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  Let's Scare Jessica to Death Just Because You're Paranoid...
Year: 1971
Director: John Hancock
Stars: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson, Mariclare Costello
Genre: Horror, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Journeying in their hearse, Jessica (Zohra Lampert), her husband and their friend head off for a new life in the country, but Jessica, who has a history of mental illness, starts to believe the area is haunted when stopping briefly at a graveyard she catches siight of a young woman - but was she there at all? Their new neighbours don't seem particularly friendly in this small community and although she is delighted with the house they are to settle in, Jessica grows suspicious of the young woman who has joined them there... yet is she simply allowing her psychosis to return?

Co-written by the director John Hancock with Lee Kalcheim, this is an eerie, low budget paranoia-fest with an irresistable title. After looking to carch the viewer off guard with Emily's entrance (the young woman - Mariclare Costello), prospects for entertainment don't look too promising when she produces a guitar and commences a singsong. But don't be fooled as soon a standard "is she going mad or not?" plotline has escalated into a weird, unsettling nightmare for which there is little explanation, especially as the menacing folk of the nearby town seem to be involved with whatever might be going on.

The simple reason for Jessica's suspicion over Emily could be the fact that her husband gets along with her so well, and jealousy the cause, but once the newcomer suggests a late night seance alarm bells should be ringing. Although they don't seem to get through to anyone (or anything), unless you count the whispered voices that we assume to be part of Jessica's thoughts, this occurence acts as a kind of trigger for whatever happens. From then on, even something as innocent as a swim in the nearby lake can take on a terrifying sense of dread for our heroine.

What makes this situation especially cruel is that Jessica is doing her best to be "normal" in a world that is twisting out of shape, so the more she tries to be friendly and accomodating - she remains a sympathetic character through her sheer vulnerability - the more this is thrown back in her face, and she can't for the life of her work out why. It might be something to do with the previous tenants of the house, who disappeared in strange circumstances, and as is noted, if you look closely at an old photograph the daughter of those tenants bears a resemblance to Emily.

In tone, the whole thing comes across as sort of a horror cross between Easy Rider and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with the ageing hippy-ish leads looking for a countryside idyll and finding a hostile community and a malevolent, supernatural force, unless it really is all in Jessica's mind. The atmosphere of trespassing in a domain that ambiguously either wants you gone or wants to possess your soul for its own ends is one that is hard to shake here. While the other actors go throught the motions adequately, the compelling Lampert gives a delicate perfromance, which makes the panicky climax all the more haunting, notably as it is left open as to what precisely was going on. Listen out for the carefully put together soundtrack, too, which includes music by Orville Stoeber.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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John Hancock  (1939 - )

Born in Kansas City, Hancock worked as a theatre director throughout the 60s before receiving an Oscar nomination in 1970 for his short film Sticky My Fingers... Fleet My Feet. His feature debut, Let's Scare Jessica To Death, was an effective slice of horror, while subsequent films, such as Bang the Drum Slowly (featuring a young Robert De Niro) and Weeds were sensitively made dramas.

 
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