In addition to being a great cult horror movie, this release is notable for featuring Zohra Lampert in her only leading role in a motion picture. Outside of her tiny cult fan base, Lampert is terribly underrated, despite her versatility and extraordinary emotional range, which are as thoroughly explored in this movie as they were in Pay Or Die! and Splendor in the Grass. The majority of Lampert's screen career consists of guest roles on numerous popular television shows, for which she's been recognized. But most of her best work was accomplished in feature films, and her manic performance here is an especially fine achievement.
Lampert portrays the titular Jessica, who moves to rural Connecticut with her husband and a close friend after her discharge from a mental institution. They arrive at their old, massive, newly-purchased country house to find a comely squatter living there, and no small number of ornate antiques. Even before her arrival at this new home, Jessica sees ominous figures and hears disturbing voices, which become significantly more prominent and menacing as she settles into her surroundings. As circumstances worsen, both Jessica and the audience struggle to determine if her nightmarish experiences are real or symptomatic of a deranged mental state.
If you're looking for gore, shocks and excitement in a horror movie, this won't suit your expectations. Instead, Let's Scare Jessica to Death functions similarly to Carnival of Souls, slowly developing an unbearable atmosphere of dread and suspense that only ceases at the story's end. Paramount distributed this movie during the initiation of the studio's revival following its postwar decline, and the result was a modest box office success; this film could have easily been just another early '70s horror feature to have been run through the drive-in and grindhouse circuit before being discarded and forgotten. Fortunately, Jessica has been recognized as a minor classic, and one of a relative handful of horror movies that implement subtle techniques to convey an ambiance of subdued terror.
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Robert Buchanan (rbuchanan)
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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Let's Scare Jessica to Death is an American horror film directed by John D. Hancock, starring Zohra Lampert in the title role. The film focuses on a recently institutionalized woman who has various nightmarish experiences after moving to an old farmhouse on a Connecticut island. In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named Let's Scare Jessica to Death the 87th scariest film ever made.