PG-13...kind of. 1971 didn't have the same rating scale that we have today. But Paramount+ rated this PG-13 and that's good enough for me. There's some blood and people die, but it is a pretty tame horror movie. There's some implied off-screen sexuality, both marital and extramarital. But this is an incredibly tame, almost to the point of boring, horror movie.
DIRECTOR: John D. Hancock
Okay, I'm pretty sure that they forgot to film the important parts of the movie, but really got coverage on the unnecessary stuff. That's my entire take. I'm going to drone on and on about this fundamental concept. Like, so much. I think I got angry watching this movie. When I found out that this movie was only "meh" and oddly has a cult following, I thought that made sense. I don't know how my brain worked picking this movie. I can take a guess. The title is sick. The aesthetics of the era are just perfect. That title card? Perfection. But in terms of making a movie, what happened?
I mean, I read the Wikipedia page. I had to know the behind of the scenes of this movie. According to the Wikipedia page, this originally was meant to be a spoof of a horror movie starring a bunch of hippies. When John D. Hancock got on board, he restructered it into being a traditional horror movie and, even though the product is not good, I kind of get it. I'm going to be throwing around the word "insufferable" a lot. Please, get used to it. The irony of this is that I will probably get insufferable in the process of describing this movie. I'm aware and I'm just wearing it proudly. The notion of a horror hippie comedy sounds pretty insufferable. Do you know why I think this? It's because the characters being toned down for the sake of this movie are already insufferable. It's really weird. I really love the Woodstock documentary. (Note: Weebly's getting really crashy, so if this becomes disjointed...there's a reason.) I love the Woodstock documentary and its celebration of a culture of peace, love, rock 'n roll, and burning down the establishment. It's my favorite. I even like hippie movies. I want to preach the BBS films and their raucous look at hippie culture. But man alive, these characters are too much.
I don't know what makes the characters in this story too much. I think it is the complete lack of functionality that they have as people. Jessica is not mentally well. That's part of the story and it's actually part of the story that I really liked. It makes the whole notion of "Is something going on?" far more of an issue than it would be fore most characters. But Duncan was part of the philharmonic. He has a very specific skill that is tied to urban centers. The fact that they got rid of all of their money to sink into this house, a house that doesn't seem like they explored or researched at all, is silly. Their goal to get money? Find something around the house to sell. Now, because this is a a movie and movies are allowed to make their own logic, they find an antique dealer (despite not getting help from the town) and that antique dealer stresses that he's struggling compared to when he was working in New York. Still, he's excited to buy a bunch of stuff from them. The only thing that I really bought is that he lowballed them. That's it. But these people shouldn't be able to survive on a farm. None of them are farmers. They have to plant and wait for harvest to get any kind of income. What is their plan? The town hates them. Who is going to buy their unwanted hippie apples?
Now, for a while, I thought that Boomers were the worst generation (I'm basing this all on the Trumpians who have been giving me nightmares for a while.) Before you start spouting off, some of my favorite people are Boomers. But Boomers, as a generation, have been kind of dangerous people. Ironically, they are the same hippies that I've been revering at Woodstock, so who am I to comment on anything? But Let's Scare Jessica to Death argues against the notion that Boomers are terrible. It's apparently just older generations. (Again, not my read. This is Let's Scare Jessica to Death.) For a chunk of the movie, the major threat to the hippie heroes are the townspeople, comprised entirely of grumpy old men who are honestly filmed like they're Cobra Kai. They make a point of walking up and intimidating people. (I mean, post-Trump, all this scans.) They defile the hearse / ambulance and take the "Love" off the side of the car. Maybe old people, when given free reign and something to hate, become unruly and terrible people. That part could be cool if...
...ANYTHING IN THIS MOVIE MADE SENSE! We get nothing. Nothing. We get this little tease that there might be a ghost haunting the house and the lake. That is a potential answer to why things are happening. It's implied that Emily is Abigail, the girl who drowned at the beginning. But then why is she acting so normal for a lot of the movie. The title is Let's Scare Jessica to Death, implying that there was some malice and forethought to take a mentally ill person and have her die of natural causes. Okay, if I take the title of the movie into play, that ghost story is just part of Emily's plan to drive her insane. The town is in on it. So is her husband. The only person who is not in on it is Woody, who dies a horrible death because he wants nothing to do with torturing Jessica. He even called Duncan out, telling him to take care of his wife. But then, why? Emily was there as a plant. She was always meant to be found by Jessica and she was supposed to be planting seeds of distrust. But then, the old people all have scars on their bodies, implying something. Then Duncan has the scar, as does the boatman? What are the scars? We didn't talk about scars. Can anyone be turned into one of these killer people? Are they trying to turn Jessica into one of them? Nothing makes any sense.
And it's not like the movie didn't have the space to tell a compellng story. The movie almost wastes time in the film. Jessica has lots of thoughts on the farm and making friends with Emily. Boy, a lot of the movie is dedicated to determining whether or not Emily should stay or not. And then there's the mute girl. The mute girl is eerie and meant to be a bit of a red herring. We find out that the mute girl may be one of the few moral characters in the story. You think that she's the ghost of Abigail, but really, she's there to warn Jessica. I know that because Jessica's thoughts are screaming throughout the movie, including, "She was just trying to warn me". But about what? Why is that girl mute? Who is she? What was she trying to warn her about? Injury people? There's so much left to just be filler. Are people always evil in this movie or are they changed? They mention that Abigail was thought to be a vampire, but all those injuries are not bite marks. They're just...injuries.
I'm about to rail big on something dumb. If this was a back-and-forth conversation, someone would tell me to get over it. But I'm paying for domain space, so I can go off on this as much as I want and who is going to stop me? That's not a mole. Nope. There's a cerain degree of pretend that this movie has, like when my friends and I were making student projects in high school. We didn't have a prop, so we would pretend that stupid things were props. But one of Jessica's happiest moments is when she finds a mole. Jessica is insufferable. I don't know who would get excited to find mole. While kind of cute, they are horribly ugly in the face. But do you know what Jessica actually found? A mouse. Maybe Hancock knew that the original print of the movie would be blurry enough to pretend that a mole was a mouse. But that is definitely a mouse. And if all you could find was a mouse, why not just change the line to "a mouse" instead of "a mole"? Maybe they filmed later scenes where you couldn't see the mouse and then had to settle for a mouse instead of a mole? But that seems pretty dumb continuity wise. A lot of the movie goes out of its way to not show a mole.
The thing is...there's potential for something genius here. I want to talk about how people don't listen to women about mental illness. I want to talk about how a group of people were marginalized because the winds of politics had shifted. I know that I'm putting elevated genre storytelling on an era that infamously just created exploitative entertainment. But the building blocks of great storytelling were there. It just felt like this movie gave up on the fundamentals in exchange for an atmosphere that honestly wasn't that effective. I don't know why I thought that this was a classic. Shy of a few moments, this movie does nothing right. It's so bad, guys. It's so bad.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.