Sunday, January 21, 2018

Film Review: LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL (1973, Richard Blackburn)


Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lesley Taplin (THE ACTIVIST), Cheryl Smith (LASERBLAST, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN), and Hy Pyke (BLADE RUNNER, DOLEMITE). Directed by Richard Blackburn (who also co-wrote EATING RAOUL and wrote and directed a TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episode). Cinematography by Robert Caramico (BLACKENSTEIN, FALCON CREST, JUST SHOOT ME).
Tag-line: "Through the doors up the dark stairs behind this window... a possession is taking place! Run, little girl... innocence is in peril tonight!"
Best one-liner: "I am the unkillable. My spirit is the strongest ever."

Longtime readers of this site will know of my interest in what I call "melancholy horror," which I roughly define as a sub-genre of especially artistic horror/thriller/supernatural drama films that offer  genuine scares and genuine sadness in equal measure. They routinely begin and/or end with a tragedy, often of an accidental, non-supernatural variety; and they were made, by and large, between 1970 and 1981, mostly on lower budgets which lend them a 'documentary' feel. Their visuals are impressionistic, hypnotic, and dreamlike, the 1970s film stock often lending sunlight, candlelight, and fall colors a special ethereal prominence. LEMORA: A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL fits firmly into this category, a truly American indie that later found a cult audience in France. It's a peculiar hodgepodge of Jesus and Lovecraft, of folk tales and arthouse sensibilities, drenched in scary-weird amateur acting choices and vibrant, expressionistic lighting.
LEMORA is mostly notorious for a lengthy condemnation by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and the re-release poster pictured (at the top of the review) is retroactively trying to cash in on these religious horror aspects by making visual reference to CARRIE. Truthfully, the film has much more in common with melancholy gems like LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) or VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970). Technically, this is a PG-rated children's movie, but it's also a perverse psychological miasma of adolescent paranoia and sexual aggression, and the fact that sections of it were filmed on abandoned sets from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW only adds to the effect.
Welcome to Mayberry!

The plot revolves around the thirteen-year-old Lila Lee, a doe-eyed gangster's child turned evangelical starlet,
 
the "singin' angel daughter of a real life devil,"
who escapes her (possibly pedophilic?) foster Reverend for the Lovecraftian hamlet of Astaroth, where her father may be hiding out. Here, factions of proto-Fulci-esque zombies 
vie for dominance against Edwardian lesbian vampires who look like they just escaped the PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.
To paraphrase Bush 43, "ladies and gentlemen, this is some weird shit." Essentially, every character that Lila Lee encounters attempts to exploit her to some end (whether by sexual or culinary means)
and the result is a deeply alienating life lesson (ostensibly for child viewers) regarding society's view of adolescent female sexuality. Minus the horror elements, it is a message that easily could have been delivered by Catherine Breillat, Simone de Beauvoir, or Chantal Akerman. LEMORA's inability to commit to a single horror trope (zombies, vampires, witchcraft, hag horror, ghosts, religious horror, haunted houses) feels deliberate, speaking to the universality of the message––almost as if to signal that all female Bildungsromane lead here, from  LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD to THE BELL JAR. 

At the center of all of this is a deeply bizarre performance by Lesley Taplin as the eponymous Lemora, a predatory vampiress who may very well be the most likable character in the film.
In the end, it's an obscure, atmospheric, and generally quiet entry into melancholy horror genre, and like ALICE IN WONDERLAND and many a coming-of-age fairy tale, it is ambiguous enough to inspire a wide range of reactions (I could just as easily analyze LEMORA as a progressive text, or regressive one).

2 comments:

Mike Bradley said...

Always love your melancholy horror picks, I'll have to check this one out. "The Changeling," "Audrey Rose," and "The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane" have all become favorites that I first learned about here. Keep 'em coming!

Sean Gill said...

Thanks, Mike, glad you enjoyed!