Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Director: John D. Hancock
Stars: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Mariclare Costello

This is a creepy, disturbing film. It’s not scary at all, there is no real blood shown and it is about as far removed from the usual horror as it could be. But it is creepy. This was Hancock’s (who went on to direct Prancer) first feature and he really ramps up the weirdness. There’s a lot of bad things on show here, but Hancock manages to merge them together masterfully. The score is also fantastic and while maybe not to everyone’s taste, it certainly gets inside your head. Some of the photography is also wonderful within the locations they used.

We start off with Duncan and Woody (Heyman and O’Connor respectively) who have just picked up Duncan’s wife Jessica (played very impressively by Lampert). Jessica has just been released from being institutionalized after a nervous breakdown. Duncan has spent his entire savings to buy an old house out in the country to help with her recovery. Along the way they stop at a cemetery so Jessica can make some etchings of the gravestones.

Once they arrive at the house they meet the drifter Emily (Costello) who was staying at the house believing it to be abandoned and empty. Saying she will immediately move on she is convinced to stay for dinner by Jessica. After dinner Emily suggests having a seance, and stupidly, they all agree. This perhaps was my only major gripe with the film/plot. Would Duncan and his friend really let Jessica partake in something like that after just being released from hospital?

Anyway, before much longer Jessica starts to hear and see things and uncertainty starts to spread into her. Is Emily all she appears to be? Can she trust her husband? Is she really better or is everything just the product of her disillusioned and unhinged state of mind?

If you can get past the very dated seventies look, this is a classic creepy thriller. The acting from Lampert is absolutely first class. She really should have received at the least an Oscar nomination for this role (rare in this genre I appreciate). Her portrayal of a woman possibly on the verge of another breakdown is haunting. Jessica despite her problems, is still very curious and child-like. Add in to this we are periodically updated with an internal monologue from Jessica, furthering insight into her delicate and sensitive persona.

This is a very slow film and if your idea of horror is along the lines of Hostel or Saw, then I would probably suggest staying away from this title. If you love old-school psychological horror where the ending (which is beautifully shot) is open to debate, then give this a watch, you will not be disappointed. Madness or insanity? You can decide.


The Sage’s Rating:

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror and tagged , , , .

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