Let’s Scare Jessica To Death
Every now and then comes a movie that manages to change the rules and set itself apart as something entirely different and original. Most of the times though it’s unfortunately this type of movie which remains ignored and forgotten. Such is the case with Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, a horror film from 1971 inspired by the short story Camilla by Sheridan LeFanu that redefined the meaning of “haunting”. I remember being extremely surprised when I watched it ages ago and felt relieved to find it has maintained its creepiness and undefinable atmosphere. The movie follows Jessica (Zohra Lampert) who has been recently released from a mental institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, an episode of which we are never exposed to much details. By recommendation of the doctors, Jessica’s husband takes her along with a close friend to a farm in the New England countryside for a restful recuperation in silence and tranquility. However, they meet there with a hippie girl squatting in the formerly abandoned home called Emily. They group agrees to allow her to stay since she looks like a charming girl… at least at first. Jessica will soon realize that something is very off about Emily but neither her husband or friend seem to feel the same. In fact, they both appear to fall under Emily’s spell of sorts and begin to fear that Jessica may be delusional again. Even Jessica starts to question her own sanity when she finds the entire townsfolk behave strange and Emily may be the ghost of a girl tragically drowned long ago…
Brilliant in all its aspects, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death owes a bit to Rosemary’s Baby, a contemporary film, but weaves its very own and distinct mood. With its rural backdrop and sparse, acoustic soundtrack, the movie evokes a distant time that also feels reminiscent of The Wicker Man – it almost feels like a folk horror movie (whatever that means). I previously said that we’re not exposed to much details about Jessica’s former life and, to tell the truth, we’re not exposed to much details at all. We do get an explanation about what’s going on in the town but everything tends to feel very mysterious and strange. You can’t actually tell in the end if what Jessica is experiencing is real or just a product of her disturbed mind. Even the ending is ambiguous and very odd yet everything works perfectly and you never feel like you’re being taken for a deceiving ride. The movie leaves you with a very disquieting sense long after the credits have faded.
Special mention deserves the incredibly effective performance of Zohra Lampert who may not be that well-known but she’s been around alright, especially on TV. She really acts disturbed and mentally unfit to deal with the weird situations in the farm. The internal monologues of Jessica while she’s being scrutinized by people or wondering about her own sanity are particularly revealing. I truly believe it’s one of the most genuine performances ever in horror movies! The direction by John D. Hancock (another stranger in the movie industry) is also masterful, delivering a painfully tense pace until the final terrifying and climactic moments. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death remains a first-rate psychological thriller, terms that are overused a lot to described many offerings today, yet they’re spot-on to express the impressive achievements of this movie.
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death can be acquired from Paramount Pictures.