Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: 'Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural' (1975)

Certain well-done B-horror movies deliver an infectious grotesqueness that couldn’t be captured in a big budget picture. Films such as The Blair Witch Project, Carnival of Souls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Paranormal Activity bear an ingratiating queasiness that compliments their cardboard cheapness powerfully. Not as well-remembered as any of those films, and not necessarily as good, Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1975) is still an effectively unsettling creepshow. Writer/director Richard Blackburn (who’d make a bigger cult splash in 1982 when he co-wrote Eating Raoul with Paul Bartel) recycles plot elements from Dracula and The Night of the Hunter and re-imagines them as a loopy psycho-sexual coming-of-age tale indebted to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Lila (Cheryl Smith) is the daughter of a gangster in Prohibition America. Her dad calls her to join him in Astaroth, a monster-menaced fairyland likely inspired by Vasaria in the old Universal monster pictures. There she is attacked by some Moreau-esque monsters, imprisoned in a dungeon, terrorized by a creepy hag (Maxine Ballantyne), and subjected to some heavy come-ons from the title character (Lesley Gilb), who looks like Gloria Holden in Dracula’s Daughter.

Lesley Gilb and Gloria Holden: Ladies Dracula
No one is going to accuse Lemora of being well written, well acted, or well shot. It looks like a vintage porno with the sex scenes excised. Yet it spins a definite spell. The plot drifts along with the mercurial logic and foreboding air of a nightmare. The climactic slow-mo monster battle royal is goofy, but it is preceded by scenes that are haunting or frightening in spite of themselves, particularly Lila’s encounters with the singing hag and a gaggle of giggling vampire kids. Had I come across this movie on TV when I was a kid I’m sure it would have cost me as many nights of sleep as a similar looking ad for The Haunted Mansion in Long Branch, New Jersey, did. Catching the film on TV in the ‘70s was unlikely, though, considering its distribution was severely hindered by the officious prigs at the Catholic League of Decency, who denounced its suggestions of pedophilia and homosexuality. Fortunately, Lemora has been back in circulation since the late ‘90s (and as of this writing, it’s available to watch instantly on Netflix), and though it isn’t quite a lost classic, horror geeks should find it well worth watching for its numerous monster-movie in-jokes and unrelenting air of unease.
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