Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) Review

lets scare jessica to death poster

Growing up in Detroit in the 1980s, the Saturday afternoon horror movie was a tradition thanks to the Thriller Double Feature on Channel 20 where rare old movies were pretty much a staple.  While many were forgettable (and probably gathered from the public domain), there were a few that managed to stay with me well into adulthood. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is one such movie.

Jessica (played by the marvelous Zohra Lampert) is fresh out of a mental institution and ready to start a new life with her husband and their best friend in a small town.  Although it quickly becomes apparent that Jessica’s demons are still very much with her as she is prone to hearing whispering voices in her head, and has an odd hobby of copying grave markers.

Upon moving into their new home, the trio discover Emily (Mariclare Costello), a hippie squatter who they befriend and who they eventually invite to stay with them for the time being.  But there’s more to the mysterious red-headed stranger than meets the eye. Is she just down on her luck?  Or is she something worse?  And why do all those townsfolk, comprised only of men, seem to have various parts of their bodies bandaged?

Let’s Scare Jessica is not a movie that will appeal to everyone.  Those looking for shock, gore and quick-paced editing won’t find it here. What the movie does have, however, is a great sense of atmosphere and growing unease.  We’re never quite certain – is this all coming from Jessica’s feverish imagination, or are there more sinister doings afoot?  And as the plot unfolds, it’s easy to empathize more with Jessica and what she’s going through.  In fact, this is one of those movies where the main character is someone you really care about – rare in today’s movies.


As mentioned before, the film has a few memorable scenes that just seem to stick with you.  For example a scene where Emily goes under water in a swimsuit and comes out in a wedding gown, while inviting Jessica to come to her, is one of the creepiest moments I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

The ending is one that you won’t soon forget and combines an overall dreaminess with a side of creepy that only 70s movies seem to get right. It’s also nice to see adults as the main characters in a genre where teenage kids are pretty much the norm. Is it perfect? Nah.  The title is goofy, some of the scenes seem somewhat silly, and the pacing is definitely slow.  Also the film is a bit dated with its 70s graininess, clothing and overall hairiness.  But despite its flaws, you could do much worse on a Saturday afternoon.

Rating:  7 out of 10

About the Author

Cheryl doubts that anybody could scare her to death but all are certainly welcome to try. Hit her up on Twitter at @FeralCherylZ

12 thoughts on “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) Review

  1. This one is a personal favorite of mine as well. I love the title, the poster, and the movie. You hit the nail on the head with the sense growing unease. That’s the best part of the movie. The whispers are unnerving as well.

  2. I remember these kinds of movies. I’m of the generation that saw Huhh, Hush, Sweet Charlotte and How Awful About Alan. A genre of its generation.

  3. I grew up in the 70s near Detroit (Ferndale/Hazel Park area). I remember this from primetime viewings. It’s one of my favorites from the era, along with The Other and Burnt Offerings. I have no problem with its pacing and all the other trappings of the 70s. But, I love that decade like any child of it would. I think I would rate it one more point, bringing it up to 8/10. I own a copy of the DVD. This review makes my want to watch it again.

  4. I just watched this the other night. Kind of cool finding this shortly after. I hadn’t seen it since the 70’s and I agree, it held up fairly well. Great review.

  5. I agree, this is an overlooked and interesting little horror film, anchored by Zohra Lampert’s terrific performance (a shame she wasn’t noticed; she should have had a bigger career). The film is atmospheric and creepy and the ‘monster’ character is unusual, being an unglamorous and apparently unthreatening hippie; she’s not obvious as the villain. In spite of its somewhat amateurish look, this is a film awaiting rediscovery.

  6. I agree. This is one of my big favorites from the 70’s. I watched a lot of 70’s Horror movies in the 80’s on VHS or on TV much later. I distinctly remember watching this one along with Don’t Look in the Basement, Deathdream and How Awful About Alan. Will you be doing reviews for those soon?

  7. Deathdream was good but I didn’t enjoy it as much as this movie. Never saw the other two. Maybe one of the other writers has seen them or will review them. Thanks for the tips! I’m always on the lookout for new old movies. 🙂

  8. I think everyone’s already posted what I would say, but thanks for such a thoughtful review of what sounds like a delightful movie. It will be so refreshing to return to that slow build of unease amidst a mindfrack of a movie, when you don’t know if it’s actually real. That the protagonists are adults is just a nice icing on the cake. Thanks!

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