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posted: 10/12/2017 6:00 AM

'Death' director John D. Hancock scared himself writing movie

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  • Video: "Let's Scare Jessica' Trailer

  • Jessica (Zohra Lampert) and Duncan (Barton Heyman) make a chilling discovery in John D. Hancock's 1971 horror tale "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," one of many films at "The Massacre" festival at the Patio Theater.

    Jessica (Zohra Lampert) and Duncan (Barton Heyman) make a chilling discovery in John D. Hancock's 1971 horror tale "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," one of many films at "The Massacre" festival at the Patio Theater.

 
 

"Let's Scare Jessica to Death," cited as one of the 100 all-time scariest movies by the Chicago Film Critics Association, will be shown as part of "The Massacre," 24 hours of "horror movie insanity" starting at noon on Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago.

I called up writer/director John D. Hancock on his farm outside of La Porte, Indiana, to ask him how he created the 1971 tale of a released mental patient (Zohra Lampert) who begins to experience strange things, but keeps silent for fear she might wind up back in an institution.

"I scared myself writing it," Hancock admitted. He cited Robert Wise's 1963 release "The Haunting" as a key influence.

He also drew inspiration from Henry James' classic child possession novel "The Turn of the Screw." ("You don't know if it's just in the lady's head or not.")

Before shooting "Jessica," Hancock rented a 16 mm. film projector and watched Alfred Hitchcock films again and again. ("I had never made a feature film before and I was trying to learn how to do it.")

"Let's Scare Jessica To Death" was titled "It Drinks Hippie Blood" when Hancock received the original screenplay, which he described as "a parody of a scary movie."

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) can't tell reality from illusion in John D. Hancock's 1971 horror tale "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," one of many films at "The Massacre" festival at the Patio Theater.
Jessica (Zohra Lampert) can't tell reality from illusion in John D. Hancock's 1971 horror tale "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," one of many films at "The Massacre" festival at the Patio Theater. -

I asked Hancock, director of the sports classic "Bang the Drum Slowly" and the family holiday standard "Prancer," about being fired as director on the 1978 sequel "Jaws 2." What if he had directed it?

"I think it would have been a much better picture," he replied. "It would have been scarier and had more integrity."

Have his directing skills improved since scaring Jessica to death?

"Well, I thought I was pretty good when I started," he said. "I've certainly gotten better at dealing with people. I've developed the ability to withstand anything."

You can see Hancock, "Sleepaway Camp" horror star Felissa Rose, plus 14 movies at "The Massacre." Tickets are $25 day-of purchase, but $20 online at brownpapertickets.com/event3019715.

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out! Follow him on Twitter at @DannGireDHfilm.

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