Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)
By: Mr Intolerance on September 18, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Synapse (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced.) English DD 1.0. 85 minutes
The Movie
Director: Richard Blackburn
Starring: Cheryl Rainbaeux Smith, Richard Blackburn, Lesley Gilb
Screenplay: Richard Blackburn, Robert Fern
Country: USA
AKA: Lady Dracula; Lemora, the Lady Dracula; The Legendary Curse of Lemora
This fairy-tale-esque slice of Southern-fried Gothic from the early 70s is one of the very few genuinely eerie films I've ever seen. There's an unsettling, grim undercurrent that runs through Lemora, a gradually swelling blackness that threatens to engulf the viewer as much as it does the characters. This is partly, I think, because the protagonist, Lila Lee, is a naïve, innocent and pure 13 year old girl, and that every single adult character, make or female, represents a threat to that innocence, or to her life, or both.

Lila Lee, the "Singin' Angel" at the local Baptist church, has been brought up by the minister after her mother is murdered by her father – notorious gangster Alvin Lee - for having an affair with another man, before fleeing himself. You get a sense of the small-minded pettiness of the town at once – the minister re-affirming Lila's innocence despite her parent's sinfulness, and condemning the gossips in the front row of the church. Hypocrisy, slander and the primal urges to fuck or have violent revenge are addressed as being solely part of the adult domain – the state of experience, as opposed to the state of innocence Lila represents through her words and deeds; this is represented in a similar way to the poetry of William Blake. Simply put: innocence – good, experience – bad. The primal urges debase us as beings, make us corrupt, in a moral sense; decadent. The Christian values Lila espouses, she lives – the adults simply aren't capable of doing the same; the result of having "traded in" the simplicity of the world of children for the complexities of adult life.

And that's all addressed in the opening in the opening 10 minutes or so.

Lila Lee receives a mysterious letter from a woman named Lemora, who tells her that her father (thought to be on the lam after the murder of his wife and her lover) is suffering from a debilitating illness, and that Lila must come to tend to him. Being the good Christian gal that she is, Lila decides to go – forgive and forget and all that rubbish they believe in. Unfortunately, Lila doesn't understand that in order to do so, she will have to enter into, and interact with, the adult world – thus potentially corrupting herself.

Lemora is, in many ways, a distillation of the ideas raised in a number of classic horror tales that have come before – the five strongest influences, or at least the most obvious ones, would be Bram Stoker's Dracula, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, HP Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and the Grimm Brothers' Maerchen. The moral, didactic tone of the Grimms is definitely present – not to mention the bleakness that characterises their work (if you're not familiar with their ouevre – their original version of, say, Snow White – here's a précis: Snow White dies and doesn't come back, there's no Prince Charming, no seven dwarves, and the evil Queen is forced to dance herself to death in red-hot iron boots – not exactly something that Disney were ever going to film…); the other texts I have mentioned are referenced more through set-pieces for the better part. Now, this doesn't mean that that you're in for "vampire/witch/zombie/fishman/fairy in a farmhouse in Transylvania after the apocalypse" type film. Well, there are some of those elements present, but it's not necessarily literal. And it's not done as plagiarism, either – tribute or homage might be more accurate.

The old woman/witch of the Grimms as a threat to the young, the shattered mirror reaction and corruption of innocence of Dracula, the one-bus entry to town and "look" of the locals, of Lovecraft, the desperate stand-off and inescapable doom of Romero, the immortal robed cultists of Matheson – it references all of these other texts, and does a bloody good job of doing so – all blending into a very bleak fairy tale, as if written by William Faulkner on crack.

Lila, with her vulnerability and her sadness (transmitted solely through 18 year old actress Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith's amazingly expressive eyes), is a tragic figure, representing all of us, moving from innocence to experience, losing something and becoming a lesser being on the way. I appreciated the fact that the DVD was dedicated to Cheryl Smith, who passed away three years before the disc was made. It's her movie – she incites and embodies a kind of sadness, almost a kind of melancholic nostalgia; it's all in her eyes. Sad and tragic, all at the same time.

You might think this review a little "light on" in terms of specific detail in the film. Well, I've tried as hard as I can to avoid all spoilers; you really need to go and watch this film – it's sad, poetic and melancholic; a cult film, and deservedly so.
The blue filter over everything simply adds to the dream-like nature of the film, and adds to the sadness. Synapse have done a wonderful job on Lemora – a beautiful version of a beautiful film.
Original Mono. Nothing special, but then again, it's a low-budget shocker from the early 70s – what did you expect?
Extra Features
A very illuminating commentary with the Director, the Producer and the actress playing Lemora, a still gallery (yawn), the original shooting script (DVD-ROM extra), liner notes and some trailers – Les Raisins de la Mort, Blue Sunshine, and Brain Damage.
The Verdict
A very fine film, and one you should see if you haven't already. Think of this as like Alice In Wonderland for adults. It holds a kind of melancholy and sadness many films strive for, and usually fail in trying to achieve. This film is brilliance incarnate. R.I.P, Cheryl.
Movie Score
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