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Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Director: John Hancock
Stars: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor

Description: A recently institutionalized woman has bizarre experiences after moving into a supposedly haunted country farmhouse and fears she may be losing her sanity once again.

I like finding old horror movies, it’s a glance into what was considered ‘scary’ back in the day. And yes, I do believe the style, or what is considered horror has changed in recent years. (Having to deal more with blood and gore than suspense).

Anyways, going into this movie I had little idea of what it’s going to be about. The description was vague, but intriguing. There were the usual jump outs and scares like that always make me jump as well. But there was more of an unraveling of a mystery that seemed to take place in the background, and by the end of the film, i don’t feel as if there were any real conclusions made, only the hint of what could be.

(Spoiler warning)

We start the movie with Jessica, played by Zohra Lampert, alone in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, as her voice narrates what lead up to her current position. We then have a flashback, to her, her husband and a friend traveling through the countryside towards their new home. A farmhouse called ‘The Old Bishop’s Place’. They stop at a graveyard for Jessica to make sketch renderings of some of the tombstones when we have our first little hint of something bizarre coming our way. A young girl is seen by a gravestone, yet when Jessica turns away for a second, then turns back, the girl is gone. She says nothing to the others, a sign that she already knows that it could be just her imagination.

The town also has some very creepy vibes as they drive through. All we see are elderly men, no women, and there are a number of bandages on their bodies. Of course, our main characters think nothing of it and drive on to their new home. That is where they meet Emily… a young woman who seemed to have ‘squating’ in an abandoned farmhouse. To my surprise, Jessica asks for the woman to stay, have dinner with them and spend the night before she moves on. Later, the three of them agrees to let the woman stay.

I’m not sure about you, but if you find a stranger in your new home, i’d be more inclined to kick them out, let alone ask them to remain.

Through out the movie, Jessica’s inner mind can be heard as she observes her surroundings, and the actions of he husband as he seems to grow a fondness of this strange woman. We hear her say ‘he likes her’, and such, and later ‘he thinks i’m sick again’. A constant reminder that Jessica’s mind is constantly turning over the facts that she could still be crazy as the bizarre experiences increase.

We finally get some information about the farmhouse when an old photograph is discovered when Jessica and her husband Duncan try to sell it to an antique dealer. It goes that the daughter in the picture drowned on the lake behind their house, yet some don’t believe she died at all and still lurks in the country side. A vampire.

Yeah… turns out this is a vampire movie.

Duncan cuts the man off, worried about Jessica’s mental state, though she seems at firs to brush it off. It only begins to come back to ‘haunt’ her when she sees the young girl again, this time begging her to follow. She does and finds the body of the antique dealer at the bottom of a waterfall, covered in blood. When she tries to show Duncan, the body is gone. Making her seem more crazy than before. Thankfully, though, the young girl reappears and is not a ghost as the movies originally made you believe. They catch the girl but finds out she can’t speak. When Emily approaches, she runs away.

I will have to say this, Mariclare Costello who plays Emily is an amazing actress. At times, Emily appears to be normal, laughing and interacting normally with everyone, but then, when she is one on one with someone there is something amiss about her, a seductress. By now we the views can see there is something else going on with Emily, like she knows too much. We also begin to see a connection, that the old photograph of Abigail, the daughter who claimed to have drowned looks exactly like Emily. (hint hint)

From there, Jessica begins to hear voices, of Emily urging her along to her death, and tries to drown her in the river. There are noises in the bedroom, and this massive cello case that you know something’s going to come out of or be stuffed inside eventually. All the time, Jessica is fearful that she is loosing her mind.

Emily shows her true colours near the end, she has succeeded in seducing Duncan and their friend, a scar along the side of their necks an indicator. Jessica tries to go to town, but every one there has the same scars, the ferry they took to get across also with the same scar. They have all been brought under the control of the vampire Abigail/Emily. As a last effort, Jessica rows herself out into the lake, where a pair of hands grabs the boat from under the water. Jessica strikes the body with a hook line and realizes it was Duncan.

The last words of the movie were pretty poetic and fitting. “I sit here and I can’t believe that it happened. And yet I have to believe it. Dreams or nightmares? Madness or sanity? I don’t know which is which.”

Overall, the movie was pretty good. There was suspense and yes some blood and sexualized scenes. But what I liked about the movie was how it played upon the sanity of Jessica. There were times when you felt that maybe she was going crazy, that she was being too paranoid, but at other moments you thought that there really were things going on around her. It was a great concept to work with and though it is now considered a classic, still held up pretty well.

The vampire twist was also unexpected. I was expecting more of a ghost story, not a vampire one. And this vampire wasn’t your typical one either. They had no troubles with sunlight, and the marks were never the two pricks in the side of the neck but either one large scare from a blade she uses, or small scratches. It was refreshing just to have a different sort of vampire to watch!!!

If you like classic movies, and want something different as a horror one, I would suggest  giving Let’s Scare Jessica to Death a try. If anything, you can laugh at the 70’s hair and fashion styles lol.