Richard Blackburn, 1975
Starring: Cheryl Smith, Hy Pyke, Lesley Gilb, Richard Blackburn
After her father goes on the run, 13 year old Lila Lee receives a letter that he is injured and she should follow him to an odd, small town in the swamp known as Astaroth. She runs away from the church where a Reverend has been raising her and boards a bus to begin a very strange journey. On the outskirts of Astaroth, she is attacked by bestial vampire creatures, but a woman named Lemora saves her and takes her home. Soon Lila learns that Lemora is imprisoning Lila’s father and is responsible for summoning Lila to Astaroth. Lemora is a vampire and hopes to feed on Lila, as she has done with other children. Lila tries to escape and learn about Astaroth on the way. Meanwhile, the Reverend is searching for her.
Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural aka Lemora: The Lady Dracula aka The Legendary Curse of Lemora is an independent production from Richard Blackburn. Director, writer, and producer, Blackburn also appeared as the Reverend. He would later go on to co- write Eating Raoul. With Lemora, he was clearly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, but like Messiah of Evil, Lemora is a unique blend of themes and influences. A mix of Lovecraftian mythos, fairytales, vampires, and a surreal coming of age story, numerous fairytale elements are blended into the overall horror plot of Lemora particularly well and the unique, small town 1920s setting also adds to its appeal and inventiveness. While it is somewhat similar to films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders or Night of the Hunter, it remains one of the most interesting, if little seen cult films of the ‘70s.
There’s no doubt that Lemora is low budget, there are numerous plot holes, and parts of the film seem silly or thrown together, though this doesn’t detract from its overwhelming charm and magic. It’s surprisingly well cast and Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith (The Swinging Cheerleaders, Caged Heat) is captivating and carries the film as the innocent, dreamy-eyed Lila. Lesley Gilb has some lousy dialogue, but is memorable as the titular Lemora. Hy Pyke (Blade Runner) appears as the weirdo bus driver and Blackburn cast a mixture of interesting extras as the monstrous townsfolk.
Though there is no explicit sexual activity, Lila is surrounded by a thickening haze of sexual menace. Male and female characters leer at her, eventually even the Reverend, who is one of the only positive adult characters. There’s also a Southern Gothic feeling with the overripe, decaying swampland, half-monster, half-human inhabitants, and Lovecraftian inbreeding and degeneration. The interesting effects from Byrd Holland decline a bit as the film goes on and exposes more and more monsters, but the combination of traditional vampires with ghouls is a nice touch. Keep in mind that the film is rated PG, so most of the horror and sexual elements are suggested, rather than shown. The score from Dan Neufeld and creepy sound effects also add to the overall effectiveness.
Due to poor advertising and distribution upon its release, as well as complaints from the Catholic Church, Lemora was largely ignored, but developed a cult following over the years thanks to a television run. My only major complaint is that I suspect something happened during the editing of the conclusion, as things jump around and don’t make a whole lot of sense. This sort of works and continues the nightmarish, surreal quality of the film.