I’ve come to appreciate “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” more and more over the years, as it’s managed to separate itself from the other vampire films in the sub-genre. While other of its ilk manage to flaunt the concept of the vampire without much substance, John Hancock and writers Sheridan Le Fanu and Lee Kalchiem take an opportunity here. Here, the monster is brilliant used as a means as a dread filled allegory for paranoia, fear of unraveling sanity, and our latent fear of infidelity.
Finally released from an institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) seeks the tranquility of a secluded home in Connecticut to help make her recovery complete. But instead of a restful recuperation with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman), Jessica soon finds herself falling into madness and the supernatural. The entire region seems to be under the influence of a mysterious woman the trio finds living in the supposedly empty house. Jessica’s fear and dread only intensify when she discovers that the “undead’ girl, Emily, tragically drowned long ago, on her wedding day.
While “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” isn’t the most terrifying film, it’s certainly a thought provoking and bizarre movie that tinkers with perceptions of events that unfold. Much of the shots are filmed with murky close ups allowing for a sense of madness to linger in every moment. Gretchen Corbett as Emily is already something of an empty void when we first meet her, and the more she is developed the more threatening she becomes. She manages to insinuate herself in to the lives of Duncan and Jessica, but she seems to slowly grab on to everyone she meets and influence them in one way or another.
Zohra Lampert is very good as the unraveling Jessica who catches on to a lot of what the men in her life don’t with Emily. Or maybe they’re just not willing to deny a lot of Emily’s allure. Throughout the narrative we’re left to wonder: Is Jessica witnessing the unfolding of something supernatural and incredibly evil? Or is she still recuperating from her mental breakdown and is headed for yet another one? Along with the iconic scene of Emily coming out of the lake, director Hancock films many more memorable scenes of subtle terror including the finale, which will manage to inspire a lot of conversation. While it’s not what I’d call a masterpiece, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” is worth dabbling in as a simple, eerie, and spooky tale of horror.
The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory features an audio commentary with Writer/Director John Hancock and Producer Bill Badalato. “Art Saved My Life: Composer Orville Stoeber on Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” is a sixteen minutes talk with Stoeber who discusses his learning of music through family singalongs before going into working with director Hancock and experimenting with synth in the score. “Scare Tactics: Reflections on a Seventies Horror Classic with Film Historian Kim Newman” is a twenty three minutes discussion with the historian who proclaims Let’s Scare Jessica To Death to be his favorite horror film.
He likens it to being in a league of horror with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and shares his analysis of it as a unique vampire film. It’s a very fascinating discussion. “She Walks These Hills: Let’s Scare Jessica To Death Locations Then and Now” is a seven minutes montage set to music, exploring locations from the film then and what they look like now. Finally, there’s the original theatrical trailer, the original TV Spot, the original Radio Spot, and an HD Still Gallery.