. Let’s reset.
Alright, let’s jump into the synopsis: A recently institutionalized woman has bizarre experiences after moving into a supposedly haunted country farmhouse and fears she may be losing her sanity once again.
So, that covers the “by the numbers” breakdown of what writer/director John D. Hancock (The Twilight Zone) had to say about mental illness and hippie culture of the early 1970’s. Make no mistake about it, folks: this movie is very much a product of its time. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death has all the hallmarks of a classic ‘70s film- understated musical score, grainy cinematography, creepy vibe to beat the band, & casting that clicks like a perfect game of Tetris.
FULL DISCOLOSURE: I fucking love geeky androgyny. That perfectly sums up this movie in my not-so-humble opinion. I didn’t expect to be so completely blown away by the combination of 70’s zeitgeist. And, really- that’s kind of perfect, isn’t it? It was 1971. My parents were yet to be married. The USA was a strange place to live. Horror, as a word, had a definition that was a little different to each person. How fucking perfect. The early ‘70s were THE time for change. Horror, as always, was the genre that truly represented that change.
The influence of this movie is just ridiculous. I see influences on Phantasm, Friday the 13th, every slasher with a psychological twist, & Salem’s Lot. Yeah, I said it. If you don’t believe me, then simply watch it with a truly open mind and tell me I’m wrong.
I’ll wait. Good? Alrighty then….
Thanks to the criminally underrated The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Mariclare Costello didn’t fade completely into obscurity. She’s about as hypnotic and as sexy as the first pornstar you ever saw in this movie. The beautiful thing is that you don’t really don’t know what kind of film you’re getting until you’re balls deep in it. That is an absolute thing of beauty and (for the record) unheard of in today’s film world.
I honestly cannot remember the last time I watched a movie that I simply didn’t know what to expect at the 2/3 mark of the movie. Sure, you knew that Emily wasn’t right, but could you really go further than that? Really? The titular Jessica (Zohra Lampert; The Exorcist III: Legion a.k.a. the real sequel to the original) is clearly batshit crazy. The question is why. Those voices she hears are a thing that we take for granted in today’s film world, but you have to remember this was the beginning of the 1970’s. The Manson Murders were still fresh in the mind of the American public. Ballsy as fuck, I say.
In many ways, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a precursor to the era of film that we are currently living in. It was experimental. It was brand-spanking-new. It was “must-see-TV”. That’s the beauty of the transitional stuff: you’re seeing something brand new, a reinvention of conventional genres that dares to go to places never before seen.
That being said, if you’re not a fan of the slow-burn style then stay away. You are required to have some patience for this particular classic.
You’ve been warned. Be patient.