A while back, Time Out London posted a list of the 100 Best Horror Films, compiled by polling some of the biggest names in the industry, including Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro and Clive Barker. The list was set up, so you could check off how many you had seen and forward it to all of your social networking sites. Thus, for the next few days, my Facebook feed was inundated with “I've seen XX of the Best 100 Horror Films, how many have you seen?” updates. I subsequently checked it out myself and was frankly surprised – and a lot more disappointed – that I only scored a seventy-eight.
Granted, there were several incredibly obscure and downright puzzling films on their list, but I would have thought, with my thirty-plus years of experience, I'd at least gotten an A. After stewing about it for a bit, I vowed to track down the remaining twenty-two titles on the Time Out List. Starting now, I hope to bang one off each week, which would mean by Christmas I'll be sporting a perfect score. First up, is Let's Scare Jessica To Death.
Recently released from an institution, Jessica (Zohra Lampert) and her husband (Barton Heyman) move to the countryside for a fresh start. Almost immediately though, her mental state begins to unravel. Is she really crazy? Or is there something supernatural afoot?
Let's Scare Jessica To Death is a title I've always been aware of, but never got around to watching, so it seemed the perfect place to start.
Overall, I liked this film. It has a simplistic nature, that was very easy for me to latch onto. I think the promise of the first act wasn't completely realized, but I was always invested and interested to see where it went. Jessica is a movie that is really of its time. I could see the establishment vs. hippies underpinnings that were popular with American movies during that era. I had to laugh at just how trusting the three main characters were. They show up at their newly purchased estate, find a squatter inside and then precede to walk around the house looking for said intruder, nonchalantly smiling all the while.
I found Lampert's performance as the title character fascinating. She has this fragile demeanor, which is obviously necessary to convey her mental state, but there's also a very child-like free spiritedness shining through, as well. Even though she's clearly on the verge of going off the deep end at any moment, she's determined to prove that she's not crazy. I found Mariclare Costello to be quite striking, but, with her being a redhead, that should come as no surprise to my regular readership.
I think what makes this film differ from its contemporaries, is how it detours at the midway point. It ditches its American flavour and actually becomes something more akin to a Hammer film. This was unexpected, yet not unwelcome. It relies heavily on atmosphere, yet unlike my recent experience with The Survivor, it doesn't draw things out excessively.
There were some strange goofs that kept popping up throughout the movie that I found a little distracting. I don't know why Jessica little pet kept being referred to as a mole, when it was clearly a mouse and the farmer in town selling fresh eggs with a coup full of roosters was pretty impressive, as well. I was a little disappointed with the ambiguous nature of the ending, but it didn't ruin the experience. Maybe I was misled by the title. I guess I'd always pictured a conclusion that involved a plot to get Jessica's inheritance, or something to that effect.
Let's Scare Jessica To Death has just enough good stuff to warrant its spot on the list and am glad I can now cross it off. Oh, and I kind of want to buy a hearse now, just so I can paint “love” on the side.
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