Pyewacket, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Wake in Fright, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Horror Bulletin Reviews for Week 165
This week, we’ll watch a wild collection of mostly-classic films, starting with THREE films from 1971, “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death,” “Wake in Fright,” and “The Blood on Satan’s Claw.” Then we’ll watch a short film and finish up with 2017’s “Pyewacket.” Scary stuff!
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where this week, we cover”
“Assignment: Terror” from 1970
“Orgy of the Dead” from 1965
Next week, we’ll be back with a little less screaming!
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Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
Directed by John D. Hancock
Written by John D. Hancock, Lee Kalcheim, Sheridan Le Fanu
Stars Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Kevin O’Connor
Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a slow build that really gets interesting as it goes along. Something seems to be out to get Jessica. Or is it? It’s a movie that lets the audience kind of come to their own conclusion.
We start with a man loading a coffin into a Hearse. Credits roll.
Woody, Duncan, and Jessica get out of the Hearse. “For the first time in months, I’m free. Forget the doctors,” Jessica narrates. Duncan says the farm will be good for her after what she’s been through. She does a rubbing of a headstone and sees a strange woman who isn’t there after she looks away. “Don’t tell them, act normal,” she tells herself.
They take a ferry across a cove. The locals call them “damned hippies” for driving around in a Hearse. Finally, they arrive at a big old house on a farm. “Jessica why have you come here?” says the voice in the fog. There’s someone in the house, and all three of them go upstairs looking for the intruder. It’s a girl named Emily who thought the place was abandoned. Jesscia invites her to stay and spend the night, then they’ll drive her to town in the morning.
Emily pulls out her lute and starts to play during dinner. It’s a hippie thing. Duncan accompanies her on his cello. The voices in Jessica’s head continue, and we soon get the impression that Jessica’s not completely sane. Actually, she was just released from an institution, and this trip to the country is to help her recover.
Emily suggests they have a seance. Jessica hears more voices and gets upset. Is it ghosts? No one else hears anything, just Jessica. Later, Duncan and Jessica have sex while Woody and Emily get together downstairs.
The next day, they all go to wash in the lake (no running water in the farmhouse?). Jessica might be a little jealous of Emily, who has decided to stay. Jessica swims out into the lake and sees someone down under the water who calls to her. She freaks out. Later, Jessica worries that Duncan thinks she’s losing her mind again.
They spend the day searching the farm for things they might want to sell. Jessica and Duncan decide to invite Emily to stay with them for as long as she likes, which pleases both Woody and Emily immensely. Jessica buys some eggs while Duncan deals with an old man who hates hippies. This town isn’t very friendly to young people or strangers. Jessica notices that all the old men have some sort of bandage on.
They drive on and meet Sam, who owns an antique store. When Sam finds out they bought the old Bishop place, he tells them some of the stories about the people who died there. He does still offer them money for some of the antiques and an old photo. Abigail Bishop drowned there in the 1800s, and people say her ghost still roams the hills there; some even say she’s a vampire. They never found her body.
Jessica sees Abigail in the cemetery soon after. Jessica chases her to the lake, where she finds Sam the antique dealer’s bloody body. When she brings Duncan back, there’s no sign of anything. She swears she didn’t imagine it this time. They catch up to the girl, who is real, but she can’t speak.
Dinner that night is awkward, as Jessica argues with herself inside her own mind. She goes upstairs and plays with her pet mole. Duncan suggests that maybe they could go back to New York for a while so she can see her doctor. Yes, he does think she’s having mental issues. They argue and she goes downstairs. Later, the mute girl sneaks in and seduces Duncan.
The next morning, Jessica finds her pet mole mutilated. Jessica knows she didn’t do it; she’s adamant that she’s not crazy, but it sure looks like she is! Jessica sees the painting they sold hanging up in their attic and hears a voice saying, “I’m still alive.” The picture of Abigail looks very much like Emily.
Emily wants to go swimming again, but Jessica’s a little afraid after what happened last time. Emily pushes Jessica in, and Jessica isn’t happy. Jessica sees the body under the water again, and it says, “come this way. Follow me…” A hand reaches up and grabs her. She gets away, but the dead woman climbs up out of the water and follows her. The dead woman tries to bite her in the neck, but Jessica breaks free and runs back to the house.
