Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Jessica & Duncan. Happy, right?

Jessica & Duncan. Happy, right?

All too often, horror movies disappoint me. Sometimes my expectations are set so low, disappointment actually seems impossible, and yet the film still manages to be worse than I could have imagined. Of course, some of this has to do with my attraction to titles such as Blood of Ghastly Horror  or The Thirsty Dead. It’s unlikely such films could live up to their awesome names. I have to admit I was afraid Let’s Scare Jessica to Death would suffer from the same problem, but so pleasantly surprised to find it a competent, creepy, atmospheric psychological thriller / vampire flick.

Jessica has just recently been released from some sort of mental care. We never really learn all the details, but Jessica’s narration gives us some hints. While she is thrilled to be free, she is vigilant: constantly

I mean she's totally happy, right? Normal. Sane.

I mean she’s totally happy, right? Normal. Sane.

concerned that some action of hers will be deemed crazy – did she really hear that noise? Was there really a strange girl standing above them? Or, is it all in her head?

As she and her husband, Duncan, and their friend Woody approach their new home – a country house on a farm in Connecticut, quite different from the life in Manhattan they’re all used to – Jessica swears she sees someone. She is reassured when her husband confirms that someone is there. Turns out a young girl has been squatting in the farm house. Homeless and unattached, she promises to leave the next day. But, perhaps trying a little too hard to seem cool with everything that’s going on, Jessica insists she stay with them. And that’s when shit starts getting weird again.

But then there's this photo...

But then there’s this photo…

Not only do Woody and Duncan both seem to have a hard on for the girl, she looks mysteriously like a young woman in a framed photograph Jessica finds in the attic. Always doubtful of herself, always frightened of being outed as crazy, Jessica isn’t quite sure what this could mean, but the realization leaves her jumpy and afraid.

To make things a little creepier, all the people in the town are unwelcoming to say the least. On top of that, they all have weird scars and bandages. What could it all mean? Does it mean anything? Is it all in Jessica’s mind?

This is a really effective, creepy psychological thriller. Outwardly, Jessica is free and happy, but the

And it all goes to shit.

And it all goes to shit.

audience is always aware of what she is thinking. Her jaunty smile belies her constant concern that she is not “better”, that she’ll never be better. Or worse, that her husband thinks that she will never be better.

This is also a vampire film à la CarmillaNot only is Jessica confronted with the constant threat of being sent back to the loony bin, she’s also pegged as easy prey by the resident vampire (or is she?) of the grounds. The girl does, after all, seem rather intrigued by Jessica’s psychological situation.

Perhaps I like this movie so much because I found Jessica so believable. It was very easy for me to imagine what her position must be like. Everything for her is kind of dangling by a thread: her marriage, her sanity,

This crazy chick doesn't help things, either.

This crazy chick doesn’t help things, either.

her whole life. Her every action is calculated to make her look like she is easy-going, happy, and most-importantly sane. In the end, we aren’t sure what has really taken place. While Jessica’s thoughts seem lucid and perfectly normal, the story she has to tell is pretty unbelievable – are we just as bad as Duncan? Just as hard to convince that the story she is telling is true?

Perhaps what surprises me most about this movie, though, is its poor reception – 33% on Rotten Tomatoes? I have to ask myself: what movie did these people watch? I’m super-perplexed at these negative reviews referring to this film as lazy and boring. I just have to assume these people need explosions and gore to keep them engaged. I found this flick just as engaging upon second-viewing as I did the first, and I’ll gladly show it off again. Definitely recommended.


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