Director: Buzz Kulik
Writer: Earl Hamner Jr.
Cast: Anne Francis, James Best, Laura Devon, Jeanette Nolan, Virginia Gregg, George Mitchell, Helen Kleeb, Jim Boles, and Jon Lormer
Composer: Van Cleave
Air Date: 2/14/1963
Production Code: 4855
Unwilling to let her ex-boyfriend Billy-Ben Turner (James Best) marry the daughter of a wealthy farmer, dark-haired beauty Jess-Belle (Anne Francis) approaches Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan)—a local witch—for assistance. After drinking a potion and winning back the affections of Billy-Ben, Jess-Belle pays a terrible price for Granny’s magic.
Reminiscent of a Night Gallery segment, “Jess-Belle” will appeal to horror buffs with a taste for the supernatural. Specifically, this episode should be commended for its creepy witch character, spooky black-and-white cinematography, and ominous depiction of someone afflicted by an evil curse.
“Jess-Belle” deserves praise for its topnotch acting and rural setting, which make credible the ignorant, superstitious beliefs of each character—none of whom react incredulously toward the concept of witchcraft.
Also worth noting are the motives of Jess-Belle (likely a pun on the name Jezebel), who, having been rejected by the love of her life, comes across as a sensitive and sympathetic villain—much in contrast to Roger Shackleforth (a similar character from “The Chaser”), whose annoying, entitled personality may prevent the audience from rooting for his happiness.
Marred by copious padding, “Jess-Belle” fails to maintain the chilling, suspenseful atmosphere that many viewers would expect of a supernatural horror tale—undoubtedly a consequence of the hour-long format adopted by season four.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Plagued by the spirit of his former lover, Billy-Ben pays Granny Hart for a quick and easy solution to the Jess-Belle hauntings. In addition to its anticlimactic execution, the conclusion of “Jess-Belle” sends a dubious message on how one should resolve difficult or complex moral problems.
Featuring stand-out performances from Anne Francis (“The After Hours”) and James Best (“The Grave” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”), “Jess-Belle” is a haunting and well-acted episode of The Twilight Zone. This offering may, however, evoke criticism for its underwhelming climax and superfluous running time.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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