The voices start telling her, “You want to die. I won’t go away; you’ll never get rid of me.” She runs to the road and heads to town. Once again, she sees that all the men have weird scars, so she runs back into the woods until she finds Duncn.
Woody comes inside and asks Emily where Jessica is, and Emily is weird about it. He thinks she’s been up to no good, but she starts acting slutty, and he falls for it.
Duncan and Jessica return home and find there is no power, so they light a lamp. They start making out, and then she notices that Duncan has one of those scars as well. She watches the ghost approach both with a knife.
Jessica wakes up and finds all the townspeople in her bedroom, wandering like zombies. She runs outside and looks for Woody’s tractor but finds Woody dead. She continues running through the woods to the ferry, but the ferryman, who has a scar, says, “The ferry isn’t running for you.”
Jessica then steals a rowboat and tries to head to the mainland on her own. Out in the middle of the lake, she watches as a hand reaches up onto the boat. She hacks the attacker to pieces with a boat hook - it’s actually Duncan. She watches as Emily and the locals walk back into the woods. Jessica’s no longer sure what’s real… For that matter, neither are we.
Duncan looks like a balding, middle-aged guy in his late 30s or even 40s, not your stereotypical hippy. I can’t imagine why the locals treated him the way they did. Woody is the stereotypical hippy look, but didn’t have any interactions with the locals that we saw.
That mole looks suspiciously like a mouse. Did the filmmakers really think people couldn’t tell the difference?
It all starts out pretty slow, but the suspense and paranoia build up more and more as it goes on. Is there a ghost? Is Jessica crazy? Is Emily trying to trick her? Or is it all of the ebove?
The title of the film indicates a conspiracy to drive Jessica insane, but other than either Emily, or maybe a real ghost that looks like her, we don’t really get that. I was still expecting right up to the end that Woody, Duncan, and the other “dead” people would sit up and give a sort of “gotcha!” moment, but they don’t. The ending is quite vague. Still, I suspect the trick is on us; we’re supposed to think it’s a conspiracy, but Jessica really is insane. It’s a neat twist on the usual conspiracy film.
Directed by Adam MacDonald
Written by Adam MacDonald
Stars Laurie Holden, Nicole Munoz, Chloe Rose
Run Time: 1 Hour, 27 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Is it witchery or madness? Or maybe a little of both. This movie will have you wondering. Set in a parallel reality where people are forced to attend high school into their twenties, the angst is understandably palpable. It builds a nice foundation of characters in the first half, then climbs to a heck of an ending.
Leah Reyes is a high school student who lives with her mother, who is a depressed alcoholic. Leah’s father died some time ago, and her mother is struggling to cope with it. She goes to a book signing and picks up a book on occult rituals. She hangs out with Janice, Aaron, and Rob, her three best friends. When she gets home, her mother springs on her that she’s sold the house and they’re moving up north. Leah will leave all her friends behind, and they’re all she has. She takes it badly.
Her mother shows her the new place, and it’s an isolated cabin out in the woods. Her mother compromises by offering to drive and pick her up from school every day, an hour’s drive each way. But her friends do things after school, and she can no longer go along. After school, Leah and her mother do little but fight and argue.
Leah goes out in the woods and screams, “I wish you were dead!” Coming to the conclusion that that isn’t going to do anything, she picks up her occult book and decides to do a ritual instead. She goes out to the woods, does the ritual, and then calls upon “Pyewacket” to manifest. When she gets home, her mother apologizes and they make up. It’s not like Leah did anything she can’t take back, right?
The next morning, there are dirty footprints inside the back door, but that’s all. That night, she hears clomping in the attic. There’s nothing up there. Leah starts to regret doing the ritual, even though she hasn’t actually seen anything supernatural. That night, we do see the shadow of something roaming through the house.
The next morning, Leag wakes up out in the woods, in the place where she did her ritual, with blood all over her hands. She goes to school and tells her friends what she did, and they think she’s terrible for doing that; they think Leah is going to deserve whatever happens. They are surprisingly unsupportive, but Janice offers to spend the night at Leah’s house tonight.
