Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Creeper Convention:

Lemora-A Child's Tale of the Supernatural 


The 70's was a great time for poster art.

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1975) is a film that I saw a week ago, and I'm still having flashbacks to it. Remembering Lemora isn’t hard; forgetting it will be a bitch.

Lemora is a film about the corruption of Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), a thirteen year old girl who tries to rescue her mob boss father from the clutches of Lemora, a vampiress, a witch and possibly a pedophile. Lila’s journey is punctuated with many potential pederasts, from her sweating minister foster father to the bus attendant who offers her cream filled chocolates to swarms of feral vampires who want to make her their queen. Scenes of Lila and Lemora are especially cringe worthy as the pale, unblinking, middle-aged vampiress encourages hair brushing and sponge baths.

Call child services immediately.

 A sharp-eyed friend made comparisons between The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Alice in Wonderland (1951); the concept of a defenseless young female is also echoed in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The most frustrating thing about Lemora is that Lila is a completely passive character. She has none of Dorothy’s sense of fair play, Alice’s inherent curiosity or Ofelia’s precociousness. She just wanders from the clutches of one group of mean-and-nasties to another. At first, this makes you feel tense, but eventually it just makes the second act drag. In movies, if the heroes are active, we’re active. If they are wandering aimlessly in the spooky woods, we’re looking at our watch.

This is the part where she meets the Cheshire cat. 

Lemora is built less like a film and more like a haunted house: The back story is an excuse for atmosphere. As a haunted house, it succeeds. In one room, Lila is circled by a milky-eyed old woman who sings in nursery rhyme. In another, Lila sips a red, non-wine liquid as Lemora holds court with a half-dozen of her vampire Gypsy children. Lila stumbles through misshapen sets that echo The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Like Carnival of Souls (1962) or Eraserhead (1977), Lemora is a series of macabre images strung together by a modicum of plot.

This is where the film shines.  This shot looks like it was painted in oils.

What plot there is echoes Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a Gothic novella published in 1872. Written 25 years prior to Dracula, it describes a vampiress’s seduction of a young girl.

Lemora on the left, Carmilla on the right.

Lemora keeps the seduction, but drops Lila’s age to worrisome levels. Not that Lila looks like a teenager; she’s played by an actress in her early twenties. So many problems could have been solved by aging Lila up while still keeping the concept of loss of innocence.  Lemora made its choice though, even going so far to remind you by placing “child” in the title. In the end, you just want to stand up and say “This is weird! You’re a vampire. He’s a werewolf. She’s 13. And there are all these creepy Gypsy children everywhere! You’re a witch now? That wasn’t clear. Now it’s over? What?”

If you're confused, tough.

The real tragedy isn’t Lemora’s descent, but that such strong visuals are tied to a gobbler of a script. It’s a great film for Halloween parties; just be sure to put it on mute.

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