Revisiting LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH
Eeriness that bathes in a transient vampire lake of surreal dread, deliberately paced, and oozing with psychological macabre madness—the perfect mood. That’s my best approximation of the very distinct tone set by Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a title that conjures up thoughts of seedy relatives and the “let's bump her off to get her inheritance!" style of plot, which this is most certainly not. This is cosmic doom.
A psychological post hippie horror jam about Jessica, recently institutionalized after a suffering a nervous breakdown, and her quest for tranquility of complete recovery via a secluded home in Connecticut with her husband and friends in tow.. Bizarre, nightmarish occurrences begin for Jessica after moving into the spooky farmhouse (currently occupied by transient Vampire Emily), and even more unsettling happenings become apparent as the entire town seems to be under the influence of the mysterious Emily. Simple enough, layered with dark themes and some Carmilla vibes at play, LSJTD is an often overlooked, low budget 70’s regional horror gem that’s filled with that dreamy dread atmosphere I go nuts for, it almost feels like a American Gothic Eurohorror Phantasm directed by Mario Bava (if that makes any sense), bolstered with a perfect lead performance by Zohra Lampert, equal parts extremely confident and fragile once the facade begins to crack via creeping terror.
In a weird way, LSJTD somewhat reminds me (in tone) a bit of another early 70’s favorite of mine that also has a cult following, Messiah of Evil. Both films have a distinct surreal creepiness vibe and show a definite Romero influence... In fact, the Romero paranoia permeates LSJTD. The more I think about it, that post hippie timeframe of 1969-1973 (post Romero game changer and pre Tobe Hooper game changer) when the ‘modern’ horror film was finding its way (before exploding with Hooper’s opus) produced some of my favorite atmosphere drenched movies, they took chances with odd choices, feeling out the territory before heading full on into some rampaging death boogie. The post hippy nightmare (Coincidentally enough, one of the original script titles for LSJTD was It Drinks Hippy Blood!)
Like Messiah of Evil, this was never a video store staple of nostalgic remembrance for me... I never watched this when I was younger or gazed starry eyed at the vhs cover on a shelf, only recently stumbling upon it within the last 4 or 5 years via the Killer POV Podcast and eventually tracking down a dvd copy. (This is definitely in need of an HD treatment, I think Warner Archives owns the rights, so perhaps one of their bare bones blu releases is eminent—lets hope) Anytime a movie is brought up in the same sentence with phrases such as “lurking dread” or Dream-like moodiness” it’s usually a sure shot to totally be my jam. It turned out I was in for a real treat because this movie was just that, lingering in my head long after the credits rolled and becoming a movie I seem to pop in every other year just as the season changes and the leaves begin to fall.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death does a masterful job at being a believable horror story that has all the haunting lyricism needed to keep its deliberate pacing interesting, luring the audience into Jessica's surreal nightmare scenario. Superb sound design, editing, creepy decrepit house setting, and score to die for totally make this essential 70’s cinema as well as an all timer for me, I’m so happy this eerie as hell movie exists—and exist it does... lurking just beneath the surface in the phantasmagorical lake of cult horror obscurity, waiting to be discovered by the fresh eyes of folks willing to dip their toes in and perhaps discover a new favorite.