Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

JOHN D. HANCOCK

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1971, Screenplay by John D. Hancock, Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by

A married couple and their good friend head out of New York City to an old house they have purchased on an expansive rural property, the reason suggested being that means to help his wife recover after a nervous breakdown.  They are shunned by the cruel locals, who see these unconventional kids in their souped-up hearse driving through town and think them dirty hippies, but are still excited about the prospect of their quaint fixer-upper.  A young woman turns out be squatting at the property and, finding her likeable, they agree to let her stay, but things aren’t going well for Lampert consistently throughout this new experience: she has nightmarish visions, including a girl in white beckoning her and a woman rising out of the lake that surrounds their property.  Sometimes she sees frightful things that turn out to be real and as the film progresses she becomes undone by the inability to know the difference.  Is she going mad, or is somebody trying to gaslight her?  The build-up is exquisite in this polished and gorgeously photographed film, whose low budget barely shows thanks to the expert pacing and outstanding performances, Lampert in particularly giving a remarkable turn as a woman under a disturbing, pastoral influence.  The details of her inner life are reminiscent of something along the lines of Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, a rare case of a thriller exploiting a woman’s madness while still respecting it, but by the final third the plot really begins to meander and loses its intimacy with its main character, becoming a rather numbing and repetitive experience of fake-outs that, right up until the underdone ending, really don’t pay off.  Well worth watching, however, as its positive qualities are extremely memorable and a good deal of it is genuinely scary.

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