Sunday, October 28, 2012

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Horror fans, especially the hardcore, love to talk about those undiscovered gems in the genre. Be it the likes of "Horrors of Malformed Men" to "The Asphyx" to "The Lost", we feel a need to champion those little movies that have escaped through the cracks. This includes me of course. A good portion of this blog is dedicated to little known horror films that I feel deserve a chance of some sorts. One of these movies guys like me like to champion is the John D. Hancock film "Let's Scare Jessica to Death", which drips with atmosphere and mood.

Jessica (Zohra Lambert) is finally out of the mental hospital, and is going to spend some time with her friends and husband in a remote farm that they have purchased. When they get there, they find a squatter named Emily (Mariclare Costello) living there. That's not a problem, but what is a problem is that Jessica begins seeing visions of a strange girl living by the lake. She and her friends later learn of the story of a girl who drowned at the lake, and legend has it that she may be a vampire. As events start to spiral downwards and the townspeople seem to be acting stranger, Jessica begins to spiral as well. Could these events all be in her head, or is it all really happening?

The main thing that makes "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" (which will henceforth be referred to as "Jessica") work is how it plays with concepts of reality vs. madness. We know that Jessica is a woman with a troubled mental past, so it would be easy to dismiss her visions and breakdowns as the result of a broken mind. However, the images themselves never feel like they are all in her head. Everything from the ghostly vampire to the zombified townspeople with strange marks on their bodies feels like something is not right here. The paranoia and atmosphere of the film are that of surrealistic dread that lovingly plays with reality vs. fiction to the degree of pure unease, which makes for a frightening but disorientating experience.

Also worthy of mention is the social subtext of the film. Like "Messiah of Evil" or even "I Drink Your Blood", "Jessica" largely deals with the darker side of the hippie dream. However, whereas "Messiah" dealt with generational conflict and "Blood" was essentially a dumb but really fun exploitation movie that played of public perceptions and fears after the Manson Family murders, this film goes deepest of all. Here, we are introduced to a world of misguided youths, cracking egos, drug fueled paranoia and the looming sense of conformity that helped destroy the utopia style vision many hoped for. In the world of "Jessica", we see that it wasn't authority figures who destroyed it all (though it's hinted that they helped), but that the hippie dream was destined to fall apart under its own hand.

For those who love atmospheric horror films from the 70's, this is one of those largely ignored gems that continues to find an audience and deserved recognition. For those that love to look for offbeat obscurities that are actually creepy, then you should definitely check this out.

Rating: 9/10

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