Janice wants to see the place where the ritual happened, but it’s dark out. They use her phone for light and go out into the woods. Janice goes into a trance and wanders off into the darkness. She’s just messing with Leah though, and soon the pair go back home to sleep. The next morning, Janice is gone. They find her hiding, hysterical, in the car outside in the morning.
At school later, Janice isn’t there and won’t return Leah’s texts. Leah decides to contact the author of the occult book and sends him an email. He sends back that he wants to talk to her tomorrow after school.
“A dark spirit like Pyewacket is very manipulative,” he explains. He says that with Black Magic, all the evil will be thrown back at her, unless she does the exact same ritual in the same place, only in reverse. She has to do it before it gets to her mother.
Leah gathers her materials and goes back out to the woods to start the ritual. She finds her mother’s dead body out there first. Leah calls 911, and runs back to the house. But wait, mother is there at the house. No, it’s Pyewacket. Or is it?
Paranoia sets in, and Leah no longer trusts her mother. Is she real or is it Pyewacket? She calls Aaron to come get her. Oh yes, it’s Pyewacket. Leah climbs out the window and runs to hide in the attic as the demon chases after her on all fours. But someone who looks like her mother comes in. Her mother, or Pyewacket, takes the knife away from her and wants an explanation. Her mother acts like she thinks she’s suicidal; hence the knife.
Leah goes outside and siphons off a bucket of gas out of the car. She goes into her mother’s bedroom and pours it all over her. She burns Pyewacket to death. Aaron finally arrives and takes Leah to the hospital. The police want some answers. No, her mother’s body isn’t out in the woods. And suppose you tell us just how did that fire start?
An occult ritual to kill your mother because you’re a spoiled brat seems a bit excessive, but at least she was able to follow instructions; that’s more than most high schoolers can say. The ritual itself takes a good bit of screen time and seems fairly involved; I don’t know if it was based on some real ritual or not, but it definitely seemed believably realistic.
I hesitate to call this another “slow burn” but it does spend a lot more time on character development than it does on horror or action. Other than Leah’s ritual, not very much actually happens in the first hour, but it never gets boring. Once it gets going, the suspense and uncertainty work really well.
Short film: The Mirror (2022)
Directed by Nessa Aref
Written by Nessa Aref, Alysson Hall
Stars Parmiss Sehat, Gabrielle Lambert, Maude Green
Run Time: 11:30
Olivia leaves the prom early, and her two friends chase her down the street to see what happened. She says she's just not into the silly old prom. She's clearly got issues, as she wasn't even accepted into community college. Her two friends will soon be going away to university and leaving her behind.
Olivia is acting out, so she wants to break into the empty house. Her friends know better. Inside, she sees a huge old-fashioned mirror. She hides behind the mirror and listens as her friends finally come in.
When they all start making themselves at home and having fun, things get weird.
It looks good, it's well acted, and it's not clear at all what's happening. Best line: "That was so much worse than clowns"
Oh, and it always sucks to be Todd.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)
Directed by Piers Haggard
Written by Robert Wynne-Simmons, Piers Haggard
Stars Patrick Wymark, Linda, Hayden, Barry Andrews
Run Time: 1 Hour, 37 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This was originally planned to be an anthology of three tales, interconnected by them all having the Earthly remains of Satan dug up. Instead, all three were force mashed together into one story that’s pretty entertaining overall but not great. Watchable certainly, but a little dated and slow.
Ralph Gower plows his field when a neighbor waves to him. He finds a weird skull and bones in his field. Credits roll. Ralph goes to the judge and insists the skull was some kind of fiend, not a human, but not an animal either. They go to investigate further, but it’s not there when they return. Reverend Fallowfield is there playing with snakes, but he didn’t see anything either.
Rosalind comes to stay with her fiance, Peter, and his hateful aunt. The aunt makes her sleep in the attic tonight. In the middle of the night, Rosalind starts screaming, and the old aunt goes in and beats her up. The judge orders that Rosalind's door be nailed shut until the men from the madhouse come to take her away. Aunt Banham gets scratched in the scuffle and it gets infected. The doctor decides to bleed her a little to help the recovery. When they take Rosaline away the next morning, Peter notices she has long claws.
