Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)


Subtlety is an is a dying art in the field of modern film making, and in the case of horror film making you get a few rasping cries from it’s pathetic, drawn out, death throws a decade, if that.

The sixties and seventies produced some of the most chillingly atmospheric films ever made, that have not only stood the test of time, but effectively K.O’d most modern attempts at the equivalent (Sixth Sense is a rare example of what can be achieved with a reliance on the audiences imagination rather than sub standard CGI and acting from the Tara Reid School of Horror Bimbos – but alas even M. Knight Shyamalan has disappointed us ever since by trying to recreate his classic debut with what can only be described as Sixth Sense But Not Quite 1, 2 and 3. Another victim of his own success, he refuses to just give up the ghost and I don’t know, try something that doesn’t attempt a shocking twist that most five year olds could work out in the first five minutes? Of course I’m not condoning exposing any child to an M. Knight Shyamalan film in any way, shape or form – that sort of thing is the first step on the road to Social Services getting involved.)

Offerings such as The Haunting, Carnival of Souls and The Other, all use the perfect blend of the mundane and the downright bizarre or trippy to edge you further toward a full on pay off of psychological terror at it’s very best, and Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is no exception, although sadly, along with many other horror classics of the period, never seems to get the recognition it deserves.

Jessica has just been released from an institution, apparently ‘cured’ of any psychological problems that put her there in the first place. She, her husband, and their friend Woody (again with the stupid character names!), travel in their hearse (more reliable than a Volvo apparently) to the farm that they’ve blown all their savings on to start a brand new, self sufficient kind of life in the back of beyond (all very Good Life, as was all the rage back in the day and is forging some kind of hostile takeover in modern times also. Me? I’ll stick with my factory fumes, mobile phone signal and civilisation thank you very much – that farm in the country deal is for the Zombie Apocalypse and not a day sooner.)
When they arrive they are confronted with Emily, a squatter who’s been living in their home for a while thinking it was abandoned. Knowing nothing about the chick, except she’s homeless and pretty, she is of course invited to stay with them, which isn’t naïve or incredibly stupid of all concerned, but hey, simpler times and minds I guess ..

Jessica starts hearing voices, seeing weird things and generally looking as mental as the day she got sectioned, the towns folk are steering well clear of them and their weird ass city ways, and the blokes are developing inappropriate crushes on the mysterious homeless hippy they now share a house with. Phew! It’s all going on isn’t it? But wait, couple that with a unsolved tragic death and the legend of a vampire and you have got yourself one hell of a creepy little movie on your hands my friends.

This film is pure gold in every way, but it’s the acting that really sets it apart from the rest. The part of Jessica is played with such endearing fragility that you cant help but root for her from the very first scene – the sheer elation portrayed when something Jessica sees is actually confirmed to be seen by someone else and not in her mind is perfection in itself, and it’s a travesty that the actress who played her (Zohra Lampert), didn’t make more of her talent.

The real kick of ’’ Jessica’’ is the twist ending, which is one of the most unforgettable I’ve seen in a very long time. The dream-like quality of the spiralling mental state of our heroine feels like a definite overflow from the chemically enhanced, psychedelic nature of the extended ‘Summer of Drugs .. I mean Love’ experienced in the previous decade, which only adds to the nature of it’s appeal.

Who says drugs are bad huh?

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