Let's Scare Jessica to Death  (1971)

Octoblur 2015 - #33: Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

 
By dorrk, October 27th 2015
Octoblur: If the quality doesn't scare you the quantity will.

Combining the loose New Hollywood aesthetics of Easy Rider with the mild horror trappings of TV movies like Something Evil and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is an unusual PG-rated psychological thriller that excels at atmosphere and character even though its horror elements may be common and underdeveloped.

Still fragile from a nervous breakdown triggered by the death of her father, Jessica (Zohra Lampert), her husband (Barton Heyman) and their friend Woody (Kevin O'Connor) move to rural Connecticut hoping to find peace from the anxieties of city life. They discover a wild-eyed squatter (Mariclare Costello) living in the old farm they bought, and generously invite her to stay with them as they fix it up. Despite this attempt at quasi-communal living, a series of strange occurrences soon make Jessica question whether she is slipping back into a mental fog or if there is something sinister about both their new home and the fussy old-timers in the nearby small town.

There isn't much to the first hour of Let's Scare Jessica to Death, but it makes great use of the raw, low-budget cinema verite style that I find so effective in the counterculture movies of its era. Lampert is extremely engaging as Jessica, awkwardly childlike and free-spirited but also wary of the cracks in her mental foundation. Although she can be a little annoying at times, her performance and personality make the movie work, and her lack of confidence in her own sanity permeates everything. When events ramp-up toward the climax, the good work done by the actors — and the skilfully laid-back but troubled tone set by director John D. Hancock — pay-off by elevating some potentially silly low-rent scares with an impactful genuineness.

Great lesser-known horror movies

Fun, weird & dark corners worth exploring.
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

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Demon Seed (1977)

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The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)

Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

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The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981)

The Guest (2014)

The Guest (2014)

The House Of The Devil (2009)

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Housebound (2014)

Housebound (2014)

The Johnsons (1992)

The Johnsons (1992)

Kill List (2011)

Kill List (2011)

Little Otik (2001)

Little Otik (2001)

Motel Hell (1980)

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Orphan (2009)

Orphan (2009)

Seed Of Chucky (2004)

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Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

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Spider Baby... (1968)

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Starry Eyes (2014)

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The Stepfather (1987)

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Suicide Club (2001)

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A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

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Dorrk's Top 20 horror movies

The boring list of horror essentials. If you haven't seen these yet, what are you doing?
The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980)

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)

The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960)

Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982)

Alien (1979)

Alien (1979)

The Omen (1976)

The Omen (1976)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Rosemarys Baby (1968)

Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978)

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

Suicide Club (2001)

Suicide Club (2001)

Repulsion (1965)

Repulsion (1965)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Trailer for Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Beware: Galleries may contain spoilers.
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The Top 20 Movies of All-Time

#1: The Godfather Part II (1974)

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Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#2: The Godfather (1972)

#2: The Godfather (1972)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#3: West Side Story (1961)

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Dir: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
#4: Manhattan (1979)

#4: Manhattan (1979)

Dir: Woody Allen
#5: The Graduate (1967)

#5: The Graduate (1967)

Dir: Mike Nichols
#6: Tootsie (1982)

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Dir: Sydney Pollack
#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

#7: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

#8: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Dir: Irvin Kershner
#9: Star Wars (1977)

#9: Star Wars (1977)

Dir: George Lucas
#10: The Exorcist (1973)

#10: The Exorcist (1973)

Dir: William Friedkin
#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

#11: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Dir: Peter Jackson
#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

#12: Taxi Driver (1976)

Dir: Martin Scorsese
#13: Annie Hall (1977)

#13: Annie Hall (1977)

Dir: Woody Allen
#14: Vertigo (1958)

#14: Vertigo (1958)

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

#15: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Dir: Steven Spielberg
#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

#16: Boogie Nights (1997)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

#17: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Dir: Tobe Hooper
#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

#18: It's a Wonderful Life (1944)

Dir: Frank Capra
#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

#19: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Dir: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
#20: Zodiac (2007)

#20: Zodiac (2007)

Dir: David Fincher