Let's talk Judge Brett Cullum to death.
Jessica: 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.
If you think of it as the hippie version of Carnival of Souls, Let's Scare Jessica to Death makes sense in the horror cannon. Filmed in 1971, this feature was a late night staple of The Late Movie back when only three channels were received in most homes. The narrative involves a creepy, atmospheric take on an urban legend featuring free love advocates being terrorized by something dead and wet. Or is it all just a dream? Many of the events are left open to debate when we realize that the heroine has been just released from the nut house, and seems a touch unreliable in what she sees at any given moment. Whether it is a nightmare or sanity, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is a workhorse horror movie that could be ripe for a remake if this DVD sparks enough interest in the material. I found this bare bones bargain title to be interesting viewing, and proof that scary movies can work without too much skin or gore. Because what's scariest is what we can't truly see, as this production knows all too well.
Jessica (Zhora Lampert, Stanley & Iris) is released from a sanitarium and whisked away to an apple farm by her caring husband (Barton Heyman) and their third-wheel friend (Kevin O'Connor). Once there the trio meet a mysterious squatter (Mariclare Costello), who seems so nice that they invite her to stay. Hell starts to break loose, as Jessica hears voices and sees bodies everywhere. She begins to believe not only is the strange girl out to seduce her husband, but also seems to have designs on her. She seems to be a killer, but Jessica has no idea what kind. Perhaps the old, cranky, hippie-hating townsfolk could tell them all what is going on. Too bad they all wear mysterious bandages, and just glare at the threesome as if they were devils. Farms and small towns have secrets, and this one's a doozy.
Horror is often a product of the time, a sociological genre that plays on morality of its era. Though Let's Scare Jessica to Death has no significant nudity, the sexual implications are pretty clear. Our heroine fears free love, and the situation where another woman enters her marriage is threatening. The fact the woman might be one of the undead is inconsequential to the amorphous blurring of her relationship. Never mind that Jessica already seems to be in a kinky situation with another man tagging along; another woman is frightening. Zhora Lampert gives a nervous, fragile performance which is only ever threatened by her obvious voice-over narration (a device that was hardly needed in this simple tale).
Let's Scare Jessica to Death is all about creep and dread, and fans looking for gore or thrills are going to be irritated by the plodding picture. I admired how well the film captured the thin line between nightmare and delusion, which made this a solid little ghost story. It's not a classic, but it's enjoyable as a rental or makes a worthwhile cheap purchase. Some will find it anticlimactic, but true horror buffs should appreciate what it does well. Polanski did all of this better in Repulsion, but Let's Scare Jessica to Death still has a kooky charm.
The DVD is bare bones. The transfer looks far better than expected, but true to a 1971 production the image and sound are both soft. Don't look for extras, there are none to be found. Paramount has this title bargain priced at release, so all in all it's a competent job that presents the film in the best incarnation you could expect. Nothing to bitch about here, except that some grain and black levels crop up now and then as a result of the old film stock used originally.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death is an enjoyable title which features a great performance from Zohra Lampert. The woman knows how to play paranoia all too well. It ought to please fans of '70s style horror before slashers took over the screen. It's a tingly ghost story with the right amount of kink to keep you interested even without explicit elements common to modern frightfests. It is perfect for an autumn evening when you want to find a horror flick you can watch with a boyfriend or girlfriend who might not be in to scary movies. There's no danger of anyone being "scared to death," but you will get a little creeped out. And sometimes, creepy is enough when you are dealing with hippies and vampires.
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