Review: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Posted by Peter Hall - January 29th 2007 @ 8:58 pm

Directed by John D. Hancock, 1971
Written by John D. Hancock, Lee Kalcheim

Let's Scare Jessica To Death DVD Cover

It is hardly a forgotten classic, thanks to its cult following, but Let’s Scare Jessica to Death never fully made its way into the popular vocabulary.  Not in the same way as some of its cohorts; Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Last House on the Left, or The Wicker Man.  This isn’t only because Let’s Scare is a softer film than its peers, but because it is a lot less accessible to a modern audience.  The plot is, almost, non-existent: once crazy Jessica settles back into the real world in a small country town and starts to see things others don’t.  The style is equally vague, taking its time to reveal its hand – if it even has one.

These apparent simplicities are the reason the film belongs with other ’70s classics.  Not explaining things, not having a brilliant plot, not having any dominating villain works.  The bareness of all these elements is, even today, pretty damned freaky.

But, I’m not a convert to the cult of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, which is what makes this ‘review’ a hard thing to write.  I liked it alright, yet I can acknowledge that there is more than enough things about it not to like.

The acting is dated.  Zohra Lampert hits and misses.  Some of her scenes are great, others are just awkward.

One can’t complain about the effects, because there was almost no need for them.  There are drops of blood, but no gushing wounds.  However, the little amount of makeup required is underwhelming.

The cinematography, for the unnerving scenes, is restrained and functional.  However, for any scenes not requiring a bit of eeriness, it is pretty boring.

What counteracts all of these drawbacks is the sound design.  Full of hair raising noises, synthesized pangs and calculated audio clutter, the film’s sound mix is the creepiest part.  Stack this with periodic voice over insights to Jessica’s possible insanity and the audible portion of the movie is interesting enough to overcome all else.

Were I to have come across this movie on late night TV or VHS in my childhood, it would probably be a staple in my fear library.  But as it stands, given all the other, better films that defined horror for me as a kid, Lets’ Scare Jessica to Death is just too tame to stand up.  Call it a generational thing, call it bad timing, but it’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

If it is a better indicator of my tastes regarding ’70s horror, the same goes for The Wicker Man.  Boy does it have its fans, but to me the movie is nothing but crumbs.


rss 7 comments
  1. R.J. Sayer
    January 30th, 2007 | 2:44 pm | #1

    I can’t comment really on LET’S SCARE, because i’ve never seen it, but everything i’ve heard from people who didn’t grow-up watching it and are just nwo seeing it for the first time, seems to support your opinion.

    but i’m going to have to take exception to saying the same of THE WICKER MAN.

    i mean, come on, now.

    there is absolutely NOTHING working against that film.

  2. January 30th, 2007 | 2:50 pm | #2

    Maybe I’ll have to give it a second chance, but it left little to no impression the first time around.

  3. Brittany
    February 1st, 2007 | 5:04 pm | #3

    this to me was a great movie! it may have beeing the atmosphere but i loved it still!! i got John Handcocks autograph right after the movie! it was so much fun!

    YAY TO 24 hour horror movie marrathons!

    but yea this movie was definitly a gem of it’s time! its very much genuin!

  4. February 3rd, 2007 | 2:28 pm | #4

    Didn’t like The Wicker Man at all, but then again, the 70′s is very hit or miss decade with me. Mostly miss.

  5. February 6th, 2009 | 4:59 pm | #5

    I watch this film on sleepless nights for I love the Seybrook country side.This film is a bit cheesy,but Zorha Lampert makes it real for she is a wonderful actor.”Frail as the leaves that shiver on a spray.Like them we flourish,like them decay.” This film isnt for everyone,but it is an evergreen in my movie collection.

  6. August 4th, 2010 | 11:09 am | #6

    An excellent film that really shows how powerful some folklore can be. My review here: http://bit.ly/bRofGr

  7. Chuckie
    February 17th, 2011 | 12:04 am | #7

    Loved the Wicker Man!!

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