Let's Scare Jessica to Death Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John D. Hancock
Written by John D. Hancock (as Ralph Rose) and Lee Kalcheim (as Norman Jonas)
1971, 89 minutes, Rated PG
Released on January 28th, 2020
Zohra Lampert as Jessica
Barton Heyman as Duncan
Mariclare Costello as Emily
Kevin O’Connor as Woody
Gretchen Corbett as The Girl
Alan Manson as Sam Dorker
Jessica, her husband Duncan and their friend Woody leave the big city for rural Connecticut. Duncan has bought a rustic farmhouse with an orchard where he plans to make a fresh start. Jessica has recently been released from an institution where she spent the last six months recovering from a breakdown. She is still a bit shaky, but eager to get away. When they arrive in town, the locals are less than friendly and Jessica believes she might have seen a ghost while visiting a cemetery. At the house, they meet Emily, a free-spirited squatter who offers to clear out, but Jessica encourages her to stay. Emily is a bit overly friendly with Duncan, putting Jessica on edge, but she dismisses the feeling as paranoia. It seems she may not be completely cured after all, as the voices in her head are growing louder. What follows is a haunting tale of spirits and demons as Jessica struggles with her sanity while facing a very real danger.
Co-writer/director John Hancock (Weeds) makes an impressive debut with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, an incredibly effective story of madness mixing with the supernatural. Taking inspiration from films like The Haunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961), Hancock weaves a dreamlike uncertainty through the eyes of his unreliable narrator Jessica, who, when the picture opens, sits in a rowboat reflecting on the nightmare she has just endured. She is mentally unbalanced and likely schizophrenic, experiencing auditory hallucinations. The voices grow more persistent as she begins to doubt herself following the move to the country. Hancock does a superb job keeping audiences off balance, making Jessica’s fears our own as he slowly builds a questionable reality.
Zohra Lampert (Exorcist III) stars as Jessica, filling the role with a sensitivity that is crucial to the storyline. Her character is desperate to prove herself fit, but finds herself trapped in a situation determined to push her over the edge. Barton Heyman (Cruising) is Duncan, her reassuring husband who talks her down when things become overwhelming, serving as something of an emotional life preserver. Unfortunately for Jessica, he has a wandering eye and may not always be there for her. Mariclare Costello (Nightmares) shines as Emily, the beautiful stranger with a keen interest in Jessica. Her motives are unknown as she manipulates those around her before revealing her true nature. Rounding out the cast is Kevin O’Connor (It’s Alive III) as Woody, the easy going friend who is sweet on Emily.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death succeeds at maintaining a growing sense of dread with its New England gothic atmosphere. Death is a prominent fixture in Jessica’s world, beginning with a hearse serving as her friend’s choice of transportation and continuing with her hobby of taking gravestone rubbings. Emily leads the group in a séance on the night of their arrival, calling to the spirits of all who have died in the house. It is here that Jessica’s hallucinations grow more persistent and she begins her journey into the unknown. As the film closes in on its fiftieth anniversary, it remains a solid example of the folk-horror subgenre that works its way under your skin.
Video and Audio:
There is no mention of this being a new transfer, but the picture quality is striking. Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image features bold colors and plenty of detail. There is a lot of shadow play in the film and black levels are rock solid.
Sound plays a key part in this movie and the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is a real winner. Music cues are impactful without intruding on dialogue levels, as the voices in Jessica’s head are crystal clear.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
In a newly recorded audio commentary, director John Hancock is joined by producer Bill Badalato for a stroll down memory lane. They discuss the film’s origins and influences and the importance of building suspense. Other topics include the shooting locations, thoughts on the characters and praise for the music. It has been a long time since this movie was made and there are some lengthy gaps of silence.
Composer Orville Stoeber shares his memories of the production in Art Saved My Life (16 minutes). He talks about working with Hancock on multiple projects and details his writing process. He regrets the contract he signed for this picture, feeling ripped-off and also shares his thoughts on the film’s impact.
In Scare Tactics: Reflections on a Seventies Horror Classic (24 minutes), author/film historian Kim Newman offers a video appreciation of this, his favorite horror movie. He has a lot to say about the themes and characters and also covers a lot of titles with a similar style.
She Walks These Hills (7 minutes) visits the film’s shooting locations as they appear in 2019.
A spoiler-heavy theatrical trailer, a TV spot and a radio ad offer a look at the marketing campaign.
A photo gallery featuring black-and-white production stills, promo shots and international poster art plays as a silent slideshow (5 minutes).
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