Old 08-21-2008, 12:01 PM
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Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

A tranquil lake spreads endlessly beneath a sultry sunset and the lady of the lake floats quietly in her boat to the grimy surface upon which we are watching. She has our back faced to us, peering to an island just out of view. Her reasons for being there, seemingly so helpless with her body language depicting a sense of confusion, is unclear. We do not know where she’s come from or where – or why – she is going. All we know is what she tells us -

“I sit here and I can't believe that it happened.
And yet I have to believe it.
Dreams or nightmares, madness or sanity.
I don't know which is which.”

Fade out, begin film.

John Hancock’s Let’s Scare Jessica To Death began what is perhaps the most important decade in modern horror history, whilst also prefiguring the post-modern vampire story long before Kim Newman penned the Anno Dracula series (1992 - ) and Abel Ferrara wrote and directed his masterpiece The Addiction (1995). In the modern world of Romero remakes, Troma, Saw (2003 -) and Rob Zombie, it’s hard to imagine a time when American horror films were, of all things, subtle. A few crop up here and there (Lucky McKee’s May (2001) is a recent example) but, overall, directors have mistaken simple nastiness for worthwhile horror. Jessica, however, belongs firmly in a subgenre which is largely ignored, a field in which Don’t Look Now (1973) is still celebrated as one of the greatest of all horror exports. Subtle horror (as Jessica’s title suggests) scares you, not gore’s you, to death.

Jessica’s release date is perhaps the most important influence on the film, emitted and conceivably set two years after the Sixties swung its incomparable swing. The film is as much a description of the downfall of hippie ideals as Withnail & I (1987), the bleak British comedy set in 1969. Jessica’s heroes are a party of hippies seemingly wondering aimlessly through a country where peace & love either vacated a long time ago or never existed. Therefore, our gang are the moral standard to which the Connecticut inhabitants are compared to, something of which The Wicker Man (1973) would repeat two years later with Sgt. Howie’s Christianity versus the paganism of Summerisle Island. Indeed, beneath the painfully normal appearance of Connecticut lies something rather dreadful…

I mentioned earlier that Jessica is a vampire story – this is a very debatable point. Emily certainly presents herself as a typically Gothic vampire, but as we have seen with the townies, appearances can be deceiving. Also, our realization that Jessica’s world view is untrustworthy calls into question the existence of all the supernatural events we see, a reading which is both persuasive and fashionable at the minute with the recent Spanish ghost story The Orphanage (2008) pertaining something entirely similar. However, this writer would like to believe that everything on screen is real, that the central nub of the film is the confrontation between uncanny experience and the unbalanced mindset, leading to the logical and beautifully melancholic ending, which we also see at the beginning.

What’s truly brilliant about Jessica is that beneath its philosophical complexity lies a fairly linear horror story – twenty-something’s stay at a creepy house, an even creepier character infiltrates the group and, of course, trouble ensues. It is this which keeps the film from being a purely chin stroking academic essay and instead a multi-layered artifact to which the audience on all levels of cinematic reading can enjoy.

It is also worthwhile mentioning the films haunting musical score by Orville Stoeber, which settles beneath the action as affectively as Pino Donaggio’s effort in Don’t Look Now. (Another comparison between these two films is that the significance of water in Don’t Look Now is similar to the symbolism attached to the lakes in Let’s Scare Jessica To Death.)

Jessica isn’t perfect - in true B-movie style some of the voices fail to match to the character’s mouths and some of the scene’s are cut much too quickly, but I am personally unperturbed by this as the mistakes firmly cements the film within the time it was made, and it is up to the audience to place themselves in its timeline. It is also up to the audience to search and obtain a copy of this minor masterpiece, which is only on Region 1 release at this time. But if all you know of ‘underground’ horror is splatter and axes, and are after something much more passive (for it is in passiveness where creepiness lies), then Let’s Scare Jessica To Death maybe the vacation you are after.


If you are interested in the film and want to know more, please go to http://theofficialletsscarejessicatodeath.com/ where you can read an interview with Orville Stoeber amongst lots of other goodies.
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Old 08-22-2008, 05:56 PM
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Cool About the article

Fantastic! I liked to know about this hitorical film and its real position on this theme. I've been working in a novel about vampires and it was very important to read this article. "Scare Jessica to Death" is an excelent film in my opinion.
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Old 08-26-2008, 01:12 PM
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newb newb is offline

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Nice review of an underated little movie.

lets see more
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Old 09-23-2008, 10:02 AM
Robert_Dunbar Robert_Dunbar is offline
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God, I love this movie. Zohra Lampert is amazing.

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Old 09-23-2008, 11:47 AM
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Devil-Hunter Devil-Hunter is offline
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Let's scare Jessica to death was a great movie.
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Old 11-02-2009, 08:11 PM
Holy Wood
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this movie was pretty good, but I havent seen it in so long, they used to show it on the sci-fi channel
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