Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. 1971. USA. Directed by John Hancock. Screenplay by Hancock, Lee Kalcheim. With Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor, Gretchen Corbett, Mariclare Costello. 35mm. 89 min.
After being released from a mental ward, Jessica heads out to a small country town with her husband and friends to recuperate. But, as ever in horror films, the perceived sanctuary of the countryside is a mirage. When Jessica starts seeing strange visions, such as a mysterious woman in their home, her companions tell her it’s nothing. But is it? Her paranoia builds throughout the film, as she feels an evil presence and we’re left wondering whether the horror she’s experiencing is real or Jessica is slipping back into delusion. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, the debut feature film from successful television and stage director John D. Hancock, has been a masterclass in the depiction of gaslighting for 50-plus years.