Last night I had the fantastic pleasure of seeing horror film ‘Lets Scare Jessica To Death’ at the BFI Southbank with an introduction beforehand by film critics Kim Newman and Mark Kermode. ‘Lets Scare Jessica To Death’ is a film that I’ve been aware of for many years, mainly in passing reference in books and magazines, but has always eluded me. Memorable to me because of its unforgettable title, I jumped at the chance to see it when I found out that the BFI were doing a screening. The film, which was released in 1971, has rarely been screened in cinemas or shown on television and the print that the BFI had acquired was brilliant, with an added pink tinge to the celluloid.
The picture is a great low-budget horror charm from the 1970s and well worth a watch. Lead character Jessica has recently left an institution and her, her husband and a friend have relocated to the countryside to start over. Once they get to the farm they’ve purchased they discover that another girl, Emily, has been living there. And then things start to go down hill…
The stand out of the film was the impressive performance by Zohra Lampert playing Jessica. Her mental decline is slow and believable, starting off with her self reassurance that she really is okay and that she’s just ‘seeing things’. As the film progresses, her state of mind gets gradually worse, the paranoia and anxiety she feels increasing until the crescendo of the films last fifteen minutes. A very understated but memorable portrayal of mental illness, Lampert’s acting never strays to over the top parody or clichés but instead stays very grounded. You really do get the sense that Jessica wants so badly to be ‘better’ and suffers some inner turmoil when she realises that she might be relapsing. On a completely superficial note Lampert is strikingly beautiful, her looks and tiny frame adding an extra ounce of fragility to her character.
I don’t want to write anymore having viewed the film with no knowledge of plot myself. Needless to say, it is a fantastic watch and worth searching out. The picture reminded me of a cross between Carnival of Souls and Black Swan with an added touch of George Romero’s Martin in terms of whether or not the narrative is happening in reality or Jessica’s mind. Any fan of those, general horror or the films of the 1970s will, no doubt, enjoy it as much as I did.