Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

MARCH 13, 2008


My biggest regret as a human being is that I wasn’t born in 1959 or so. I would have loved to have been a kid in the 70s, getting to experience pretty much all of my favorite horror films when they were first released, instead of 10-20 years later, after many of them had their impact blunted by ripoffs (and now remakes). Such is the case with Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, a film I probably would have loved had I hadn’t seen too many other “A woman is seeing things... or IS SHE?” movies (that were probably inspired by Jessica to boot).

It’s still a good flick though, definitely one to watch late at night with the lights off, instead of during the bright daylight like I did (this is due to the fact that at night I wanted to play Condemned 2, a game so dark I literally can’t see it when there’s the slightest bit of glare in the room). After April Fool’s Day, the title had me expecting that the movie was all just a prank (as in “Hey Guys, Let’s Scare...”), so the fact that it was indeed a legit supernatural horror film (albeit yet another slow burn of one – I REALLY need to watch a nonstop gorefest before this week is through) was a nice surprise, and not without some well-appreciated creepiness. There’s a scene late in the film where the heroine’s husband walks into a general store, and then 4 or 5 of the creepy townsfolk slowly follow him in and close the door – foreboding and creepy as hell!

Unfortunately I really couldn’t stand the lead actress, Zohra Lampert. She was supposed to be a former mental patient (which they never quite explain), so some of her awkwardness could be chalked up to that, but Lampert went above and beyond what is required for such a character, to the point where I wished she would stop speaking. Also, her character (and to be fair, her husband and his buddy) are slow as molasses – they see a century old picture with a woman who is CLEARLY the strange girl they allow to stay with them, and yet it takes almost the entire movie before anyone makes the connection.

However, the aforementioned strange girl (Gretchen Corbett) looks a lot like Ginny from the Harry Potter movies, so there’s something.

The film flies by as well. It’s only 88 minutes long, but it felt even shorter. And since there is very little “action” until the final 5 minutes or so, this is even more impressive. In fact, the film definitely could have used a few more minutes in the narrative to explain some of the under-developed plot threads (in addition to never explaining Lampert’s past mental problems, her husband seems to fall in love with Corbett without ever spending as much as a single scene alone with her).

As for the “Vampire” tag – I’m not sure. Corbett is alluded to being a vampire, and neck-biting seems to be the modus operandi for any of the film’s killings, but the finale, in which Lampert escapes the town, finds all of the pursuing townsfolk acting more like your standard zombies. In fact, the movie very much reminds me of the “sort of zombie” Messiah Of Evil (which came after Jessica), so any fan of that film will probably enjoy this one.

Strangely, the film has a PG-13 rating, despite being released some 13 years before that rating was invented. I am guessing it got a PG back in the day and has been re-rated due to some creepiness (and some all-too-brief lesbian undertones), but since Paramount couldn’t be bothered to include even a trailer for the damn thing on the DVD, answers to such questions won’t be found here (and the film’s Wiki/IMDb pages are no help either, though the Wiki does reveal that the film was originally written as a comedy!). They DID however change the box art, and thus now the movie’s title is in the Trajan font. Add it to the list, Kirby!

What say you?


  1. I somewhat fondly remember this one from old Morgus movies (mad scientist movie host from New Orleans). I haven't seen it in quite some time, so it's refreshing to hear that I'm not the only one that liked it. This has encouraged me to move it up in my Netflix Queue and watch it soon.

  2. I remember getting really scared by this movie when I was a kid back in the 1970s. I'll have to rent it again to see how well it holds up.

  3. I watched this movie exactly 7 days ago. rented it from Blockbuster based on the title alone. I normally hate movies that have a "is she or isn't she crazy" theme to it, but I actually thought this one was well done. I liked Zohra Lampert's acting in it. I thought it was pretty realistic. All in all a fun movie, and one that I think would appeal to non-hardcore horror fans.

  4. If memory serves this was actually rated "GP" - "PG" came along later, though of course they mean the exact same thing - "Parental Guidance Suggested". I have an original poster for this somewhere. Why don't more DVD releases reuse the old poster art? Movie posters back in the 70's were generally much better than modern ones. I doubt they're really fooling anyone into thinking it's a modern film.

  5. ah! i have never seen this one, but rob fitz has a framed original poster, it caught my eye.

  6. I was quite pleasantly surprised by JESSICA, and was interested to learn that the director, John D. Hancock, was originally hired to direct JAWS 2 based on the creepy ghost-in-the-water sequences here. He was, of course, fired by the JAWS producers when he tried to use a more subtle style in the sequel rather than replicating the roller-coaster ride of Spielberg's original. Who knows what Hancock's version of JAWS 2 would've been like?

  7. I saw this when I was 15 and it scared the heck out of me. If My memory is correct There was a brief flash of a breast in the movie. which
    was very rare back then.

  8. watched this one last night-- her mental disorders seem to be paranoid schizophrenia and anxiety-- hearing voices, thinking people are after her, being "afraid of everything". hence why the husband wants to keep the antique dealer from frightening her, and her reluctance to tell anyone she is hearing voices again.

    i liked it.

  9. I love this movie. Stylish and creepy, it's worthy of multiple viewings. There is a website dedicated to the film: letsscarejessicatodeath.net. There is a trailer that notes the film as being rated "GP".

  10. In the middle of watching it now. Regarding the husband and Corbett, there are a few scenes of build-up - the first is when he is washing her back in the lake, causing her to moan; the second is when Jessica asks him whether he finds Corbett attractive and he says he does; and the third is how he stares at the picture, seemingly smitten (and I agree that it was ludicrous for the characters not to know she was the girl in the picture). Good late-night flick, for sure.


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