Saturday, December 3, 2016

Season of Horror: Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

The days are getting shorter and it's another wonderful Saturday night made for horror. I initially intended to make this a TV time portal night and watch Burn, Witch, Burn, as Bob Wilkins was showing this on Creature Features this night back in 1966, but I really wanted to see this film I recently acquired, Let's Scare Jessica to Death. It's a film I had heard of, but never seen, and comes recommended by Brother John, who usually does not steer me wrong. Of course, he did also recommend The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Here's a word from Bob Wilkins before we begin.

A woman is in a boat on a lake, who informs us through narration that she can't believe what happened, but has to. We see a hearse traveling on the road while somber piano music plays as the title is shown. The hearse stops at a cemetery and a woman jumps out of the back saying she'll take a minute. Two guys wait by the side of the hearse and one remarks that the farm will be great for her.

"Nightmares or dreams. Madness or sanity. I don't know which is which."

While Jessica finds a headstone and makes a rubbing on paper, she is thinking that she is free the first time in months, that she can forget the doctors and start over. She looks up and sees a girl but when she looks away and looks back, the girl is gone. She gets back in the hearse and thinks to herself not to tell them and to act normal.

The gang travels across the water by ferry and drives their shiny, black hearse through town as the old timers stare from a porch and call them "damn hippies" and "creeps." They continue on to a solitary house shrouded in fog. Jessica runs off and sees a partially obscured figure rocking in a chair on the porch and hears whispers, with one voice asking, "Jessica, why have you come here?"

She begins to enter the house and the guys approach from behind. Woody asks if she's okay, and again she says to herself not to tell them, that they won't believe her. As they enter, there is a figure on the stairs and her husband reassures her that he saw it too. He grabs a flyswatter and goes after the intruder. They find that the intruder is a girl who's been squatting at the place. She goes to get her things and bug out, but Jessica implores her to stay and have dinner with them and spend the night. They introduce themselves to each other and we learn the squatter's name is Emily.

They're all getting on well at dinner and Emily begins to play a lute and sing, reinforcing the Woodstock era feel to the film. Jessica's husband goes to get his upright bass out of it's case and brings it into the kitchen and accompanies Emily. Jessica thinks to herself that he likes her and when she begins to clean up the dinner dishes, she hears voices in her head saying it's blood, as she looks at red juices from the remnants of meat on the plate. 

The group is in the living room and Emily describes how she sometimes imagines she hears voices and sees shadows and asks if that happens to anyone else. Jessica describes how she was on her way to her husband's concert and saw her dead father who called to her. The hubby makes a joke saying it was probably him calling her to be on time and Emily suggests they have a seance. They hold hands and Emily calls on the spirits of everyone who ever died in the house to give them a sign. She prompts Jessica to also call to them. Jessica hears whispers, and a voice says, "Jessica, I'm here." We hear moans and a man calling for Abigail, but the others don't seem to hear it.

Jessica and Duncan go to bed and Woody unsuccessfully tries to put the moves on Emily downstairs. She suggests they go for a walk instead. So much for free love.  She comments that his friend Jessica seems unhappy, but he denies it, saying she was away but just got back and she's okay. He tells her Duncan blew his savings buying the farm and he's broke. She asks if he is going to live there too and he says he doesn't know, that he'll stay and help Duncan get started with the orchard, but then move on. He says they are all wandering spirits.

We see the four of them soaping each other up in the lake while wearing bathing suits. Later, Emily goes to make lunch and Jessica goes for a swim while the guys lay out on the deck. She sees a figure under the water and hears a voice calling to her. She screams and calls for Duncan and both guys come out to get her. Woody swims back out to reassure her there's nothing there and we see a girl standing among the trees, watching.

They have lunch and decide to go looking for something to sell from the farm so they can get money for food. Duncan goes out to the barn and finds tools. Jessica looks in the attic and finds a sharp knife in a trunk on top of a white dress. She puts the dress on over her clothes and finds an ornate framed photo of two women and a man. Duncan finds her and they load up the car with their finds to go sell. Jessica tells Duncan to ask Emily to stay and she thanks them.

In the car, Jessica asks Duncan if he finds Emily attractive and he says yes. They stop in town and Jessica sees a sign for fresh eggs at a house. She goes in to get eggs while Duncan goes to ask where he can sell antiques and when she comes out, there are some old timers from the town standing around the car and one of them thumps Duncan on the back of the head as he gets into the car. As they drive away, Jessica asks why they are all bandaged, and that the chicken farmer had something on his neck too.

They stop at an antique shop and introduce themselves to the store owner. They tell him they'd like to sell some things and when they show him the picture, he remarks that it's the Bishops and asks if they heard the story of Abigail Bishop drowning in 1880. He goes on to say she never got to wear that wedding dress, that she drowned in the cove behind the house and they never found her body. He says there's a legend that she's still alive, that she's a vampire roaming the country.

They return home and see Woody in gas mask on a tractor out spraying pesticide in the orchard. Then Duncan and Jessica are at the cemetery and he finds a mole. She asks if they can keep it and he goes off to get a cage for it at home. Meanwhile, we see antique dealer, Sam, out fishing in the lake while a figure is reaching up from under the water, unbeknownst to him. Jessica sees the girl in the white dress at the cemetery, who beckons her to follow. She chases her but loses her through the grove of trees. She hears a waterfall and looks over the edge and sees the bloodied body of the antique dealer. When she brings Duncan out to show him, the body is gone.

While they are looking, they see the girl in white and chase her down and find that she is mute. She shakes her head when Jessica asks if she saw the body and takes off running when Emily shows up.

