31 Days of Halloween — Day 30: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (2015) — by Dr. Shock

letsscarejessicatodeathEditor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

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

These are the opening lines of 1971’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a low-budget horror film directed by John Hancock that is either about a woman slowly losing her mind, or a vampire that has taken control of a small Connecticut town.

It might even be a little of both.

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has just been released from a New York City mental hospital, where she spent 6 months after suffering a nervous breakdown. Looking to start anew, she and her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman), as well as their good friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor), move into a farmhouse in rural Connecticut, one situated next to a large, picturesque lake. When they first arrive, they find a girl named Emily (Mariclare Costello), who, believing the house abandoned, has been living there for some time. Realizing she has nowhere else to go, Jessica invites Emily to stay, and the two become fast friends.

In need of money, Duncan (who quit his job with the Philharmonic and spent their entire life savings to buy the house) and Jessica decide to drive into town to sell some of their new home’s more unusual knick-knacks. While the townsfolk are anything but friendly, the couple does eventually stumble upon an amiable antiques dealer (Alan Manson) who tells them the history of their house, which, in the late 1800’s belonged to the Bishop family. According to legend, young Abigail Bishop, days away from her wedding, drowned in the nearby lake. Because her body was never recovered, some believe she is not only still alive, but also a vampire, feasting on the blood of the locals!

Jessica, who has had several frightening experiences since moving into the house (including nearly drowning in the lake when a figure in white tried to pull her down), begins to believe these stories, and wonders why an old picture of Abigail Bishop so closely resembles Emily. But when she tells Duncan and Woody about what she’s seen, they don’t believe her, and fear that she may once again be losing her mind. Is the horror real, or is Jessica slipping into insanity?

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is, by no means, a conventional horror film. The majority of it takes place during daylight, and the setting (an actual farm house) is idyllic, even beautiful at times (the opening shot, of a rowboat on the lake at sunrise, is striking). As for the scares, they are (for most of ITS run-time, anyway) of the subtle variety, and because of the lead character’s past issues, we’re not even sure if what’s going on is real (did Jessica see a figure in the water, or was it her mind playing tricks on her?).

Yet thanks to the way its director approaches the story, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is, indeed, an unsettling experience. By utilizing voiceover through much of the film, Hancock makes us privy to what Jessica is thinking, the voices in her head that sometimes prove she herself isn’t sure what’s going on (in the opening scene, she spots a young girl decked out in white, played by Gretchen Corbett, walking through a cemetery, and, fearing that it’s all in her head, tells herself to keep what she’s seen quiet). Yet, as the movie progresses, Jessica starts to hear another voice, one that’s talking directly to her, saying Duncan no longer loves her and that she should stay in the house forever. Regardless of whether or not the voice is genuine or a figment of Jessica’s imagination, it’s enough to occasionally send a chill up your spine.

In addition, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death features two strong female characters, with each actress doing a fine job in their respective role. As Jessica, Zohra Lampert perfectly conveys her character’s frailty, as well as the uncertainty that haunts her every waking minute. Jessica does try to put on a happy face (especially at the outset), yet her self-doubt soon gets the better of her. Equal to her is Mariclare Costello as Emily, who is either an innocent house guest or an undead parasite. Her actions sometimes suggest there’s more to her than meets the eye; she attempts to seduce Duncan, and later on insists that Jessica join her down by the lake, resulting in what is easily the film’s most frightening moment. Yet, like Jessica, we’re not quite sure what to make of her. The mystery is eventually solved, but for the majority of the movie we’re as much in the dark as the title character.

Know going in that Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a slow building horror film, and that there’s very little blood and no gore to speak of. That said, the movie does offer it share of chills, and the finale is just creepy enough to make what went before it worthwhile.

— Dr. Shock

Links for Dr. Shock:Dave’s daily movie review website: DVDInfatuation.com
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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5 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 30: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (2015) — by Dr. Shock

  1. Just wanted to let you know first of all i love the podcast. And I was listening to another podcast called The exploding heads podcast episode 21 and your podcast was mentioned as a favorite on one of their voicemails. They even mentioned Wolf man Josh, Jay of the dead, and Dr. Shock. Just wanted to let you know I listen to a lot of podcasts and yours is my favorite. Looks like your getting more popular. I’ll recommend you to everyone. Gene Turner.


