Wednesday, January 19, 2011
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971)
Wednesday, January 19, 2010
6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Claudia Cassidy Theater
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington Street, Chicago
ADMISSION IS FREE
WildClaw's Dr. AC, Aaron Christensen, weighs in:
This brilliant low-budget psychological chiller combines elements of ghosts, vampires and zombies, yet manages to find it’s own uniquely eerie voice. Following her release from an institution, emotionally sensitive Jessica (Zohra Lampert) leaves NYC with her husband and their like-minded hippie friend to find peace and quiet working an apple orchard in Connecticut. But when they encounter a strange, beautiful squatter residing in the farmhouse, Jessica’s unstable world begins to crumble; and like our heroine, the viewer is never sure what is reality or nightmare.
Director John Hancock allows us to enter Jessica’s fragile mind through effective use of self-doubting voice-over (“Don’t tell them, they won’t believe you.”) as well as an ongoing chorus of entreating, berating, and haunting inner voices. Lampert offers a gutsy, raw, heartbreaking performance as a woman fighting fiercely for her sanity. Barton Heywood is also quite good as her husband, sincere and loving while deeply frustrated by Jessica’s deteriorating mental state. As their compatriot, Kevin O’Connor provides a warm, steadfast presence, with Mariclare Costello capturing just the right tone as the mysterious, sexy stranger that forever changes their lives.
The evocative score by Orville Stoeber and Walter Sear remains one of the best of the early '70s, augmenting Hancock’s unsettling atmosphere. The film boasts a wealth of subtle, memorable sequences, with surprises around every corner.
Rather than trying to shock or startle, Jessica insinuates on a deeper level, creating a spell that lingers without flashy effects or gore. An underrated gem, deserving of multiple viewings.