• Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: January 28th, 2020.
    Director: John D. Hancock
    Cast: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O'Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Alan Manson
    Year: 1971
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    Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – Movie Review:

    Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has recently been released from a mental hospital, where she was institutionalized after suffering a nervous breakdown, in to the care of her husband Duncan's (Barton Heyman). They head off together to a quiet area of rural Connecticut where it is expected that her recovery will continue until she’s back to her pre-breakdown self. Duncan has depleted his bank account and purchased an old, but impressive, old country farm home where he plans to harvest apples while Jessica gets the rest that she needs. Duncan’s best friend, Woody (Kevin O'Connor), is along for the ride.

    On the ride to their new home, Jessica spots a spectral woman dressed all in white (Gretchen Corbett). Was it a ghost or a figment of her fractured psyche? The locals in the small Connecticut town they now live in are less than welcoming, which adds to the pressure that the couple feels upon relocating. Regardless, they try to make the best of their situation. Jessica starts to wonder if she isn’t as well as she’d hoped when she sees a young woman in their home. As it turns out, what she thought might be a hallucination is in fact a real flesh and blood woman named Emily (Mariclare Costello). She’s been squatting in the previously empty house for some time. Jessica takes pity on the poor woman and invites her to have dinner with she and Duncan and spend the night at the home. When Jessica starts to feel that her husband is attracted to the pretty, younger girl, tension arises but this doesn’t stop them from allowing Emily, who is becoming increasingly flirtatious with Duncan, to stay as long as she feels she needs to.

    Jessica, however, is starting to unravel as the truth about Emily’s presence makes itself known and events surrounding the young woman get weirder and weirder.

    A fantastic exercise in deliberate pacing and atmosphere, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is almost entirely devoid of the typical jump scares and bloodshed most expect from horror pictures. If the first half of the film is a little on the slow side, it’s completely worth sticking with it for the second half. As Jessica’s mental state becomes more and more questionable, the film does an excellent job of keeping us guessing as to what is real and what is imagined without ever making it feel like a gimmick. The script, co-written by director John D. Hancock (as Ralph Rose) and Lee Kalcheim (as Norman Jonas), is intelligent and unique and the direction quite solid. The score from Orville Stoeber works remarkably well in the context of the story being told, while the cinematography from Robert M. Baldwin does a wonderful job of capturing the unique look of the Connecticut locations featured in the picture.

    As to the performances, Barton Heyman and Kevin O'Connor are quite good here, believable enough in their respective roles. Mariclare Costello is great as the picture’s foil, alluring and intriguing in appearance while also doing a great job with the line delivery. However, Zohra Lampert, who has had a decent career on stage and screen over the years, steals the show. She’s perfect as Jessica, able to portray a realistic sense of confusion and convincing in the way that she brings her character’s obfuscation to life.

    Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – Blu-ray Review:

    Let’s Scare Jessica To Death arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The feature takes up just over 27GBs of space and is given a pretty strong bit rate. The transfer is, in a word, excellent. Detail is seriously advanced over the old DVD release and colors look nice and natural throughout, those autumnal hues in the trees and leaves really looking great here. Skin tones look perfect, black levels are nice and deep and there’s a lot of depth and texture here. The image is also almost shockingly pristine, showing the expected amount of film grain, as it should, but no noticeable print damage at all. There are no obvious issues with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and all in all, this is a beautiful, filmic transfer that should certainly please the film’s fans.

    Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix, in English, and it sounds fine. Subtitles are provided in English. No problems to note here at all, the track sounds nice and clean. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the score has pretty solid presence to it. Range is limited by the source material, of course, but there’s more depth here than you might expect there to be. No problems to note with any hiss or distortion at all and the levels are always nicely balanced.

