I had never seen “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” before so went in with no expectations. The 1971 film is the directorial debut of John D. Hancock who would go on to direct films like “Bang the Drum Slowly” (which had a cast that would go on to become hugely famous and earned a Best Supporting Actor nom for Vincent Gardenia) as well as the Christmastime favorite “Prancer.” Like a lot of directors, Hancock got his start in horror films (like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson).
The plot for the film centers around Jessica (Zohra Lampert), who was recently released form a mental institution so she can take care of her husband. They move to an old farmhouse where they immediately find a squatter, Emily, whom they allow to live with them (initially due to their friend that is attracted to Emily. As they live there, events start happening to Jessica that are hard to explain or believe. She sees a mystery woman in the distance, finds the dead body of a townsperson she recently met, and hears a voice in her head. All of which point to her losing her sanity but it might be that Emily is behind a nefarious plot and she is not losing her mind at all.
‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” is a study in paranoia that fits its time quite well. After events like Watergate and the ongoing Cold War people had a general sense of paranoia and this film plays into that well. Events that occur seem to happen to Jessica only and happen when nobody else is around. It really helps to build the tension and sense of wonder if the events are really happening or we are witnessing a true mental breakdown. It’s a slow burn (to me) that ultimately pays off mostly thanks to Lampert’s great performance as Jessica. She makes it feel real and believable.
Scream Factory is bringing a new Blu-Ray release of this film that has been a long time coming as after the initial release the film all but disappeared. Rare VHS cassettes can be found but mostly it has been lost for most people. As a result, I have never seen the original to compare. That said, I think it is fair to say that the film has had a pretty decent transfer. The graininess you might expect to find from that era is greatly reduced which is almost odd as you kind of expect it but it appears they did not excessively try to sharpen the film so it does retain a somewhat natural, 1970’s feel. It’s a pretty tough balance and they seem to have achieved it.
The audio is in 2.0 mono DTS-D and has subtitles available in English. The audio is always clear and you can easily understand even the quietest whisper. That said, there is a very faint “hissing” sound that, in my opinion, is intentional and adds to the 1970’s feel they achieved with the picture quality. It doesn’t have any overtly loud sounds and is never intrusive. Just a faint background noise.
- NEW Audio Commentary With Director John Hancock And Producer Bill Badalato
- NEW Art Saved My Life – An Interview With Composer Orville Stoeber
- NEW Scare Tactics: Reflections On A Seventies Horror Classic – An Interview With Author/Film Historian Kim Newman
- NEW She Walks These Hills – The Film’s Locations Then And Now
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Radio Spot
- Still Gallery
Overall, the film is a creepy one that certainly should compete with other classic of that era. It’s definitely worth a watch. With an 88 minute running time, it does just enough to create tension and create an eerie feeling that might follow you to bed if you watch it too late. I recommend it.
“Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” is available from Scream Factor on Blu-Ray on January 28, 2020.
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