“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” — Edgar Allan Poe
As quoted in W. Scott Poole professor of history at Charleston South Carolina University’s remarkable book Monsters In America he opens his chapter MONSTROUS BEGINNINGS with “There are terrible creatures, ghosts, in the very air of America.” -D.H. Lawrence
Taken from his chapter The Bloody Chords of Memory, which I think is very appropriate for this discussion, Poole states that, “it would be too simplistic to view monster tales as simple narratives in service of American violence. The monster is a many-headed creature, and narratives about it in America are highly complex. Richard Kearney describes the appearance of a monster in a narrative, in a dream, or in sensory experience ‘as a signal of borderline experiences and unattainable excess.’
In 1971 two films were released with a sort of queasy verisimilitude, using a monochromatic color scheme and protracted themes of insanity, fanaticism and self-annihilation. One drawing more of its flicker from the time of cult murders by religious fanatics, and an anti-establishment repudiation reflected in the cult fringe film. The Night God Screamed utilizes as its anti-hero the motorcycle gang who hates ‘citizenship’ and phony institutionalized prophets. These outliers are dirty, rebelliously dangerous hippies, who are hyped up and deluded into following a charismatic cult leader, a Neanderthal named Billy Joe Harlan performed with a Shakespearean griminess by Michael Sugich.
He’s quite a Mansonesque figure with his malefic unibrow. This offering aptly called The Night God Screamed, even boasts a scene where the cult actually crucifies the clean-cut minister Willis, a man of the tradition gospel played by Alex Nicol. They essentially nail him to his own pridefully giant wooden phallic cross. Leaving his wife Fanny (Jeanne Crain) to scramble in the darkened halls, conflicted as to whether to try and help her husband or save herself from the cult’s ferocious blood lust, driving her into a numb moral and cognitive stasis of unresponsiveness, reason, and human connection. I will talk about this film in Part II.
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) is a film that hints at a post-modern Americana Gothicism permeated by a rustic folksy style of vampirism, with its small town coteries, paranoia, and the archetypal hysterical woman in a sustained level of distress and adrift on a sea of inner monologues and miasma of fear. I’ll begin in Part I with my much-loved classic horror…
“Leave your insanity at the door.”
Let’s Scare Jessica To Death 1971, is not only the far better film but probably unintentionally the more iconic 70s trope for what was so extraordinary about the special clutch of horror films that were birthed in the 70s epoch.