Elsewhere, Angel finds something else in the plowed fields. It’s a claw! The claw and other trinkets soon wind up in the possession of Reverend Fallowfield. Aunt Banham disappears during the night, and no one has any idea where she’s gone off to. That night, Peter goes up into the attic, and something with a large claw tries to pull him down through the floorboards. He covers the hole with a large chest and then goes to sleep in the same room. During his sleep, he’s attacked by the creature, and he stabs it repeatedly– no, that was his own hand!
The doctor suggests it’s witchcraft, but the judge says that’s all nonsense. Squire Middleton calls off the search for Aunt Banham. The judge heads back to London. Cathy and Mark had been playing with bones from the field, and now Mark starts feeling ill. He and all his friends skip Bible study with Fallowfield, which he doesn’t appreciate. Someone strangles Mark while the other kids all watch. Later they find him buried in the woodshed.
Angel comes to Revenered Fallowfield and tries to seduce him, but he doesn’t fall for it. “Mark has the devil in him, so we cut it out,” she says. Angel tells her father and the squire that the Reverend forcibly raped her. The squire has the reverend arrested for rape and for Mark’s murder.
Out in the field, two local boys find Cathy and they take her to Angel and the others out in the woods. The whole group does a ritual that summons a monster. Then, several of them actually do rape her while the others watch. Finally, Angel stabs her in the back with garden shears.
Ralph finds Cathy’s body and tells the squire what happened; they release the reverend. Peter goes to London to tell the judge what’s been going on in town. The judge has been studying the doctor’s book on demonology, and he’s much more well-informed than he was the first time around.
The villagers hunt down a stranger and accuse her of being a witch. Ralph arrives just as they throw her into the river to see if she floats. She doesn’t, but Ralph pulls her out, and she survives. They notice that the woman has a furry patch, the same as Mark and Cathy had. Ralph calls it “The Devil’s Skin.” They talk the doctor into trying to cut the patch of skin off. They don’t have any painkillers, but he does a fair job of removing it; there’s no blood.
The woman wakes up; she’s Margaret, and she does work for Satan. She’s not happy about the skin being removed, but she tries to corrupt Ralph. She soon runs away. The judge arrives, and they get him up to speed on the disturbances. The judge takes the skin patch and gets the dogs to hunt down Margaret. Angel, who now has evil eyebrows runs into Margaret, who was caught in a bear trap; she lets the dogs get Margaret. The judge interrogates Margaret, and she tells the judge where the big ritual is going to be held tonight. Satan himself will be attending.
Out in the field, Ralph now finds that he has suspiciously hairy legs– it’s more of Satan’s skin. He sees the judge and a group of villagers heading to where Angel’s going to be doing the summoning. Ralph wakes up in the middle of the ritual as Angel and the other villages dance around a fire and do ritualistic things. A naked dancer gives Ralph a knife, but before he can do anything, the judge stabs Angel. The judge grabs Satan and throws him into the fire. That seemed really easy.
Most of the characters wear atrocious wigs throughout. The judge is, of course, supposed to be wearing a stylized wig which was the fashion of the time, but the others’ hair is supposed to be real. It makes some of the actors look like they’re doing some kind of rushed comedy skit at times. The soundtrack is good, but repetitive enough to get stuck in your head insidiously.
This is usually lumped in with “Witchfinder General(https://www.horrorguys.com/witchfinder-general-1968-review/)” and “The Wicker Man(https://www.horrorguys.com/the-wicker-man-1973/)” as the main body of the folk-horror trend of the early 70s. It’s got a really good basic plot, and the acting is all right, but it definitely feels a little dated and slow today.
In the end, the judge just picks up Satan and burns him in the fire. Satan puts up no fight at all and doesn’t even say anything. He’s pretty lame there. Overall, it’s pretty entertaining, but a lot of it doesn’t really make much sense.
Wake in Fright (1971)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Evan Jones, Kenneth Cook, Ted Kotcheff
Stars Donald Pleasance, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty
Run Time: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
If you push it, you might be able to call this horror in an existential dread kind of way, with a man trapped in a place he doesn’t much like, with a job he’s contracted to and can’t quit, with people that he generally endures the company of. But it’s really more of just an intense drama and mild thriller. It’s mighty good and worth checking out.
