Get inspired by a cult classic and learn to craft your own gravestone art

By: Lucy Hall

Jessica: “I sit here and I can’t believe that it happened. And yet I have to believe it. Dreams or Nightmares? Madness or sanity? I don’t know which is which.” —Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Let's Scare Jessica to Death 2Check your sanity at the door, and, prepare for a paranoid, psychodrama trip in terror with the fragile Jessica of the 1971 horror film, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.

The cult film’s plot revolves around the unstable, mentally disturbed Jessica. After being released from a mental institution, Jessica along with her husband, Duncan, and friend, Woody, move to the countryside hoping Jessica will relax and have a new start in life. They move into the “old Bishop place,” which happens to be a creepy Victorian farmhouse. While settling into the new residence they are startled by the discovery of drifter, Emily, who has taken up residency in the abandoned house. Instead of freaking out at the presence of a stranger in the house, they decide to greet, and, keep her as a guest. However, Emily’s presence is soon alleged as malicious by Jessica. Jessica conducts her own investigation and discovers an old framed photograph in the attic. She later gathers information from an antique dealer and learns of a tragedy that occurred at the farmhouse long ago. A young bride by the name of Abigail Bishop drowned subsequent to her wedding. The body was never found, which, gave birth to the legend that she continues to roam the countryside. Jessica notices her guest Emily resembles the bride in the attic photo. However, Emily could not possibly be the bride due to the fact that the photograph was taken in 1880.

Is Emily a ghost or vampire? Is something supernatural taking place, or, is Jessica losing her mind? Is there a conspiracy to scare Jessica to death? Take into account Jessica’s mental history and struggles with her own instability, and alleged “hallucinations,” in which she initially keeps secret.

The intense uncertainty, surreal atmosphere, and gothic plot earned Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, cult status in the horror genre. The film relies not on gore and shock to hold audience attention, but, relies on whispering voices, genuine disturbing moments, creepy imagery with camera angles, an eerie musical score, and, the title character’s haunting narration. For genre fans, the film is a supernatural cornucopia. It has ghosts, vampires, a séance, a pet mutilation, a cemetery, a hearse, and hostile locals.

The film’s most memorable metaphoric element concerns Jessica’s therapeutic artwork. During their country road commute, Jessica and the guys take a driving break by the local cemetery. Intrigued by the engraved images and poetry of the stones, Jessica kneels to read a compelling inscription scribed upon one.

“Frail as the leaves that shiver on a spray/Like them, we flourish/Like them, decay.”

The nature of decomposing autumn flora in the setting appears to be an allegory for Jessica’s hope and sanity slowly deteriorating. In addition, Jessica is surrounded by the deceased residents of the cemetery whose nature is also to decay. All apparent elements appear to be fitting allegories for the stone’s poetic verse. While visiting the somber environment Jessica indulges in her craft, the art of gravestone rubbing. Later in the film, Jessica creeps out her husband by choosing to decorate the walls of the new home with her morbid wall art, which, appears to be an unsettling reminder of life’s tribulations and Jessica’s struggle to grasp reality.

At your next sinister social gathering, you can engage your dark associates and friends by incorporating a gothic-themed DIY project in conjunction with a viewing of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death.

Arrange for a cemetery field trip to be taken either before or after a screening of the film, so that guests can produce their own grave rubbing art. If you prefer to conduct your field trip prior to the film viewing then your guests could use their art as decoration for your party. However, if you prefer it to take place after, then your guests will not only depart your gathering with a possible hangover but, in addition, they will have gravestone art as a keepsake to remember the occasion.

Grave rubbing is a fun activity that can also be added to your All Hallows Eve traditions this Halloween; the season conveys an interest in graveyards, ghouls, and the supernatural. Tombstone, or, gravestone rubbing is a craft dating back to hundreds of years ago which is still practiced today. It is basically the process of transferring imagery of headstone surfaces by tracing the engraving onto paper. Once transferred, the paper captures both the epitaph and motif outline of the particular stone being used by rubbing firmly against the paper covering stone with the appropriate rubbing utensil. Once the paper is moved, the stone is unharmed and the image is converted to paper.

The craft may be viewed as an unusual hobby to adopt; however, it is considered an ancient art form. Historians, artists, genealogists, and those who prefer dark crafts are usually enthusiasts of this historical art. For serious historians, this activity enhances individual or group studies into local or family heritage. There are various incentives to use this art form as a pastime. The custom has drawn interest for genealogists clubs as a way to capture history. It is a means to acquire a match for a family or individual headstone. It is also a method of preserving a deteriorating headstone that may eventually lose its inscription. The hobby can be a shared family affair for bonding while learning about the family tree, and possibly locating unknown ancestors. Families can preserve their own history which will not be forgotten for generations to come. There are also collectors who use grave rubbing to collect celebrity grave epitaphs.

Before getting started on your own grave rubbing, here are some tips to remember:

  1. Always be respectful of the dead and the site in which you plan to use because some stones are so old they are to the point of harsh damage. Prolonged stone rubbing can cause permanent damage to these monuments because of abrasion, so proceed with care and help preserve the site and the stones.
  2. Do not use any tools that could damage the headstone. These include any waxy writing tools such as crayons.
  3. Some cemeteries are privately owned, while others are public but you may still need to seek permission for use by consulting a cemetery office manager, owner of the land, or, the local historical society. You can get started by acquiring the appropriate gear. Kits with all you should need to begin your hobby and books on the subject may be purchased online. An alternative is to compile your own rubbing kit by gathering the following needed materials.

Supplies Needed to Create a Grave Rubbing Kit:

The items listed can be purchased at craft supply or general stores. Using these supplies should not harm the stones and in turn create clear images.

  • Tracing Paper (purple on one side and white on the other.) You may also choose rice or butcher paper.
  • Artist Charcoal
  • A Soft Brush
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Durable Tape such as Masking or Paint

Steps:

  1. To guarantee clearer results you may wish to clean the headstone prior to rubbing. A soft brush and simple water should work fine.
  2. Be careful not to get hurt or damage the stone if it is unstable and ready to fall.
  3. Cut a piece of paper the size you wish, tape it to the tombstone using tape, it should be secure enough not to move while you are rubbing.
  4. Use the charcoal to gently and firmly rub along the stone. Carefully work your way over the entire surface and outer edges. You may want to start at the top and work your way down the stone. The more pressure you apply the darker your print will become.
  5. When rubbing is done carefully remove your print.
  6. You may trim and alter the paper to best suit your artistic needs.

Additional Tips:

These are additional suggestions for using your finished project.

  • Goth or Halloween framed art or cards.
  • Notepaper or scrapbooks. Scan into your computer and print t-shirt transfers.
  • While on vacation these prints make wonderful souvenirs to bring home. In addition, while visiting historical cemeteries there are usually gothic sculptures of angels, crosses, and, other archetype grave guardians to photograph. Historical stones can reveal what was occurring at that particular era in time which can be determined by its images, inscription, and date.

Image Gallery of Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

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