I'll be giving an introduction to John D. Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death at the Offscreen Film Festival in Brussels on March 20th.
In this chilling ghost story from 1971, the fragile Jessica longs for a new beginning, having recently been released from a psychiatric hospital. She isolates herself in an old farmhouse with her husband and a friend. But is she safe from the aftermath of her mental illness? Once she hears the local stories about vampires roaming the countryside, Jessica starts having nightmarish visions that will defy everything she has ever experienced before.
The premise sounds cliché, but believe me when I say that Let's Scare Jessica to Death is THE eeriest horror movie ever made. Whenever someone asks me about my favorite horror film, Let's Scare Jessica to Death is always the first that comes to mind. It has been that way for over twenty years and I'm sure I'll be citing this film as my favorite for many years to come.
A lot of the film's strength has to do with Zohra Lampert's magnificent performance. She makes you experience what it feels like to live in a state of constant fear and uncertainty and to desperately try to fit in when you know you are too awkward to be truly loved.
However, what makes John D. Hancock's film a genre masterpiece is how its eeriness gets under your skin and how it imprints nightmarish visuals onto your memory the way very few other horror films can.
Its dreamlike photography will put you in a sort of trance and the myriad of details depicting death (the hearse, the gravestone etchings, the ghostly appearances) are a foreboding of how that dream will eventually unfold into a terrifying nightmare.
You will probably want to ponder whether the visions Jessica is having are real or not. I urge you, though, to not analyze the story too much. Jessica is a film that needs to be experienced.
P.S. Those of you who read my supernatural thriller, Drowned Sorrow, will probably recognize many elements from Let's Scare Jessica to Death: the dead people coming out of the water, the strange villagers grouping together, the apparition in the lake, the description of the village, etc ;-)