31 Days of Horror: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Me being me, if you told me you had a movie about Connecticut vampires, I’d think you were about to show me the story of the Great New England Vampire Panic. That’s just who I am. Instead, I get a movie about white flight, back to the land commune life, and the fragile sanity of the titular woman. The story of Mercy Brown, this is not.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) is the tale of Jessica and her husband, Duncan, who, along with their friend Woody, decide to put New York City behind them for a life of apple farming on an old Connecticut orchard. Jessica has been institutionalized for the previous six months and the escape to calm country living will hopefully do her well. Jessica, Duncan, and Woody are quirky; these personality traits demonstrated by the fact they drive an old hearse instead of a station wagon and that Jessica has a love for doing grave rubbings. In fact, while doing one, she glimpses a young woman dressed in white, who swiftly vanishes from sight in the cemetery. This leaves Jessica questioning her own delicate sanity, laying the groundwork for a theme that runs throughout the film.

Upon reaching the farm, the trio discovers it’s not empty. Emily, a young drifter, is squatting in the house and, although they initially intend to evict her (after she stays for dinner, of course), they soon open up their home to her in communal fashion. Like a lot of communes, this turns out to be a poor idea for several reasons.

When Jessica and Duncan bring some old antiques they find to a secondhand dealer, they learn they’re in the “Old Bishop Place,” where tragedy struck years ago. The Bishop’s daughter, Abigail, drowned in the lake by the house before she could be married and legend has it that she still roams the area as a vampire or a ghost. It’s about this time we start noticing that all the very unfriendly locals sport a lot of bandages for some reason…

Before too long, Jessica observes that Emily and Duncan are getting a little too friendly, that the photograph of the Abigail Bishop has an unsettling resemblance to Emily, and that people start turning up dead around them. Is this her madness creeping back in or is there something more supernatural at play here?

I wanted to like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death more, but it was a tough go. Zhora Lampert, who plays Jessica, is not the strongest actress to hang the role of protagonist on. Or maybe it’s just that the script wasn’t meaty enough for her to work with. The locals are all clearly that, and there’s nothing less terrifying than a seventy year old man in a VFW windbreaker as one of your sinister vampire minions. The fact that Woody shares an unfortunate resemblance to Ron Jeremy doesn’t help the movie much either.

I’ve read that Stephen King loves this film and that some scholars compare it to Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I can’t say anything is Steve’s defense, but I can say I’d rather reread Carmilla. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death isn’t particularly bad, but it’s neither particularly good in my opinion either. And for a vampire film, there’s a stunning lack of vampire tropes. All in all, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death earns a modest two skulls out of five, making it an average 31 Days of Horror movie.

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