    Extras start off with an all new audio commentary with Director John Hancock and Producer Bill Badalato. Hancock leads the conversation, which is a fairly scene specific talk about the making of the film. They start by noting how the opening narration was added in post, how Hancock worked in his father’s bass in place of a coffin, how they got producer Charlie Moss to agree to allow them to use blood in the opening titles and some of the themes that the movie dabbles with. They talk about the Moog effects used on the score, the casting of Zohra Lampert (who Hancock notes he dated at one point with ‘no success’), the deliberate rhythm and pace of the film, how Badalato put an end to some on-set gossip regarding Hancock, how some of the locations used in the film were secured for the shoot, how this picture went quite well compared to other projects that they’d work on in the future, the psychological aspects of the storyline, how in the modern day the seduction aspect of the attic scene would be played stronger than it could have been back in 1971, how the scene in the lake scared Hancock as he was writing it and lots, lots more. These guys are clearly having a good time strolling down memory lane here and while there is a little bit of dead air here and there, for the most part this is quite an engaging commentary that does a nice job of explaining the film’s backstory.

    From there, we get the first of three new featurettes in the form of Art Saved My Life – An Interview With Composer Orville Stoeber that runs sixteen-minutes. In this piece, Stoeber speaks about growing up as an ‘army brat’ but how music was always in his family. He then speaks about living in France for a while and how that affected him and how he feels he channeled the horrors of WWI and WII into music composed for Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. He also speaks about different influences that worked their way into his work, some of which came from music he heard as a kid, the influence of his different family members, moving from Nebraska to New York to get into the music business, how he got to know John Hancock and what he was like to work with, his composing process and his thoughts on the film overall.

    Up next is Scare Tactics: Reflections On A Seventies Horror Classic, which is an interview with Author/Film Historian Kim Newman that runs just under twenty-four-minutes in length. Here Newman, who notes that Let’s Scare Jessica To Death is his favorite horror movie, explains how seeing the picture at a formative time made a big impact on him in a lot of different ways. Interviewed in a vest and tie (his trademark look!) in front of a stack of CDs and books, Newman talks about British theater going in the seventies and the impact that the UK’s ratings system had on teenage viewers in the seventies, how this picture was so different than the British horror pictures he’d seen growing up (the Hammer films in particular), the film’s place in the post-Psycho thrillers that came out after Hitchcock’s picture, the way in which the film deals with madness and paranoia, the way that the film uses a female protagonist in a unique way, how the film is as much an art movie as a horror picture, the film’s deliberate pacing, the frightening imagery in the picture, other pictures that Hancock has gone on to direct, the quality of the cast in the film and more. Newman is always a lot of fun to listen to, an entertaining and insightful commentator, and this piece is no exception.

    The third and final featurette is She Walks These Hills – The Film’s Locations Then And Now. Here, over the span of seven-minutes, we get 1971-era and modern day footage of First Church Cemetery in East Haddam, CT and check out the 'Venture Smith' gravestone used in the opening. We also see the Hadlyme Ferry in Chester CT., the Pattaconk Reservoir in Chester CT and the Bishop House in Saybrook, CT (which is sadly now mostly in ruins). We also visit the intersection of Main and Maple in Chester, CT where, in the movie, the hearse stops near the paint store. It’s neat stuff, especially if you’ve got an interest in film locations.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a vintage TV Spot, a vintage radio spot, a nice still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory has done an excellent job bringing the eerie and effective Let’s Scare Jessica To Death to Blu-ray. The presentation is excellent, this transfer really shines, and the extras are both plentiful and genuinely interesting. This release offers a substantial upgrade over the past DVD release. Fans of offbeat and atmospheric seventies horror should consider this one essential!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Raf A.'s Avatar
      Raf A. -
      "The image is also almost shockingly pristine, showing the expected amount of film grain, as it should, but no noticeable print damage at all. There are no issues with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and all in all, this is a beautiful, filmic transfer that should certainly please the film’s fans."

      This must be a joke, right? All I see is horrible compression and DNR. Shit Factory at its best again.
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Fun fact: The band Pigface sampled dialogue from this in their song "I'm Still Alive".
    1. Scott's Avatar
      Scott -
      Quote Originally Posted by Matt H. View Post
      Fun fact: The band Pigface sampled dialogue from this in their song "I'm Still Alive".

      I had the Washingmachine Mouth cassette. I had no idea that's where that sample is from!