Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) |
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – 1971

Director John Hancock
Screenplay John Hancock, Lee Kalcheim
Starring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Mariclare Costello

The title of Lee Kacheim’s original script for Let’s Scare Jessica to Death was, “It Drinks Hippie Blood.” A tweak and a pinch here and there, and we have Carmilla mixed another endo of the hippie era allegory. The most famous of these, Easy Rider, occurred in 1969. At the dawn of the decade, the last gasp of the older generation was seriously tired of the life without bounds the free love movement represented.

No where is this more clear when at the beginning of the story, we see our protagonist (Lampert), her husband and their friend driving to their new home in a hearse with a peace and love sticker on it It brings to mind the story of when Stephen Stills followed Neil Young in his hearse in order to start the group Buffalo Springfield. When viewed by old gawkers in town on their way to their new house, husband Duncan (Heyman) leans out the window and smiles.

“It’s cheaper than a station wagon,” he says.

At their new house they come across a stranger who’s been squatting in the house. Normally this would be alarming, especially given the fact that Jessica is never really too sure what she is seeing. This is the decade of hanging loose, though. Once Jessica realizes that she’s not the only one who experienced Emily (Costello), she is more than happy to invite her to stay.

Therein lay the problem. Emily is not all she’s cracked up to be, and those voice in Jessica’s head might actually be more than a sign that she is not completely recovered from her recent bout with sanity,

The style of the film is constantly at odds with the worthy subject matter The unreliable narrator who is actually onto something is an intriguing vantage point, and Lampert is more than up to the task of the heroine who may be out of her mind.

Hancock’s visual style is frequently at odds with the story trying to be told. Sadly it quite fits the style of the time; subliminal noises and images that are ludicrous to the point of distraction. It’s a style at odds with entertainment in general, much less trying to build a coherent thought process.

If one can get past all of this, Let’s Scare Jessica.. has something to offer, both metaphorically and artistically.

The cast is mostly recognizable, even if we’re not quite sure were we’ve seen them before. Lampert and Heyman were both in Exorcist movies. Corbett is mostly known for her role opposite Garner in The Rockford Files.

Hancock would go on to direct De Niro in Bang the Drum Slowly and then Sam Elliot in Prancer. The only thing I remember about Prancer is dusting off the box at video store where I used to work.

This is not a scary film. It pervades a sense of dread, to be sure. One does get the feeling the freedom advertised in the hippie generation was a hollow end that had no place in the suburban world. If this were less of a dead period cinematically, this story might have been made into a classic. As it stands, its above average for its time, bug only slightly.

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