Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

“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.” This is one of those low-budget atmospheric horror films from the early 1970s that scared the shit out of me as a kid and still holds up fairly well today. Who cares if the film makes little sense – it’s got a great title, some creepy moments (such as the wedding dress, the photo in the attic and the hostile, zombie-like old folk in the town) a few eclectic touches (the grave rubbings, the mole in the jar, etc.) and an ambiguous ending. Recently released from a mental institution, the emotionally fragile “Jessica” (Zohra Lampert) moves to an eerie old gothic-style farmhouse on a New England island with her rather dull husband “Duncan” (Barton Heyman) and their not-too-bright friend “Woody” (Kevin O’Connor). Upon arriving, they encounter a mysterious young woman, “Emily” (Mariclare Costello), who has been squatting at the house. Jessica starts hearing voices again, encounters a ghost-like girl (Gretchen Corbett), discovers a body that disappears when she tries to show it to the others and begins to seriously question her sanity (the narrative is told entirely from her perspective in flashback). The film served as the directorial debut of John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly). Beware: If you’re looking for a slasher film, you’ve come to the wrong place. In his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, Stephen King singles out Let’s Scare Jessica to Death as one of his favorite horror films.

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