Horror 365 Movie 358: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

Most people know better than to just stick our hands into some dark crevice, hole, or cavity sight unseen, and that holds even truer if that vacuity is here in Castle Blogferatu. Be that as it may, it’s time once again to go elbow deep into the depths of The Great Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Coffee Can Of Cinema and draw forth a title. And today’s title iiiiis…Let’s Scare Jessica To Death.

So, a quick perusing of the Neverending Movie List reveals an original rating of a mere 3 Skulls. According to the breakdown of the Skull Scale, that means it was tolerable. Barely. Why is that? Well, that’s a damn good question seein’ as how Let’s Scare Jessica To Death shows up on lotsa Scariest Movies lists.

Everything starts off with Jessica sitting in a boat right next to the shore of a lake. We immediately flash back to where this all started. A car pulls up to a graveyard. Out pops Jessica who romps off to do some gravestone rubbings while her husband Duncan and their close friend Woody wait by the car. Well, it’s a hearse, something, incidentally I’ve always always always wanted.

Anyway, whilst at a grave, Jessica sees a strange blonde woman. Jessica looks over her shoulder and starts to call to Duncan, but when she looks back, the woman is gone. Uh oh. Jessica, y’see, is A) a little death-obsessed and 2) was recently released from a mental institution and into the watchful care of Duncan who whisks her off to a recently purchased rustic farmhouse.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s some seriously spooky atmosphere to be found here, and it starts almost immediately. Less than 10 minutes in, Duncan mentions they’re headed to “the old Bishop place” to the ferry conductor who immediately regards them with suspicion. The old white dudes outside the general store look askance at them as well.

Once our crew gets to the place, Jessica sees a woman in a rocking chair on the porch then hears a voice asking “Jessica why have you come here?” and closes her eyes. When she opens them, the woman is gone. Turns out it’s Emily who’s apparently squatting. When she suggests that she’ll be on her way, fairly insistently, Jessica invites her to stay. Like ya do.

Here’s the thing (and if you haven’t seen this, stop reading)—Emily may or may not be a vampire. If she is, it’s cleverly foreshadowed. For instance, she tries to leave once it’s established that Duncan and Jessica now own the place. Jessica’s invitation that she stay, therefore, checks off the “vampire can’t enter unless invited” box.

After dinner, Emily plays guitar and sings “Stay forever my love my love.” When Woody asks how long she’s been there, she says “Ages.” She the suggests having a seance, and at one point remarks that “Nothing’s ever completely dead.” When Woody tries to hit on her, she responds with “I guess it’s just been a long time.” She also has exquisitely manicured nails for a squatter. So yeah, Emily’s plenty odd. Strange as Emily is, they discover the townsfolk aren’t much better.

The next day, our trio explores their homestead looking for stuff they can sell as Duncan blew his savings on this joint so they could get away from New York City. For one thing, they’re all bandaged someplace or other. When Duncan asks about a place to sell antiques, one codger says “If there was a place, I sure wouldn’t tell you.” Beyond that they’re generally silent, eerie, and hostile with some definite Rosemary’s Baby vibes by the end.

The main source of tension, however, is in Jessica’s head—not in the sense that everything is just in her head. In fact, we know it isn’t. But it’s never completely clear to Jessica whether or not it’s all in her head. This gets reinforced by her internal monologue in which she tells herself “act normal,” “now he thinks I’m getting sick again, but I’m not,” and “Did it happen?” Naturally nobody around her is sure either.

Finally, the mood and the story have a good deal of resonance with things that have come before it, not the least of which are Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and, arguably moreso, Coleridge’s Christabel. Emily’s singing and the focus on her eyes connect her to Keats’s “La Bell Dame Sans Merci” as well while Jessica’s psychological state also echoes The Haunting and The Turn Of The Screw. Hell while we’re at it, let’s throw in some Carnival Of Souls too.

And so, in the end, I’m forced to reconsider Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (it no doubt helps that I had it on whilst writing this) and give it a new, vastly improved Skull Rating.


 SKULLS- 10
 BODIES- 3
 Rent- Apple TV, Google Play, Prime, Vudu, YouTube

4 thoughts on “Horror 365 Movie 358: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

  1. Wow – much higher rating now! I watched this for the blog a few years ago or so. Think my rating was much closer to your first rating. Maybe I need to rewatch it too. (But I probably won’t! Lol). Glad you enjoyed it more on a rewatch, though. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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