Cinema: Batgirl

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Ever since Bela Lugosi went to bat in Dracula, the vampire has been a favorite of American horror-movie cultists. But even they will find little nourishment in Let's Scare Jessica to Death. Technology is partly to blame. Once electric lights are substituted for candles, the ghosts no longer hold sway; a car is no proper substitute for the creaky carriage and pair. The plot, however, is a lineal descendant of the Bram Stoker original.

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has just been released from a mental institution. She and her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) opt out of the New York scene for a creaky Connecticut retreat, and find that they have acquired not only the house but its tenants of yesteryear. Duncan initially dismisses the weird noises and the hostility of the townfolk, every man jack of them with a scar on his neck. And Jessica begins to wonder if it isn't all in her mind. That overheated young hippie Emily (Mariclare Costello) who was living in the house, for instance. Surely she can't be a hundred years old. And yet the picture of a deceased tenant of 1880 does look like her. Eventually Jessica fights back, regaining her sanity at a dreadful price. But she takes so long to achieve her goal that she wonders whether it was all worthwhile. It was not. With the exception of Zohra Lampert's subtle and knowledgeable performance, no one in the cast has enough substance even to be considered humanoid. And after the first reel, the vampires seem to have lost their bite. Perhaps they, like the viewer, should have been forewarned by James Thurber's celebrated dictum: Don't count your boobies until they are hatched.