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Let's Scare Jessica to Death Print E-mail
User Rating: / 9
Written by Elaine Lamkin   
Saturday, 12 January 2008


AKA: The Secret Beneath the Lake, What Killed Sam Dorker?
Directed by: John Hancock
Written by: John Hancock, Lee Kalcheim
Produced by: Charles B. Moss Jr.
Cinematography by: Robert M. Baldwin
Music by: Orville Stoeber
Cast: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson, Mariclare Costello
Year: 1971
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 89

“I sit here and I can’t believe that it happened and yet I have to believe it.  Dreams or nightmares…madness or sanity…I don’t know which is which”

I first saw John Hancock’s creepy 1971 film Let's Scare Jessica to Death on a local afternoon TV show that aired offbeat movies when I was in elementary school. This movie scared me to death!!  Starring Zohra Lampert as Jessica, a recent patient in a mental institution who moves with her husband, Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their best friend, Woody (Kevin O’Connor), to an isolated farmhouse in the Connecticut countryside (this house is so isolated, in fact, that one can only reach it and the nearby town by a ferry).  Her musician husband wants to farm apples and give Jessica some peace and quiet from their former life in New York, from the opening credits, there is a sense of unease about the movie.  The film is definitely one from its time as Jessica’s group drives a hearse and their clothes are vintage early 70s but the story, which may include ghosts and vampires, if Jessica is to be believed, is much older.  Once at their strange new home, the group comes across Emily (Mariclare Costello), a pale young woman who claims she found the house deserted and was squatting there and, given the mindset of the early 1970s, Emily is invited to stay.  This begins all of poor Jessica’s problems – is she seeing and hearing what she thinks she is?  Or is she having another breakdown?  There is a murder but the body disappears after Jessica finds it.  There is a mysterious young girl who seems to be following Jessica.  There is a local legend about the former owners of the house, the Bishops, and one of the Bishop women who drowned in the lake on her wedding day but is said to still roam the countryside as a vampire.  There is something in the lake, which terrifies Jessica, but no one else ever sees whatever it is.  Her pet mole, found in a nearby cemetery, is killed.  An old portrait of the Bishops, found in the attic and sold to a local antique dealer, reappears.  And then there are the townsfolk – all men, as far as the viewer can tell – who all have mysterious bandages on them.

For years afterwards, I could vividly remember the wind blowing the grave rubbings Jessica had pinned to her bedroom wall as well as the "woman in white".  It's a "quiet" movie - not much of a sound track.  More sound design, like Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre which, interestingly, many people have compared it to.  The old house in the middle of nowhere, its strange inhabitant and the weird townspeople in the country theme are also comparable to TCM.  The water, the constant wind, the creak of the rocking chair on the front porch, the "voices" Jessica thinks she hears – are all very subtle and therefore all the more chilling.  This "little movie" is definitely an overlooked classic - actually, Fangoria magazine just did a 3 or 4 page tribute to it in a recent issue.  It was filmed in and around Old Saybrook, CT and the “Bishop house” is still there albeit with a bright yellow widow’s walk now.  The movie is not yet available on DVD and I have heard no news about any plans for doing so.  It is not easy to find the VHS either.  There is a “remake” in the works but it is in name only and only the partial name at that – “Let's Scare Jessica”.  If you want to watch something truly chilling and disturbing, try to hunt down a copy of Jessica and see if some of the sounds and images don’t stay with you long after the film is through.












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psychobilly   | |2008-07-02 20:21:46
i saw a version of this for download on
havnt downloaded it
though so have no clue if it works well.
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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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