5/4/09

Retro Film Report #5: Let's Scare Jessica to Death


Just watched the 1971 film Let's Scare Jessica to Death and wanted to spread the good word. I'm no film critic and not very good and expounding on the good and bad elements of a movie. If you want meaningful well thought out reviews, I suggest Moon in the Gutter. Otherwise, stick around and I'll give you my top ten reasons to watch this movie:



1. Stephen King has gone on record saying this is one of the best horror movies of this period, and it bears a strong resemblance to Salem's Lot.

2. The Chicago Film Critics Association named this movie the 87th scariest film ever made

3. The movie is slow and deliberate. This was refreshing to me. Sure, I like a good fast paced slasher movie now and again, but it's nice to see a horror film progress gradually and methodically like a good old fashioned gothic horror novel.

4. The cast is small - 99% of the movie includes only the 4 main characters, and the acting is brilliant. None of the actors really achieved any sort of fame or great success, but they are top notch - another happy surprise in a low budget horror flick.

5. Although you know there is something not quite right going on, and you are expecting things to take a turn for the worse, the ending is truly unexpected and satisfying.

6. In a way, it was a precursor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I'll bet money Tobe Hooper had this movie in the back of his mind when making his groundbreaking horror film. There's no real gore here, but it bears remarkable similarities: (1) a storyline involving out-of-towners stuck in the backwoods where the locals resemble grotesque savages and (2) moments of terror punctuated by a minimalist sound effect - the flash bulb noise in TCM.

7. The atmosphere of pervasive dread and escalating insanity is palpable. Much like Rosemary's Baby, the audience wonders if the lead character is going crazy or whether these events are really happening.

8. It was memorable for many people who grew up in the seventies. For some reason, a lot of genXers remember this from television, where it ran frequently late at night (i.e. "Creature Features) throughout the decade. Not too disturbing, gory or sexual (while still delivering the chills), this movie was perfect for TV with little to no editing required.

9. Scenes like this are just creepy as hell. Imagine watching this as a ten year old, late at night, by yourself... (shiver)



10. The various connections associated with this film are interesting. For example:

(1) the director, Hancock, was fired as the director of Jaws 2,

(2) the screenwriter wrote for All in the Family (and originally wrote this film as a comedy!),

(3) there's two Exorcist connections: the lead actor, Heyman, was the shrink in The Exorcist, and the lead actress, Lampert, was the wife of George C. Scott in The Exorcist III,

and (4) the actress who plays the hippie, Costello, is married to Alan Arbus, the psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H.

Not to mention all the actors are recognizable from thier many appearances on TV shows like Rockford Files, Kojak, Columbo, Hawaii 5-0, The Waltons, etc.
Now, I don't intend to make this movie out to be better than it is. I have a tendency to gush in my movie reviews. In fact, it probably deserves to be ranked as low as 87th (see reason #2). However, it was without question a pleasant surprise and a great piece of 70's horror.

There is a comprehensive site devoted to this film with great information and pictures of lobby cards, etc. some of which I've swiped here. For example, check out this cool theatre ad where Let's Scare Jessica to Death is playing right alongside Dirty Harry. Groovy.



13 comments:

  1. I watched this movie a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it!

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  2. You're right, this movie was a pleasant little surprise. I wasn't expecting much, and got a nice quiet creepfest. Particularly liked the ending. I've often wondered what JAWS 2 would've been like had Hancock finished it.

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  3. AnonymousMay 04, 2009

    I've watched this movie for years. I love it. However, you didn't mention how much the scary girl looks like a puffy Jodie Foster.

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  4. Hairball and Will - Yes, it's nice when you have low expectations and it turns out actually being good. I just saw I Love You Man at the theater and expected to hate it, but it was great. I think I'm going to try and go into every movie I see expecting the worst.

    And anonymous is right - she is kinda like a puffy Jodie Foster.

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  5. I watched this movie on television as a kid and it scared me to death. I bought a bootleg copy years ago on eBay. I always thought it was a Made-for-TV movie until I read your article. Thanks for such a great post!

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  6. K&S - Happy to oblige! Thanks for dropping in.

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  7. Hey Gil. Great writeup on this film. I enjoyed your post. I've never seen this film before. Your post definitely has inspired me to wanna see it.

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  8. after reading that you have me sold. I totally want to see it now!

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  9. I paid way too much money for this film nearly a decade ago because it was out of print,but I had to, for I had to have it.Seen it at the age of nine years old on t.v.
    Now I can see it on Google Earth @
    298 Middlesex Turnpike,Old Saybrook
    Connecticutt 06475.The old Bishope
    house looks the same after 130 years.Zohra Lampart holds this film together.She's wonderful!

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  10. I paid way too much money for this film nearly a decade ago because it was out of print,but I had to, for I had to have it.Seen it at the age of nine years old on t.v.
    Now I can see it on Google Earth @
    298 Middlesex Turnpike,Old Saybrook
    Connecticutt 06475.The old Bishope
    house looks the same after 130 years.Zohra Lampart holds this film together.She's wonderful!

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  11. An excellent film that really shows how powerful some folklore can be. My review here: http://bit.ly/bRofGr

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  12. Gotta comment on this one. This has always been one of my all time favorite 70's creepy flicks. I used to stay up late on Friday nights as a kid and watch the hell out of these movies and "Lets Scare Jessica to Death" is great. I especially like the poor stabbed mouse part and the scary chick under the water scene. I just like the whole damned movie. This one and Burnt Offerings belong in every collection of scary movies. Oh yeah, and Rosmarys Baby. Oh wait...and It's Alive! I better sign off or I'll never quit.

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  13. Great review of a great movie. Wathced it on tv when I was about 8 or 9 years old. The scene when Emily reachs up out of the water and grabs Jessica did more to make me scared of going swiming than Jaws ever did.

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