Ginger Nuts of Horror
There have been many great movies that have inspired me over the years in the genre of horror. I have to start with honorable mention of some titles that come to mind such as many of the Hammer Films, Argento's Demons, the original Night of the Demons, Kubrick's the Shining, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions, and 3 John Carpenter films: the Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness. Rob Zombie's movies are pretty rad too. Although I'm not a fan of his cartoon. I could mention many more films of this genre being a fan of horror movies since I was a kid. I've been enjoying them since before I should have been watching them. To me horror movies are pure escapism. I prefer the supernatural to the slasher flicks. I've chose one film in particular that had an enormous impact on me growing up.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death. This movie hit theatres in 1971. Directed by John D. Hanock and starring Zohra Lampert as Jessica. I didn't see it until 1987 when I was in the seventh grade. This was back in the days video rental stores still existed. My brother and I would enjoy browsing through VHS movies for about an hour selecting what movies to rent for the weekend. I was very skeptical of Let's Scare Jessica to Death and if memory serves it was our mother that picked it out. Maybe it was the title that turned me off initially. Whatever it was I wasn't entirely convinced I wanted to watch this movie.
I've been watching horror movies since before I can remember. There was no parental censorship of the films I watched. I don't know how this effected the development of my brain! Ha. I remember watching the 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers when I was like 5 and Donald Sutherland screeching in the last scene of the movie creeped me out even more than the dog with the head of a man. I saw the Exorcist when I was like 7 years old and that didn't freak me out as much as Let's Scare Jessica to Death.
Nothing I've ever watched in the horror movie genre has ever effected me so deeply, so psychologically, and been so profoundly inspiring. I sat down with pizza, soda, and buttery microwave popcorn as my brother stuck the VHS tape into the VCR completely unaware of what I was about to experience. It was late into the evening. Close to midnight. When the movie started I thought, “Oh, Gawd, this is going to be dumb.” The movie frightened me more than anything I'd ever seen before.
When the film was over I wasn't sure what I had just seen. I sat there in awe. Did I just watch a ghost story? Was it a vampire movie? Was it a movie about an insane woman? Was it a movie about people trying to drive Jessica insane? I couldn't tell you and still can't. This horror movie is a genuine work of art. It haunted me for days afterward. I couldn't sleep that night, when I did sleep I had nightmares of the movie. At school I daydreamed about the movie. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT MOVIE!
This movie was filmed with just a hint of dreaminess and surrealism to make it that much more believable, confusing, and unsettling. To make it disturbing. How has this film effected my story telling? It's caused me to enjoy writing stories like that, some times, not always, where you're not quite sure what just happened. I don't always write like that but it's a definite influence. Makes me wonder if David Lynch was ever influenced by Let's Scare Jessica to Death.
There is a beautiful red haired woman (a scarlet woman?) in this movie. Her character attracted me and frightened me at the same time. The images of her were ethereal. I didn't know if she was a ghost, a vampire, a mad woman, or a conspirator. A mute blonde woman appears at times as well. The atmosphere of this film was amazing. It has a sense of history and realism. Realism in fiction always adds to it's shock and awe. When the movie was over I wasn't even sure if anyone had been killed or died in the movie or not.
If you are a fan of the horror genre or appreciate the history of cinema or film as art then I strongly recommend this film. If you want classic, low budget eeriness that doesn't exist in modern horror films, this is a movie for you. I mean it when I say they don't make movies like this anymore. That is a tragedy. It is gothic and poetic. The whispers strike something in the subconscious. There is sexual element difficult to pinpoint. The subtly of the film is one of it's strongest attributes. What is real? It is a thriller and a triumph and underrated by Rotten Tomatoes.
Let's Scare Jessica to Death is on my list of one of the greatest films of all time. If I had a list of the top 100 movies of all time. Maybe I should do that. While writing this I found a fan site entirely dedicated to this movie, so I know I'm not the only one moved by it. The site claims the movie uses Jessica as a metaphor of the moral and mental ills of the 1970s. I am a child of the 70s.
This movie directly inspired me when writing the short story Dampir in the book Woke By Thunder published by Night Horse Publishing House. The Dampir in this tale is very much an amalgam of the haunting women from Let's Scare Jessica to Death.
I leave you with the final words of the film itself:
"I sit here, and I can't believe that it happened and yet I have to believe it. Nightmares or dreams? Madness or sanity? I don't know which is which."