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Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2014-Day 25: LEMORA — A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973)

Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), the most innocent of the innocent, discovers things the church never warned her about...

Sometimes it's all right there in the title.

13-year-old Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) is the beautiful daughter of a Prohibition-era gangster, a violent gunman who is a fugitive from the law after committing a double-murder. The girl has been raised in the church by a devout reverend and is as innocent and pure as the driven snow, but she still harbors affection for her criminal father. While on the lam, Lila's dad finds himself in the sinister town of Astaroth, where he is waylaid by a pack of vampires, and soon Lila receives a letter from him, urging her to visit him. Knowing her guardian would not approve, Lila runs away into the night, making her way to a depot where she catches a bus to Astaroth, a journey punctuated with ominous warnings from a creepy driver. As the bus passes through Astaroth's nearby swamp, the vehicle is beset by some especially-bestial roving vampires, causing the bus to crash. Upon awakening, Lila finds herself in the care of Lemora (Lesley Gilb), an imposing woman in black who lives with a number of ever-giggling and menacing kids. Innocent though she is, Lila swiftly becomes aware that Lemora is a queen vampire and that the entire town is overrun with vampires, including what used to be her father. Trapped in the town's perpetual night and surrounded on all sides by undead suckfaces, can Lila's purity and piety guarantee her survival?

Hell is for children.

LEMORA — A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL is exactly what its title proclaims, namely a horror film that operates within a childlike realm of terror. The entire film looks and feels like a kid's fever dream of dark places, ominous grownups, scary children and, of course, vampires (that further mutate into even worse creatures), and to me it comes off like what you might get if you allowed a particularly together eight-year-old to script and helm a horror movie. It's shocks are strictly of the PG-rated variety but the lack of gore and violent action are more than made up for by a pervasive mood of a nightmare being acted out before our eyes. 

Creepy old crone Solange (Maxine Ballantyne), whose eerie a capella song about an old woman — possibly herself — is one of the film's highlights.

The acting is just broad enough to strike the delicate balance between child's-perspective exaggeration that works in the film's favor and over-the-top self-parody, and the performance of exploitation mainstay Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith is letter-perfect for the material. Like I said, it's basically a crazed kiddie film, and there are innumerable children's movies where little girl characters are played by adult women, so Smith natural waifish look made her a natural as Lila. She's clearly around sixteen or seventeen at the time of shooting the movie but she is totally believable playing a few years younger, and she exudes innocence on a collision course with unholy corruption. And speaking of corruption, the film features a strong lesbian subtext as Lemora attempts to seduce Lila to the Dark Side. Though couched as attempts at swaying Lila to willingly submit to becoming Lemora's undead, eternally-beautiful companion, adults will no doubt twig to the predatory sapphic vibe that Lemora puts forth, especially during the sequence where she bathes Lila while slipping her a drugged libation.

Seldom has getting squeaky-clean felt so dirty...

Lemora herself, while a ruling vampire, is far from the most evil examples of her breed. Yes, she's macking on an underage girl, but she's quite pleasant, which serves as an intriguing counterpoint to her chalk-white complexion, black-clad Victorian spinster/librarian look and obvious vampiric presence. Sure, she feeds on children who eventually become her undead, eternally-young minions, but she feels unease at the weird vampires who run rampant in the local wild, a pack whose alarming disfiguring mutations are a direct physical manifestation of the innate evil that lay within them before they were turned. In fact, it seems that her goal in seeking Lila's vampiric transformation has a lot to do with Lila's unabashed innocence, which would allow her to not physically degenerate like the hideous wild suckfaces. We fear Lemora solely because we know what she is and what she is capable of, not due to any truly aggressive nastiness on her part. She consumes human blood solely in order to survive, and she appears to be quite lonely, so she's actually somewhat sympathetic. That aspect really struck a chord in me when I saw the film as a youngster, and I consequently never forgot it.

Who can't relate to the need for companionship?

LEMORA is very much within the same territory as the kid-oriented INVADERS FROM MARS, and the two would make for a cool double-feature for one's children on a rainy afternoon. (I suggest paying attention to your kids' reactions if you opt to run the films, mostly to see the look of "What the fuck?!!?" on their faces when confronted with the films' bizarre, oneiric twist endings.)

Cover art for the DVD release.

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