Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Article #843 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2003
Posting Date: 12-3-2003
Directed by John Hancock
Featuring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor

A woman newly released from a mental hospital goes with her husband and a friend to a secluded house on an island, where they encounter a strange woman.

Title check: At first, the title makes it sound like a “Cat and the Canary” comedy variant, but a few minutes into the movie you’ll know it’s not a comedy. Then I thought it was going to be a “Gaslight” variant, but it’s not that either. Let’s just say that the title is too flip for the movie.

This movie’s strength is its moody subtlety; it has a genuinely unsettling feel to it, and does a wonderful job of setting you on edge. However, the mysterious subtlety that pervades the movie also leads you to believe that the ensuing events are going to be somewhat more original than what they turn out to be; in fact, for a movie this subtle, its attempts at making the horror more blatant are often ham-fisted and obvious, which undermines the mood that the subtlety has created; specifically, this movie would have been a lot better if the word “vampire” was never used. Furthermore, the subtlety walks hand in hand with a sense of general vagueness and maintains a distance between the action and the viewer. This doesn’t cause a problem in the first half of the movie, but the second half of the movie never takes off as a result of it. All in all, I felt the movie was a failure, though an interesting one; it either needed a more direct, visceral approach to its story, or it needed a better story than the one it has.

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