Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is a 1975 film directed by Richard Blackburn. It originally peaked my interest after I read it described as a film that deserved more of a following. A 70’s vampire film playing on themes on destruction of childhood and faith? Certainly sells itself.
But Lemora is certainly an unusual one. While watching, I felt like I should have been more invested than I ever was. It’s a shame that this will be a film I’ll probably forget about when it clearly had every ounce of potential to leave a lasting impression.
Lila Lee (credited here as Cheryl Smith, but mostly known as Rainbeaux Smith from Canned Heat) is a young, pious church singer. She stands in front of a church of gossipy old bags as the subject of many rumours and criticism.
One day, Lila receives a letter from someone called Lemora. Her father, a notorious gangster, was with Lemora and was dying. If Lila was interested in seeing her father and saying goodbye, she had to follow Lemora’s instructions and not tell anyone where she was going.
The young girl heads out into the night. As an attractive 13-year-old girl, she catches the leers of every man she passes. While trying to catch the bus, she sees a man beat his wife and a prostitute beckoning from a window.
A bus driver is waiting for Lila Lee, his only passenger of this night. As the two drive towards where Lila’s father is, the driver tells her of the strange going-ons at Astaroth. She sees several almost dog-like humans growling from the ditches by the road. The driver says that these are the people that have been affected by the towns “epidemic.” After the bus breaks down, the two are attacked and Lemora is forced to take control of the bus – and proceeds to crash it into a tree.
When Lila wakes, she finds herself locked in a dingy room. A strange woman brings her food and children laugh at her through the bars on her window.
After she decides she can’t take it anymore, she attempts an escape. She hides under the old house and overhears a woman talking to Lila’s father. When she’s discovered by a woman, who identifies herself as Lemora, she invites Lila into the main house.
Lemora takes Lila under her wing. Like everyone else, Lemora is instantly taken by Lila. She gives the young girl new clothes to wear, bathes her, teaches her to dance and makes her drink “something like wine.” The pious child is torn about the awakenings she’s discovering. But continues to ask after her father, who she believes is still dying.
At dinner, there’s a crash and it becomes clear that Lila’s father has escaped. Lila goes to look for him and is attacked. After Lemora sends the man off, she presses her mouth to the child’s wound, which understandably freaks the child out immensely.
Lemora, who is obviously a vampire, tells Lila of a ceremony that she can partake in. But Lila remains weary of the woman.
She finds the diary of Mary Joe, written in 1892, telling of her life and introduction to Lemora. I do believe this was meant to lead somewhere, but it apparently doesn’t.
After reading the diary, Lila attempts to run away. But is chased up a tree by the gross shaving cream-face vampires. To escape, Lila hops into the back of a vehicle and is driven off to what appears to be a non-rubbish vampire meeting.
Lila spends the climax of the film running around and attempting to refuse Lemora’s offers. I’d rather not describe the last act of the film because frankly a) I do hate ruining endings unless I have to and b) I don’t think I actually understood a single bit. The film seems to have gotten a touch confused throughout the editing process.
Or maybe I’m too stupid to understand.
Apparently the hour and 25-minute version I watched was a cut version. Which makes a lot of sense as to why, well, this film didn’t make much sense. The pace is odd: focusing on Lemora toying with poor Lila but never really explaining why this anything is happening. I suppose it’s one thing to think, “Well sure. It doesn’t need a reason.” But in movies (especially one cut so short), it would be rather nice to have a reason anyone is doing anything.
It’s a heavily stylised film, like many were in the 70’s – a bit similar to Argento (but with not nearly the same flair or to the same degree of success). The scenes are almost always dark, with a blue lens which creates an incredible eerie atmosphere. What Lemora looks like is what staying up after your bedtime as a child feels like. The meaning is a bit heavy-handed as many films of it’s time were: sexual release, freedom from religion, exploring new ways of life. It’s all very well, but…
For me, though, Lemora didn’t really do much for me. After reading the struggle to find success, I can see why. I’ve heard that the uncut version exists and is much better in delivering motives. It’s a shame anyone was foolish enough to cut this out and leave 20 minutes of running around a barn, but I suppose the world was never made of good decisions.
Lemora certainly deserves better. If I’m ever able to get my hands on the uncut version, I’m certainly willing to give this one another go.