Perhaps this was indicative of my mind not entirely being in tune with this movie at the time I viewed it, but I completely failed to see the vampiric element throughout until I read up about it afterwards. At which point, it thrust the point of the stake firmly into my cognitive mind, along with the inspirations of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. What was more obvious to my mind was stimulus drawn from Robert Wise’s film The Haunting, along with the death of free love and the sixties hippy movement.
The theme of Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is one that seemed to have been prevalent in many movies of its time, tapping into the psychological paranoia embodied by its lead. In this instance, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is the victim. We learn through discussions among the central characters that Jessica has been through some kind of psychotic episode, and that she has only just returned back into society, albeit in the smallest sense, with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman); a man who has given up his career as a string bassist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to be with her during this time; and their close friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor). The aim is to have a quiet life building up a rundown farmhouse near a lake in Connecticut. They are surprised however to find a drifter, Emily (Mariclare Costello) squatting in their new abode. As this is the era of free spirits and tranquility though, rather than turf her out, the group decide to allow her to stay with them some time. A decision they would come to regret as there is more to Emily than meets the eye.
Throughout the narrative Jessica’s state of mind is always in doubt as she witnesses a strange blond haired lady in the nearby woods, which no one can support her claims, and bears a sparkling resemblance to Abigail, a lady supposedly murdered back in the late 1800’s.
Slowly, all those around Jessica, from the townsfolk, to Emily, and to Woody and Duncan, start to pull away from her, growing distant, or in Emily’s case, trying to attack her by biting her neck.
Is this some kind of hallucination or is there something sinister at play?
The atmosphere and dark tension created by Director John Hancock and the Cinematography by Robert M. Baldwin is slowly built up and excellently executed, it’s little wonder that it would generate cult status. This film may not be for everyone, as its style is subjective, but it definitely warrants its place in the horror vault through the eerie narrative and haunting nature that it projects into the celluloid universe.
- Saul Muerte