Back in the 1970s, this little movie called Let’s Scare Jessica to Death was one of many scary films I’d watch on television with my mother and brothers. Although I hadn’t seen it since the 70s, I remembered two things very clearly about it. First, it is one of those films that leaves you scratching your head because it’s purposely vague in its conclusion. The other is that there is ONE scene involving a chick in a white dress rising out of the water that used to freak me out as a kid.
The first thing I realize upon rewatching this 1971 film as an adult is that kids back then must have been a lot more attentive, because this movie stuck with me, and yet, it’s a typical 70s slow burner where nothing major really happens until the last half hour, including that scene that scarred me for life. However, attentive kid or not, it’s still easier to understand the plot as an adult.
It seems Jessica was in a loony bin for a while, and now she, her husband, and their good friend are going to live in an old house in a quiet town so she can “rest.” In usual 70s fashion, this film is kind of trippy. It begins at the end, with Jessica sitting in a boat on a lake, narrating in her mind. The scene seems like definite inspiration for the final scene in the original Friday the 13th.
Next, we’re taken back to when the weirdness begins, with the trio mentioned above driving to their new home town—in a hearse, their only means of transportation. On their way, they stop at a cemetery so Jessica can capture tombstone art on pieces of tracing paper. Apparently, it’s a hobby for this nut job who is grieving the loss of her father about a year ago; it’s a hobby her husband allows her to pursue. Jessica sees a mysterious girl in white in the cemetery, but the girl disappears and Jessica (whose head we are usually in as she talks to herself to assure herself she’s not crazy) is afraid she’s still having whatever kind of episodes got her committed in the first place.
When the trio gets to the new house, they discover some free-spirited, homeless flower child hippie chick has been camping out in the abandoned house that the trio now owns. She seems nice, so they ask her to stay—and she soon suggests having a séance!
Once again, Jessica’s husband lets his crazy, grieving wife participate! And so the creepy fun begins. Is Jessica seeing things and hearing voices? Is their new female houseguest evil, or perhaps even a ghost? Why are the only people in town elderly men, all of whom have mysterious bandages on one part of their body or another?
Is Jessica’s husband part of some cultish plan to “scare Jessica to death”? Don’t expect to have any of those questions answered if you watch this atmospheric chiller.