Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (DVD)

Let's Scare Jessica to Death review (click to see it bigger!)Starring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Mariclare Costello

Directed by John D. Hancock

Distributed by Paramount Home Video

When talk of a remake of this film came up a few years back, I remember reading a lot of people raving about how creepy the original was, many even going so far as to call it a classic. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I have to admit I really don’t see what the fuss is all about.

The story concerns Jessica (Lampert), who, along with her husband Duncan (Heyman) and their friend Woody (O’Connor), moves into an isolated farmhouse miles away from the nearest town as a way to get away from the manic life of New York City. Jessica has recently spent six months “getting help,” as they call it; in reality cooling her heels in a mental health facility.

Her state of mind is questionable, but her husband feels the time in the country will do her good. Before they ever reach the house, however, she starts seeing things, like a strange girl on a hilltop, and begins to wonder if she’s losing it all over again.

Upon moving in, they discover another girl (Costello) has been squatting there for an undetermined amount of time, or so she says, and then the trouble really begins. Not only is Jessica afraid she’s losing her mind again, now she’s also got to worry about those hungry looks that keep passing between this girl, Emily, and her husband. Dead bodies soon start to turn up, only to vanish shortly after Jessica finds them, and their newfound friend becomes creepier and creepier. It doesn’t help when they determine that their new home was once the residence of a girl who apparently drowned in the lake out back on her wedding day. And why is it that the girl in the old picture in the attic looks so much like their houseguest?

Her sanity dissolves, reality comes into question over and over, and eventually she’s left adrift, literally and figuratively, wondering what the difference is between sanity and madness.

My biggest problem with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is the very thing most people give it the most praise for: Jessica herself, Zohra Lampert. Never once did she come across to me as anything but batshit insane with her massive smile and wide, crazy eyes. She seemed on the verge of raving and rolling around in her own feces in almost every scene she was in. With a more believable actress in the lead, the film may have worked better for me, but Lampert never seemed like she was walking the steady line between normal and crazy; she seemed like a crazy person trying really hard to act normal.

Though I agree that the film does have a certain creep factor to it, especially the final scene, it’s really one of those movies, I think, that you need to see and be scared by when you’re young and go on to appreciate for the rest of your life. Seeing it now as an adult brought forth too many glaring issues with it that took me out of the movie more times than I would’ve liked.

On the DVD side we have another bang-up job from Paramount. The features on this include scene selections and … well, that’s actually it. I know fans have been waiting for this to come out on DVD for a long time, so for Paramount to just throw it on a disc with virtually no restoration work done on it (it honestly looks like a good quality VHS version most of the time) and zero extras, especially in this day and age when any film can get a 2-disc deluxe edition, only goes to show how much they care about their horror library. Someone needs to take their genre films away from them and give them the treatment so many other films are getting these days.

So all in all, a pretty disappointing journey. Though it was slow and creepy, it was almost too much of both, which led to an overall dull viewing experience. It doesn’t help that, despite being in the best format out there, the film still looks like crap though no amount of digital restoration would’ve fixed Zohra Lampert’s performance, so maybe it was doomed from the start.

Special Features
None to speak of

2 out of 5

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And for another point of view in full-color comic style, don’t miss
Rick Tremble’s take on the film in Motion Picture Purgatory!

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Johnny Butane