L4Now here’s one that everyone of a certain age will have seen, or have heard of, or have read about in your history books when you got to the chapter on the Seventies. In the long, bumpy odyssey of its distribution, it’s been called LEMORA, LEMORA: LADY DRACULA, LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, THE LEGENDARY CURSE OF LEMORA, and probably THE BAD NEWS BEARS MEET LEMORA. In an age when there were low budget vampire movies like COUNT YORGA and BLACULA, LEMORA appeared and then slipped away, like that weird guy who shows up at parties with his acoustic guitar, plays Zeppelin covers for the mopey girls and then leaves with the brownies.

L3I remember this being one of the earliest movies I rented on Betamax, back in the days when it used to cost $59.99 for a videotape and Betamax was a thing instead of a rejected name for a Transformer. I wanted to see it because there was a picture on the back cover that implied there was going to be some hot lesbian action in it (I didn’t even know what a lesbian was back then, but I figured this would be the primer for me). It didn’t, but it was still strangely lyrical and mythical, a storybook that earns the movie the subtitle A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural.

That's not quite how he expected his time with her to end...

That’s not quite how he expected his time with her to end…

LEMORA is set during the Thirties, when Al Jolson was The Boss and flappers weren’t what you think they are, you dirty perverts. We spy gangster Alvin Lee (William Whitton) killing a couple of people by shotgun, before escaping and finding himself far from home, and in the clutches of black-caped figures in a dark house, before a pasty-faced woman (Lesley Tapin).

Lila's hoping the 50 SHADES OF GREY movie lives up to the book...

Lila’s hoping the 50 SHADES OF GREY movie lives up to the book…

Elsewhere, Alvin’s 13-year-old daughter Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) is a choir star at her local church, and the ward of the Reverend (played by director Blackburn), who likes to preach about the contrast between the vile and wicked Alvin and the shining star of goodness of Lila (when he’s not sneaking peeks at Lila while she’s beginning to undress for bed). Lila receives a letter, purportedly about her father, stating that he was near death and needed her. The Reverend doesn’t want her to go, but Lila runs away, despite having all the street smarts of Winnie the Pooh.

"WHERE'S THE REMOTE?"

“WHERE’S THE REMOTE?”

She makes her way to the wicked town of Astaroth, where people are all sorts of bad – drinking, consorting with women in provocative clothing, leering at Lila as she arrives. There’s a late night bus that’ll take her to her death- sorry, I mean Daddy – driven by a leering guy who was kicked out of Creep School for taking it to 11. She’s alone on the bus, and it’s feeling like this is one of those Afterschool Specials they used to do to warn kids against taking rides with creepy bus drivers in the middle of nowhere. But it turns out that there’s creatures in the woods that she needs to worry about more, and when the bus breaks down and the driver is killed trying to fix it, Lila barely escapes with her life…

Creepy, but not as batshit crazy as Courtney Love...

Creepy, but not as batshit crazy as Courtney Love…

She awakens locked up, tended by a crazy old lady with fewer teeth than a jellyfish and a cackle that makes Snow White’s Evil Stepmother say, “Girlfriend, you have to tone that down!” before being taken to meet the true mistress of the house: Lemora (Lesley Gilb). Lemora looks like the love child of Sigourney Weaver and Lily Munster, and says that Lila’s father is nearby, but a victim of the same plague that’s affecting the creatures in the woods, but that she can stay with Lemora and “her children”, who like to giggle and leer while Lemora makes Lila sing, before offering her some wine, and then a bath, because that’s what you do.

Lila didn't mind bathing in front of others. She just hated sharing the tub with the house pirahna...

Lila didn’t mind bathing in front of others. She didn’t like sharing the tub with the house pirahna…

I hadn’t seen the bath scene in decades, but on watching it more recently it turned out to be more chaste than I remembered. In fact, I’d seen episodes of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE with more sexual frisson. But hey, in this day and age we tend to forget the little gems and hints that were only available in movies like this. At any rate, later Lila wanders off (someone needs to stick a tracking unit on her ankle, she gets into mischief more than my puppy) and discovers the truth that anyone with eyes and two brain cells worked out long ago: that Lemora is a vampire, Lila’s father is a captive, and Lila is gonna be Lemora’s BFF.

The Child Catcher's been busy

The Child Catcher’s been busy

It’s a strange movie. Not as strange as, say, DEATH BED, or the one where the guy turns into a murderous turkey man when he smokes some pot. But it’s still bizarre, while also very old-fashioned and lyrical. There’s a rich undercurrent of Old World folk tales about innocents who literally stray off the path and end up in the clutches of ne’er-do’wells. And Lemora does give off that air of some wicked stepmother/Queen type that would want to corrupt or kill her innocent virginal ward (and to be honest, the kid is so sanctimonious you figure she could do with a couple of whiskey shots and a fumble in the back of a pickup truck to loosen her up).

I have the same reaction watching AMERICAN IDOL...

I have the same reaction watching AMERICAN IDOL…

And there are a few tensely shot scenes where you got a genuine feel of threat against the characters involved (there was something about movies made in the Seventies, before focus groups and ideas about sequel potential, when filmmakers and innocent bystanders could kill off their leads without abandon). But there’s very little here now to make one wonder why the Catholic Film Board banned this movies for 20 years, and there have been other films which have more expertly merged horror and fairy tale. LEMORA is available in several formats, and the trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary: 

Director: Richard Blackburn

Plot: 3 out of 5 stars

Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy. He knows what sucks.

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