LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH
Directed by John D. Hancock
Produced by Charles B. Moss, Jr.
Written by Norman Jonas and Ralph Rose
Director of Photograpy Bob Baldwin
Music by Orville Stoeber
Cast: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Mariclare Costello
1971/88 mins/Color/Dolby mono
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Paramount Home Entertainment DVD
Despite the turmoil tearing America apart in the late 60s and early 70s, those truly were simpler times. The "love generation" (I'll refrain from using the word "hippie" for the moment) created a laid back, care-free lifestyle where happiness and love were more important than status and material belongings. This mindset permeated much of the popular culture of the day, including films such as LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, which can be viewed as a counter-culture take on the gothic thriller.
Jessica (Zohra Lampert), her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman), and their friend Woody (Kevin O'Connor) have left behind their lives and jobs in New York City and moved to an old farm in the country. They plan to revive the apple orchards and make a living that way. While this kind of lifestyle change would be stressful on anyone, Duncan is especially concerned for Jessica, as she's only recently been released from a mental hospital (she'd had a breakdown following her father's death). As the group passes through the small town near the farm, they get many strange looks from the locals (this could be due to the fact that they're driving a hearse.) When they arrive at the farmhouse, they find a woman named Emily (Mariclare Costello) squatting there. Emily says that she thought that the house was abandoned and offers to leave, but the group invites her to stay.
Everything seems fine at first, as the Jessica, Duncan, and Woody begin to settle in, but then strange things begin to occur. Jessica sees a young woman on the property. While swimming the nearby river, she sees a figure beneath the surface and feels the presence is attacking her. These events are accompanied by voices whispering Jessica's name. When Jessica and Duncan venture into town to sell some antiques, they are again greeted by strange reactions from the locals and learn that the farm is believed to be haunted. As more and more odd occurrences surround Jessica, she begins to lose grip on her sanity.
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH is an interesting film, as it mixes many genres. It's a psychological thriller combined with a southern gothic with a hint of a nostalgic Hammer feel and peppered with a healthy dose of a hippie aesthetic. The movie remains a mystery through to the end -- is all of this really happening or is it all in Jessica's head? The movie gives us several clues, but it doesn't rush to tip its hat. Actually, it doesn't rush to do anything. I felt that the pacing of LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH was far too languid. As the film opened, the slow pace certainly fit the tranquil mood as the trio made their way to the country and settled in to the old house. But, as the implied sense of urgency increases, the pacing remains the same. Director John D. Hancock proves that he can mount a scene and give it a spooky look, but the movie never offers any suspense or serious creepiness. And as someone who's not a huge fan of ambiguous endings, the finale did nothing for me. After sitting through 80 minutes of watching hippies run around a farm, the movie suddenly throws a ton of plot at the viewer in the closing scenes, leaving far too much for the audience to sort out.
The lynchpin of the film is the performance of Zohra Lampert. You're either going to love it or hate it and that will ultimately effect how you feel about the movie. Personally, I hated it. I felt that she overacted in every scene and I had a hard time understanding what she was saying. Even in the scenes where she's supposed to be terrified, she has this remarkably goofy look on her face, and this pulled me completely out of the movie. In order for the film to succeed, one must sympathize with Jessica, but Lampert's performance simply made me want Jessica to go away (and wash her face).
I've read several on-line comments praising LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and while I don't want to knock anyone's opinion, I didn't find this movie to be anything special. This is one of those little movies that simply is what it is -- a low-budget psychological thriller that goes for mood rather than violence or gore. The result is a movie that has some interesting scenes, but the overall pace is too lethargic. In the end, the experience came to be known as "Let's bore Mike to death".
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH haunts DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the age and relative obscurity of this film, the transfer looks very good. The image is sharp and surprisingly clear. Some shots do show a touch of grain, but most of the film is quite clear. There are some occasional defects from the source material, but most of these are very small black specks. The colors look very good, most notably the lush green fields which surround the farm. The scenes in the attic are somewhat dark, but that is to be expected with a low-budget production. Despite some minor flaws, Paramount did a fine job with this one. The DVD features a Dolby mono audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects and the film's score sounds just fine. The audio does sound hollow at times, and the inclusion of stereo effects would have certainly added to the film's overall mood, especially during the auditory hallucination scenes.
There are no extras on this DVD.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©
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