Australia. John Grant dismisses class for the holiday from the tiny one-room school in Tiboonda. They all seem to vanish into the desert landscape as he hurries home to pack his bags. Credits roll. He boards the train and goes to Bundanyabba. The taxi driver says, “The Yabba is the best place in the world.” He’s going to fly to Sydney in the morning, and the hotel costs $4 a night.
He stops in the ultra-crowded bar that legally closed two hours ago. He meets Jock Crawford, an old guy who knows the area and buys him a beer. John complains that he’s essentially held hostage due to his contract, but Crawford isn’t really listening. A drunk sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and two people applaud. Everything stops while they do a remembrance ceremony for fallen soldiers.
The two men go out for a steak in a grimy looking cafeteria; $1 for a huge steak and eggs. John watches a bunch of guys gambling on a huge heads-or-tails game called “Two up.” While he’s eating, John meets Doc Tydon, who seems quieter than most of the locals. Doc’s counting the odds on the coin tosses, so John puts in a big bet and he wins a few rounds. After turning $50 into $400, he’s pretty pleased with himself. “Just one more spin,” and he can quit teaching and leave Tiboonda. He loses it all. He then cashes out his entire paycheck of $290, and tries again. He loses again.
He wakes up the next morning sweaty, naked, and broke. He goes to the Department of Labor, but they’re closed. He goes in for a final drink, and a man insists on buying him one. Then another. John goes home with old Tim for lunch and meets Tim’s daughter Janette. Dick and Joe come over, and Tim suggests that John hang around, nothing for him to worry about.
As Tim and his friends talk and drink all day, John gets closer with Janette. She’s pretty desperate for sex, and he obliges. He stops in the middle to vomit, which she takes a little personally. When they go back to the house, Doc Tydon and a bunch of other guys are all there drinking heavily, so John joins them.
The next afternoon, Doc laughs that they’ve all had little episodes with Janette. Doc cooks up some kangaroo for John’s breakfast. Doc explains that he doesn’t really have any money and hasn’t for more than five years. “You don’t need money in the Yabba.” Being a doctor, he barters his services instead of charging for them. He isn’t really licensed, but who cares?
They go hunting for kangaroo with Dick and Joe. It’s a frantic scene with a lot of drunken lunatics driving at high speed through the desert with shotguns. The dog kills one, and they run over another in their car. They stop to have a few dozen drinks, then they go out to kill kangaroos with the spotlight on their car, which hypnotizes them.
Joe fights one and kills it with his bare hands. Can John do it? He tries but doesn’t enjoy it. Later, they all get even more drunk and fight and trash the bar/store they’re at. John and Doc go home and fight some more, though they start looking mighty friendly as they calm down. Eventually, John wakes up with the worst hangover in recorded history and decides it’s time to continue on to Sydney. John takes the gun Joe and Dick gave him and heads to town.
He eventually runs into Jock Crawford again. He asks “What went wrong?” Jock helps him get cleaned up, and John continues on his trip through the desert. He trades his rifle to a truck driver for a ride to town. Except it’s not Sydney– the driver takes him back to Yabba but gives him back his gun.
Out of his mind by this point, John goes back to Doc’s place to kill him. He changes his mind and shoots himself just as Doc comes in. Later, John wakes up in the hospital with Jock there, who has a police report explaining “The accident.” Doc then takes him to the train station and sends him back to Tiboonda.
Charlie asks, “Did you have a good holiday?” John replies, “The best!”
I really doubt this film did much for the Australian tourist trade, but I could be wrong. Apparently, everyone in Australia wants you to drink with them, and they never know when to stop. If poor John had a dollar for every time someone drank in this film, he wouldn’t be stuck in the Yabba. Watching this movie as a drinking game, taking a swallow every time someone in the movie does, you probably wouldn’t make it to the end.
All the kangaroos we saw being shot were really killed for this, none were special effects, and there were a bunch of them. There’s a note at the end explaining that this was done by licensed hunters, but it’s still pretty graphic. It was meant to raise awareness that their population was getting endangered, or at least threatened, at that point in time.
It’s really strange watching the usually classy and refined Donald Pleasance doing something this raw. He alternates between talking about Socrates and being a raving lunatic.
I’m not sure if this really qualifies as horror, but it’s definitely intense. John makes one wrong decision and it spirals out of control and he ends up losing everything financially. But he does make some new friends.
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