Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)


(director/writer: John Hancock; screenwriters: Lee Kalcheim/from the story by Sheridan Le Fanu; cinematographer: Bob Baldwin; editor: Murray Soloman; music: Orville Stoeber; cast: Zohra Lampert (Jessica), Barton Heyman (Duncan), Kevin O’Connor (Woody), Gretchen Corbett (The Girl), Alan Manson (Sam Dorker), Mariclare Costello (Emily); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles B. Moss, Jr.; Paramount; 1971)

Great title, lousy film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Great title, lousy film. The unresolved creepy horror pic is a tease that indicates there’s great excitement around the corner but never gets exciting, and is so tedious it can put you to sleep. Though the low-budget chiller is competently directed by John Hancock(“Baby Blue Marine”/”Bang The Drum Slowly”/”California Dreaming”), the story bySheridan Le Fanuand the screenplay by Hancock and Lee Kalcheim are too vapid and lack entertainment value. The slow pace is no help, either.

Recently released after six months mental patient Jessica (Zohra Lampert) and her Philharmonic bass player husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their mutual friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor), travel by hearse from Manhattan to the couple’s new home in a spacious remote Connecticut farm on an island. The urban couple plan to be farmers and drop out of the hectic city scene. Soon as our unstable heroine visits the local graveyard, she starts freaking out over hearing voices and seeing things such as a vampire and zombies–something the others don’t see. Later antique dealer Sam Dorker (Alan Manson), a transplanted city-dweller, tells the couple about how in 1880 one of the family members of the farm drowned in the nearby cove on her wedding day and how the locals think the farm is haunted.

At their farm, a pretty guitar playing hippie, Emily (Mariclare Costello), is squatting but is asked to stay on. On her first night with the city folks, the mysterious Emily leads them in an unproductive seance and the next day makes Jessica jealous that her hubby seems attracted to her. Every other local we meet is unfriendly and made to appear as if they might be zombies, as all have bite marks on their necks as if bitten by a vampire.

The aging drop-outs are looking for paradise, but the locals are unfriendly and the sympathetic but not too likable Jessica, doing her best to try and fit in as a normal person, becomes too delusional to feel at home in her new beautiful surroundings and we are left wondering if Jessica is going completely bonkers or are we into a zombie/vampire/ghost story flick. When the new home owners are looking at old photographs of the former residents, found in the attic, the photograph of the bride who drowned seems to resemble Emily.

Jessica is also haunted by a ghostly child that resembles their invited guest Emily. Later Emily tries to drown Jessica. What exactly is going down is left unclear, but what is lucid is the creepy mood set. The film is told from the unstable Jessica’s viewpoint, which leaves us in the middle of nightmare of a fragile young woman trying to hold onto her sanity but too afraid to ask for help. With that said, the film falters because it fails to make sense and relies too much on shock effects to make its unconvincing case of supernatural activity.