Year Released: 1966
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 80 minutes
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If you’ve never heard of the Czech comic-fantasy, “Who Killed Jessie?”, well you’re certainly not alone. It seems very few people anywhere have heard of or seen the film, which is a crying shame. I myself had never heard of it prior to now, a fact that immediately piqued my interest. You see, I’m a sucker for the obscure, the strange, the downright forgotten films that sometimes surface like some glorious treasure from the deepest seas. “Who Killed Jessie?” is just such treasure. This film is unique and creative and utterly hilarious. And why it never enjoyed the mainstream success or at least the hearty cult following it surely deserves is anyone’s guess.
I think it’s safe to say that “Jessie”, made in 1966, is unlike any film that preceded it and way ahead of many similar films that would follow in years to come. In fact, I’m sure it would be considered a very influential film by many current filmmakers and writers such as Sam Raimi, Charlie Kaufman, and Alex de la Iglesia (to name just a few), had any of them actually seen it. In reality, “Jessie” is probably closer to a cinematic anomaly, that rare film that stands out above the pack, of its own style and time. The sheer madness that is the plot starts off sanely enough with the day-to-day banalities of an unhappy marriage between a domineering scientist and her pipe-dreaming college-professor husband. The mind begins to rattle though when the scientist, Rosie, reveals her revolutionary invention of “somnioreparation”. In layman’s terms, Rosie’s invention can transform nightmares into blissful dreams, while a special headset connected to a large video screen grants on-lookers a window into the subject’s psyche. As with all “revolutionary” inventions in movies though, the technique backfires when it allows the elements in someone’s dream to materialize in the real world.
The mind completely explodes when Rosie uses her invention on her poor husband Henry, who’s quite taken with a comic strip entitled “Who Wants to Kill Jessie?”. Actually, Henry (what is it about this name that so perfectly fits the befuddled dreamer-type, see “Eraserhead”) is particularly taken with the comic’s fearless super-heroine Jessie, a curvaceous vixen and inventor of the amazing “anti-gravity gloves”, which give ordinary men the strength of Superman. Rosie’s jealously inadvertently brings Jessie into the real world, much to Henry’s delight. Unfortunately though, Jessie’s arrival is accompanied by her two evil archrivals, an insanely destructive strong man and a creepy little cowboy, both of whom want the secret of the gloves for themselves. What ensues is a giddy whirlwind of mayhem and bizarre hi-jinks. Oh yeah, and much hilarity.
So, who does kill Jessie? Well, it turns out no one does! The film’s title is more accurately translated as “Who Wants to Kill Jessie?” (like the comic strip), which in the end does no greater justice to this strangely comic gem. “Jessie” was brilliantly directed by Vaclav Vorlicek, who’s apparently still active today. Somehow, Vorlicek was able to infuse his film with loads of nonsense (I mean that in a good way) and yet a great deal of humanity as well. Somehow, he was able to mold his essentially 2-D cartoon characters into people we sort of care about. I particularly loved how by the end, Rosie and the other scientists have become the “bad” guys and how we’ve come to empathize with the “dream” characters. They just don’t make ‘em like this any more. Absurd, loopy, and big-hearted. If you’re anything like me and drool uncontrollably at the thought of “discovering” a lost masterpiece, get thee online now and find a copy of this film.
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Posted on September 9, 2003 in Reviews by Daniel Wible
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