Not much preamble this time around – just a whole lot of paranoia in a super-seventies setting. Hurrah!
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
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.
Jess (Zohra Lampert) is elated to be out of the institute she’s been residing in. If she’s haunted by her time there, it doesn’t show, at least not initially. She seems very optimistic, even child-like in her excitement to be ‘free’.
She’s on the road with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and his hippy friend Woody who’s along for the ride for some inexplicable reason. The couple (and their third wheel) are driving in a hearse toward their new life in remote Connecticut.
Which, horror fans, could never go wrong. FYI Jess is still seeing things, in the form of a young blonde woman trying to get her attention but to save face, she’s keeping that to herself for now.
When they arrive in their new town, they’re bemused to find a not-very warm welcome awaiting them. The pretty much all male community are openly hostile, guess they just don’t like out-of-towners. Our rag tag trio laugh it off, even when the ferryman to their tiny island mumbles something ominous under his breath. (Seriously, have these people not heard of red flags?).
Things get freakier when they arrive at the house and Jessica sees a strange woman on the porch. She thinks she’s losing her shit again but it soon transpires that the others can see her too and when they chase her down, she reveals herself to be Emily (Mariclare Costello), a drifter who’s been squatting in the house while it’s been empty. Liberties.
Jess sees something of a kindred spirit in Emily and invites her to stay the night. DON’T DOOOOOO ITTTT! Sensing that Woody is into her, Jess then persuades Duncan to let her stay indefinitely. HONESTLY, DON’T! I would say for a woman who has previously been treated for her fear and paranoia of literally everything, Jess is very trusting and non-suspicious. I think this makes me love her but also want to stab anyone who wrongs her – and strange girls in remote locations seldom turn out to be baggage free, not in the movies, just saying.
Anywhoo, the gang become quite tight and all is well and good for a while, until Jess is grabbed from below the water by what looks like a dead lady during a swim. She understandably freaks de fuq out but nobody believes her and this irritates me. I mean, I get it but at least try and be kind guys, could you?
Duncan and Jess decide to sell some of the antiques in the house to a local dealer. The dealer is a little friendlier than the others and tells the couple a horrifying story about a girl who drowned in the lake behind their house just before her wedding day in the 1800s. Rumour has it the body was never found and that she roams the island as a vampire (sure). Duncan gets shirty about this, fearing it will freak out his wife but she tells him his constant worrying is the thing making her ill. You go, Jessie.
Meanwhile, Jess can sense the sexy tension between her husband and Emily – and she does not like it one bit. It comes to a head when she goes grave rubbing (exactly what it says on the tin), sees the blonde girl again and is lead by her to a rather macabre scene. Her so-called friends do not believe her about the body she’s just uncovered (yeah, the macabre scene is the body of the antiques dealer) but they do see the girl. So at least there’s that. The girl runs off when she sees Emily… hmm.
Later Duncan suggests that Jess goes back to the city (AKA hospital) and she makes him sleep on the couch. GOOD. While here Duncan does something he will live to regret and I don’t care anymore. If you’ve seen one douchey husband in film, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
Anyway, lots of awful things happen from hereon-in. Jess is made to feel like she’s a liability and she finally puts two and two together about her new frenemy, Emily (even though we’ve arrived here ourselves already) – and it all goes to Hell, quite literally. The fact Jess is a supposed nut-job goes against her so hard at the end.
As usual though this is a lesson in stranger danger. The mental health element could be worse but is still clunky and annoying. I find Duncan quite quick to disbelieve his wife who is a joyous person. In my version of this film Jess would get sick of the bland men and start a new life with super-vixen Emily while the townsmen do their evil bidding instead. Now that would be a GREAT film.
I won’t pretend that this is the scariest movie of all time, or even the most dynamic. However, it is atmospheric and builds up the feeling of paranoia well. Most of the characters are the worst (not you, Jess) so I don’t really care about their outcome. It bothers me that a mouse gets elaborately murdered halfway through the film (I had to cover my gerbils’ eyes). Otherwise, there’s a nice 70’s sheen to this movie.