    Day 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

    Chances are, the single most common basic discussion/debate one can have in horror is built around whether a movie is actually a horror film or not. For the most part, I’d say this answer to the question is rather subjective. Is a movie horror or not, is really in the eye of the beholder. There isn’t a checklist for whether a film is horror, you simply know if it is or if it isn’t. I do believe that when it comes to horror, it doesn’t necessarily need to only be geared towards adults. There are some tame horror movies that are more geared towards the whole family. Case in point, the Harry Potter series. I firmly believe the Harry Potter series has a lot of horror elements with some of the films having far more than others. When wanting to pick a Harry Potter film to review as a horror, the one that instantly sprang to mind was The Prisoner of Azkaban.

    With this being the third entry in the Harry Potter series, you can clearly feel the series becoming darker. The move to ditch original director, Chris Columbus, ended up being a great move. Columbus was fantastic at introducing the world to the world of Hogwarts and just showcasing the fun elements in this magical world. Azkaban director, Cuarón, presented a darker world. Multiple times in the film, the world is dark, rainy, and just very gloomy. It’s also a film that feels closer to a Halloween film than any other in the series. The song, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is used a few times in the film to help add to the spookiness of the film. In addition, dear Hagrid was nice enough to be growing large pumpkins near his hut.

    Scare wise, there’s a few additions to the series that is a continual fear for the duration of the film. For Harry, he has to deal with the paranoia of a crazed killer on the loose and looking to kill Potter. After years of being locked away at Azkaban, Sirius Black actually has a pretty creepy look. Even though technically they aren’t meant to be a threat to Harry, the Dementors are likely the best scary element in the entire series. Visually, they have an awesome look and at no point in the series do they ever lessen the fear of those creatures. Of course, one of the main scares comes with Lupin transforming into a werewolf. For a CGI werewolf, I actually don’t mind the look of the creature. Obviously, I’d prefer practical effects, but it could have been far worse. The important thing is that in this film for kids, you have dementors, crazed convicted killers, and even the arrival of a werewolf at the end of the film.

    The darkness of the film also existed in some other aspects of Prisoner of Azkaban when you take into an account that it is a family film. These things may not even be big things, but they stood out to me for one reason or another. The execution of Buckbeak is pretty heavy stuff for a children’s film. Not only do they go with it, but it isn’t simply blown off. Perhaps it’s stupid, but it always stands out to me when Hermione is cut by the whomping willow, leaving her bleeding a tiny bit from the face. I seem to remember hearing news of one of the later movies having some of it’s advertising posters edited because it was too scandalous showing blood on Hermione’s hands. So seeing a cut on her face when she was younger was a little surprising and helped up the darkness factor.

    Since it is a family film, Prisoner of Azkaban does pull it’s punches some. Although it is the chapter in the series where it takes a dark turn, there isn’t actually a death of a significant character in this film. It’s a bit surprising since every other chapter following this film, there would be at least one significant kill in each of the movies. In the end, not only does everything end up being just okay, but any deaths or potentially bad things that happened earlier in the film was fixed with the Time-Turner. In theory, I would have preferred if some of the darkness had greater implications rather than everything ending up so cheery, but I realize there’s limitations of what you can do in a Harry Potter film and frankly, those desires get fulfilled as the series goes on.

    When it comes to the Harry Potter series, I find Prisoner of Azkaban is about as good as you can get. The changes it made from the book were actually things I enjoyed. Later on in the series, it felt as if they left so much out of the movies. Despite a lot of darkness in the film, there’s several big moments of inspiration that is nice to hear. Harry realizing that it’s him, himself, that is the one that he can rely on to save himself is a plot point that doesn’t happen nearly enough in horror movies. How often in horror do we see children or women need a man there to save the day and keep the killer away from them? Personally, I’ve always really enjoyed the fact that this chapter of the Harry Potter saga never had anything to do with Voldemort beyond just being referenced here and there. It’s just another reason why this film stands out from the rest of the series. It’s as if the Harry Potter series hit the pause button in order to tell a quick horror story that helped helped set-up the rest of the series. For that and all of the darkness involved in the story, this film and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 remains my two favorite films in the series.

    Rating: 9/10

  3. Day 21: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
    Rating: 10/10

    Shaun and Ed are slow to realize the zombie apocalypse happening around them. Once aware, they’re still hilariously obsessed with their personal friendship and relationship quarrels. This film is a modern classic and not to be missed.

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