Lemora : A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural (1973)

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is one of the most sadly overlooked vampire films of the 70′s. Perhaps it got lost because it was just very low budget or perhaps it’s because even using the word “vampire” somewhat does it a disservice, being a vampire flick on the surface only and probably a disappointment to anyone at the time who may have been expecting something along the lines of a Hammer picture. Add to this a handful of controversial themes that some might still find uncomfortable and you have a recipe for a very interesting film that deserves a little more recognition than it gets.

The story, set somewhere in America’s smalltown South during the Prohibition era, revolves around a thirteen-year-old girl, Lila Lee (an early performance from 70′s cult actress Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith), who is essentially orphaned and taken under the wing of the local Reverend (played by the director himself, Richard Blackburn) after her father murders her adulterous mother one night and goes on the run. His escape is suddenly impeded by a group of black-robed figures, at the head of which is a pale, strange woman, Lemora (Lesley Gilb). It is through the murderous father that Lemora learns of the sweet, innocent Lila and so sends her a letter inviting her to come to her home in the town of Astaroth, where her father is said to be on his deathbed. Lila, wanting to see him and be a “true Christian”, runs away one night and ends up in this bizarre, nightmarish town which appears to have been stricken by some kind of plague and in the house of the pallid, intense hostess who seems to know more about it all than she’s letting on. As Lila explores she discovers that not only is Lemora a vampire, but the town is full of them – the more human variety under Lemora’s control and the animalistic, mutated kind that appear to be running wild and at war with the other group. Lemora has some kind of agenda that involves Lila, but can she escape before it’s too late?

On paper, that plot description sounds as mad a bag of snakes, but like other quirks and foibles the movie has it just seems to work, often because of them and not in spite of them. Partly it’s because the film has a very surreal, dreamlike structure throughout, it often plays like a dark fairytale or a twisted version of Alice in Wonderland. This is accomplished through a very distinctive visual look, which has a deliberate colour palette designed to emphasise the night scenes and overall the feel of one of Jean Rollin’s flicks (but without the more obvious exploitative and erotic elements). It often seems a little “stagey”, but again it just seems to work in its favour, especially considering how much of the film depends on it being understood on the level of symbolism and metaphor. The characters, in the way they act and look are like Jungian archetypes representing conflicting ideas (from the Reverend clad almost head to foot in white, with Lemora as his counterpoint wearing black, Lila looks every inch the innocent girl in an Alice kind of way yet her father at the beginning looks almost like a gangster from a Dick Tracy comic).

There’s also plenty of room for Freudian interpretation too in some of the other themes that are represented here – Lemora’s affection for Lila is almost certainly Sapphic, and all the way through there’s certainly an uncomfortable leering suggestiveness from the male characters towards her. There’s something interesting about its treatment of youth and childhood, in fact, which is definitely un-Hollywood; in most movies there’s a simplistic notion that continually emphasises among all other traits “innocence”, but in reality it’s not the case, that’s an overextension of adulthood’s desire to protect the child and the rose-tinted memory of childhood. In fact, most recent psychological studies agree that children don’t have the required development in their moral centres to be this kind of “innocent”, they can do “bad” things without any guilt. Seeing, for example, some young children partaking with Lemora of goblets of either blood or wine (your choice) hints at this and is therefore slightly disturbing. Similarly, if you interpret the ambiguous ending with the slant that much of this could be bent through the lens of Lila’s own imagination, then the sexual overtones may be seen more in terms of the awakening of her own adolescent sexuality, which whilst adding another layer of complexity still may not make it any the less uncomfortable for some viewers.

Overall it’s really like a very dark, interesting Southern Gothic fable, a surreal nightmare of a troubled adolescent mind which has a very unique feel and tone. Overlooked, it didn’t even receive a VHS release in the US until the 90′s, but this has since been rectified with a very nice DVD release by Synapse – do yourself a favour and go check it out.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

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