In bed that night, Duncan suggests Jessica go back to New York and see her doctor. She asks where they'll get the money. He says he can't take it anymore and she suggests he leave her. She gets agitated and yells at him to leave her. He tells her to be quiet, that they'll hear her, and she says, "Who cares?" She gets up to leave, saying they should sleep apart, and he says he'll go instead. She cries under the blankets.

Duncan  is sleeping in a chair downstairs and we then see a knife poke into the mole's cage and stab it. Emily goes to where Duncan is sleeping. He wakes up and begins kissing her. The next morning, Jessica finds the bloody dead mole and tells the rest that whoever killed the antique dealer may have killed the mole. She says she knows they think she did it but she didn't.

Woody gets the tractor to go out and spray more pesticide while Jessica watches from upstairs. She also sees Emily give Duncan a kiss as he leaves in the hearse. She wanders through the attic and sees the photo of the Bishop family that they had sold to the antique dealer, hanging where it was before. Emily comes in and startles her.

Duncan is in town and the old timers are hanging out on the porch of a house and they follow Duncan as he enters the house. Jessica tells Emily that the picture of Abigail looks like her, especially the eyes. She agrees that it does. Emily starts stroking Jessica's face, saying she's warm. Jessica hears her voice in her head telling her to look in her eyes. Emily convinces her to go out to the water with her and she hears her voice in her head say to follow her.

They go to the deck and Emily offers to put lotion on her back. Then she pushes Jessica in the water and jumps in after her, dunking her down below the water. Jessica tells her to leave her alone. Emily apologizes, saying she didn't mean to scare her. She hears a voice call her name and say that nobody's here. Emily is gone and she sees the figure under the water again, calling her to come and follow. The figure grabs her and pulls her down, but she gets away and runs out of the water. Abigail gets out of the water, looking like Emily in the wedding dress, and approaches Jessica, attempting to bite her neck. Jessica runs to the house and locks herself in the bedroom and barricades the door.

She continues to hear the voice call her name and say she's here, that she won't go away and that she's in her blood. Jessica leaves the room in the morning and creeps downstairs. She leaves the house and runs down to the road and flags down a trucker. He asks her what's the matter and she asks if he can help her get to town.

Woody drives the tractor back to the house and goes inside. He calls out for Emily and Jessica, and Emily comes downstairs in the white wedding dress. He asks where Jessica is and she says she left. He asks her what she means and she tells him not to worry, that she just went to town to find Duncan. She asks if he likes her and he says yes, so she asks him to show her, and he does. She puts her mouth on his neck.

Jessica is in town and asks the old timer on the porch where the hearse is parked if he's seen the driver. He says no and she sees a scar on his neck. She sees scars on the arms of another man, and then sees scars on Sam the antique dealer, and runs away screaming. Sam smiles. Jessica is remembering the mute girl and thinking that she was warning her. She runs through the orchard and collapses.

It's night and she's still in the orchard while someone is calling for her. She gets up and Duncan finds her, saying it'll be okay now and that he'll take her home. He drives her back to the house in the hearse. They go in, but the lights aren't working. Duncan lights a lamp and they go upstairs. Duncan gets on his pajamas and they go to bed and kiss. She sees he has a deep scar on his neck. She hears voices saying it's not real and it's in her mind. Abigail/Emily comes in with a knife and goes to cut her throat and suck on her blood while all the old guys from town crowd around. She screams and runs away, knocking over the bass case which has the body of the mute girl with a slit throat.

She runs through the orchard and sees the tractor spraying pesticide. She follows it, calling for Woody. When she gets to it, she finds his bloodied corpse in the driver's seat.

She runs to the ferry and the ferry man has a deep scar on the side of his head and tells her the ferry isn't running for her. She gets into a boat and rows herself out onto the lake. A hand reaches up over the side of the boat and she hits the body of a man with a sharp hook, bloodying his back and killing him. He rolls over in the water and it's Duncan.

Abigail and the old men are watching from the shore, and we are back to the beginning where Jessica says:
I sit here and I can't believe that it happened. And yet I have to believe it. Nightmares or dreams. Madness or sanity. I don't know which is which.


Well, that was an interesting movie. It's understated in its horror but it leaves a lasting impression. We're left wondering if it really was all in her head, or if it really happened. I'm inclined on this first viewing to believe that it was in her head and she was responsible for the murders, but I might think otherwise on subsequent viewings. The vampire in the wedding dress was a creepy touch, carving up her victims rather than using the typical fang method of drawing blood. I'm not sure I understand the title, which led me to believe something altogether different was going on in this movie, but that may be the point. Things are not what they seem, and you have to pay attention to the finer details to try and ascertain what's going on. Is it all happening in her head, are the other three colluding to make her think it's happening, or is it really happening? This is a movie that requires some thought, and it's one I'd like to watch again.


John V said...

Christine, I'm a newer reader of your blog, but I'm quickly becoming an avid fan. Thanks for posting about "Jessica," which is one of my favorite fright films. Ironically, I wrote about it in my blog ( back in August. :) Keep up the great work!

Christine said...

Thank you for your kind comment, John V! I enjoyed reading your post on this film. This movie really gets under your skin, and I would also include it in my list of horror favorites. I am flattered you think my nascent blog is worthy of sharing on yours. It could use a spot of polish here and there, but hopefully it's coming along. Thanks for the encouragement!

John V said...

Anytime, Christine! I'm enjoying going through your posts and catching up on my reading, and you're doing a fantastic job! Love the "Season of Horror" insights on films like "Carnival of Souls" & "Incubus."