Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady versus vampires.

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is recovering from a nervous breakdown and taken to a secluded Connecticut home for rest and recuperation. Here she starts to see strange visions, but nobody believes her making her the only one aware of the dangers that are brewing around them.

Haunted houses, ghosts, zombies, weird townspeople, madness, vampires, and even a tacky séance this film seems to want to take all the elements from other horror movies and mix it into one. The idea may sound great, but the approach is tepid. This may be due to its low budget, but either way the final result is unexciting. Yes it is creepy and eerie specifically at the beginning, but it never manages to get to the next level with no real scares or even a few minor ones.

The film is also slow with some stodgy drama used as filler. The special effects are minimal and the little that is shown looks unrealistic. Only at the very end do things start to get interesting.

Director John Hancock adds a little flair and had the script been able to reach the level of its scintillating title this film might actually have been special. His framing and photography of the outside of the old house is good. There is also a shot of an early morning sun rising off a foggy lake that makes for a perfect creepy atmosphere. I also like his placement of the howling wind and the whispering voices although he does go to this well a little too often.

One good reason to watch this film is too see Lampert. Although always a supporting player this was to date her only starring vehicle. She has a distinctive look and style that doesn’t match the glamour of a conventional leading lady. Her face exposes a nice fragility to the vulnerable character that she plays and her performance of a tormented person is excellent.

Although she has a pair of unique blue eyes like actress Meg Foster Mariclaire Costello, as the ghost/vampire, is just not frightening. The rest of the characters are boring and seem almost like stand-ins.

I got a kick out of the antique dealer (Alan Manson) who tells Jessica about the death of the original owner of the home that she is now living in. The tale is bland and transparent even though he insists, several times, that it is ‘quite extraordinary’.

Released: August 6, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John D. Hancock

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

6 responses to “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

  1. You beat me to the punch on this one. It’s coming later in the month for my Halloween series at Forgotten Films

    • I’ll be interested in getting your take of this film. I’m surprised how many fans there are of this movie. In my opinion it’s not necessarily a bad movie, but it is not a great one either.
      I’m impressed with the Halloween series you have going at your blog. I’m amazed that you are able to review a different horror film for all 31 days of the month knowing that you are married, have kids, and work a full-time job.

      • Truth be told, I’ve been working on reviews for the Halloween series since late July and storing them up.

        My take on Jessica is mixed…you’ll see the whole review later in the month. It has some interesting aspects, but moves at a frustratingly slow pace.

  2. Joseph Kearny

    Effectively creepy low budget psychological horror

  3. I didn’t know what to make of this movie when I was first saw it so long ago. I was impressed by how unique it clearly set out to be. Seeing its female lead fight the battle between the possibility that she’s losing her grip on reality and the possibility that the horror is somehow real, which of course can make such a thriller methodically more interesting, is the kind of horror genre that’s most deserving of the best originality it can be given. This may qualify and it may be even more interesting to re-watch it today in the wake of how far such horror films have come. Thanks for your review.

  4. Pingback: Mirrors (1978) | Scopophilia

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