Thursday, 14 May 2020

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Dir: John Hancock. Cast: Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Mariclare Costello, Kevin O’Connor, Gretchen Corbett. 1971.

This movie is about being haunted. Thing is, it will also haunt you. If you let it. 

That’s what it did/does to me. I saw it on, I believe, the ABC Movie of the Week, back in the 70’s when I was a kid. I liked this movie. A few years later, I revisited it on VHS, and I liked it even more. Then I picked up the DVD and I began to love it. Now, I have the blu-ray…

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is built around an astounding performance from Zohra Lampert. She’s Jessica, recently released from a mental hospital, and moving with her husband, played by Barton Heyman (Dr, Klein in The Exorcist), and their friend Woody (O’Connor) to an apple farm in rural New York State. It will be good for Jessica. 

Arriving in the community, the trio stops at a cemetery so that Jessica can take rubbings from tombstones. They also discover that the locals don’t like hippie types moving into their neck of the woods. It’s against this background of barely sustained sanity, graveyard mementos, and outsider status that Emily (Costello) enters the picture and changes the delicate dynamic amongst the three newcomers. 

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is the kind of movie that can get under your skin, deeply, but only if you’re willing. Its characters, atmosphere and ambiguity are key to its success. If that sounds dull to you, chances are you won’t connect with this flick. For me, this is a movie that has followed me for years. I truly love it. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls

Dir: Erle C. Kenton. Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Katheleen Burke. 1932.

I can only recall twice considering something obscene because its uncanniness nauseated me. The first was while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, specifically while Stoker describes the count scaling the exterior walls of Castle Dracula with his bare hands. It struck me as so wrong that it turned my stomach. 

Spoilers follow.

The second time was while watching the classic pre-code horror movie Island of Lost Souls. Here, Dr. Moreau is all too anxious to see what happens when a man mates with a woman who is for all intents and purposes a panther. That made me feel more than a little queasy too, especially as it plays out here. 

Key to the movie’s lurid success are the performances of Charles Laughton as Moreau (so leering, so perverted) and Kathleen Burke as Lota, “the Panther Woman” (so catlike, so needing of affection). Also adding to the so-wrong-it’s-right atmosphere is the village of Moreau’s failed experiments, half-animal, half-men grotesqueries, led by an unforgettable Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law. These unfortunates, stuck between their reality as animals and their nightmares as humans, fear The House of Pain, where they are tortured, experimented upon, but mostly die. 

H.G. Wells was reportedly outraged by Paramount Studios’ adaptation of his novel, but it’s a classic that demands to take its place along with the great films of the era.