Halloween Spotlight: ABC NBC & CBS Movies of the Week–the year is 1973 🎃 13 Fearful Tele-Frights!!

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From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett & Stacey Abbott

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1-The Cat Creature 1973

Aired December 11, 1973 as an ABC Movie of the Week

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“Beware the seal of Kah-ub-set, for he who dares to remove it will open the gates of Hell.”

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The Cat Creature was directed by horror film icon Curtis Harrington Night Tide (1961), Queen of Blood (1966), Games (1967), How Awful About Allan (1970) tv movie, What’s the Matter with Helen (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), Killer Bees (1974) tv movie, The Dead Don’t Die (1975) tv movie also directed by Curtis Harrington, Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) tv movie.

The Cat Creature was scripted by Robert Bloch based on a story by producers Douglas S. Cramer , Wilfred Lloyd Baumes and writer Bloch himself. 

From Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood written by Curtis Harrington -he talks about how different television executives’ mind-set for tele-films are than major motion picture executives.

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Director/writer  Curtis Harrington master at ‘horror of personality’

“I found out just how different on a television movie called The Cat Creature. The script  was written by Robert Bloch, based on an old story he’d published in Weird Tales. In fact, he was one of the horror writers I had discovered in the pages of Weird Tales during my teen years in Beaumont. It was a nice pulpy story about a girl who is the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian cat goddess. In casting the actress to play the modern incarnation of this beautiful goddess, I got my first nasty taste of  TV executive thinking. I discovered that this new set of black suits was always very involved in the casting of leading roles in the network TV drama. Unlike movie executives whose primary interest was ‘box office appeal’ they were concerned with something they called TVQ” This meant the ratings the stars other television appearances had received. The connection between a star’s suitability for a role meant absolutely nothing, and this was the case of The Cat Creature… […] I recalled that Egyptian women supposedly used henna to dye their black hair red, so we put a dark red wig on Meredith Baxter, and she agreed to darken her eyes with green contact lenses… […] Bloch had written an important supporting role, the proprietor of  a magic shop, for a man. I suggested that he rewrite the role for a woman and that we try to get Gale Sondergaard for the part. Sondergaard was an actress I remembered vividly from my childhood. She had been memorable as the sinister Oriental [sic] woman in The Letter and in the title role of The Spider Woman, a Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes adventure in 1937…

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“I had wanted the proprietress of the occult shop to be played as a lesbian to lend a bit of spice to the show. But Standards and Practices , the office of the network devoted to removing any element to a script that might offend Mrs. Grundy, sent a memo after that there must be ‘NO SUGGESTION WHATSOEVER THAT THIS CHARACTER IS A LESBIAN.’ However, my natural propensity toward subversion was given its due when Douglas Cramer allowed me to add a dwarf hooker to a scene in a cheap hotel where Stuart Whitman as the detective interview John Carradine, who plays the hotel clerk. The dwarf lady of the evening is shown seated on the counter in the hotel lobby. Swinging her short legs and batting her eyelashes, she says to Stuart, “How’s tricks, baby!” This was left in, and Cramer was very pleased when the incident was singled out for comment in a New York Times review of the show. It wasn’t the sort of thing they were used to seeing in the bland medium of television.”

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The Cat Creature was written by prolific horror-writer icon Robert Bloch, (Psycho (1960), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964) a few episodes based on Bloch’s stories were used in Boris Karloff‘s anthology television serie ThrillerThe Weird Tailor 1961,  The Grim Reaper 1961, The Hungry Glass, The Cheaters, The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), Torture Garden (1967) The House that Dripped Blood (1971), Asylum (1972) Bloch wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Night Gallery, Circle of Fear and Star Trek.)

The story of The Cat Creature

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An estate appraiser Frank Lucas (Kent Smith) comes to catalogue a private collection of Egyptian relic, the inventory at an estate –among the deceased’s possessions is an Egyptian mummy adorned with splendid regalia –wearing a large amulet around it’s neck and topped the golden head of the cat Goddess Bast.

Just to be clear as a person who worships cats–The story of The Cat Creature is a creation for a horror tele-play that has no foundation in historical fact. Bast was not a murderous cat nor an evil deity. Bast represents protection and is a sacred symbol of that protection toward cats… She is not a monster!

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From Wikipedia–Bastet was a goddess in ancient Egyptian religion, worshiped as early as the 2nd Dynasty (2890 BC). As Bast, she was the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt, the Nile River delta region, before the unification of the cultures of ancient Egypt. Her name is also translated as Baast, Ubaste, and Baset.[1] In Greek mythology, she is also known as Ailuros.

The uniting Egyptian cultures had deities that shared similar roles and usually the same imagery. In Upper Egypt, Sekhmet was the parallel warrior lioness deity. Often similar deities merged into one with the unification, but that did not occur with these deities having such strong roots in their cultures. Instead, these goddesses began to diverge. During the 22nd Dynasty (c. 945–715 BC), Bast had transformed from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat.[2] Bastet, the name associated with this later identity, is the name commonly used by scholars today to refer to this deity.

Shortly after Lucas leaves, a thief Joe Sung played by Keye Luke steals the amulet, the mummy disappears setting off a series of uncanny events and several mysterious murders. Frank Lucas is found dead and Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) calls in Prof. Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) as an expert to help identify the missing amulet. Joe Sung tries to pawn this ancient amulet at The Sorcerers Shop an occult shop owned and run by Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). After Black’s young salesgirl is murdered in the same fashion as Frank Lucas, she hires a new girl to work in her shop. Enter, Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) who gets pulled into the mysterious happenings and begins a romance with Prof. Edmonds.

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The strange killings show the victims all baring the marks of a giant cat attack, as if they’ve been clawed to death. Is it the resurrection of the Goddess Bast who is committing these murders?

This ABC Movie of the Week, showcases the actress whose popularity was rising at that time, Meredith Baxter, who plays the mysterious Rena Carter who may be somehow involved in these strange ritual killings. David Hedison plays Prof. Roger Edmonds an archeologist who is called upon by the detective on the case, Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) to assist him in solving the murders. Just a note… I am absolutely crazy about Stuart Whitman, down the road I plan on doing a feature on his work –his credits too long to mention, so see the link to IMBd, I also really want to do a feature on the incredibly mesmerizing actress of the 70s Barbara Parkins who appears in another ABC Movie of the Week Snatched that I’ll be covering in just a bit…

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Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Marco is on his way here to arrest you”
Rena Carter “What!”
Prof. Roger Edmonds-“Don’t you see Everything about you adds to Marcos’ suspicious no previous address no social security number A girl who covers her tracks A girl who stops at the shop not by accident but with deliberate purpose. Marcos thinks that you destroyed everyone who stood between you and that amulet.”

Another bonus of this creepy tele-film is that it co-stars the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. as Hester Black the occult shop owner.

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In an interview actor David Hedison commented, “All in all, it was a very happy experience. Meredith was a joy to work with, and a fine human being. Stuart Whitman and I talked and laughed a lot about our early contract days at 20th Century Fox in the late 1950s and 1960s. And of course, Gale was a lovely woman and shared so many wonderful memories with me about her early films. And I should add that all the felines behaved beautifully–even in one of the more violent scenes with me at the end of the film. I managed to escape without a scratch!” –“One other memory was of the first screening of the film before it aired. There was a small invited audience at a screening room on the lot. My wife, Bridget, had not read the script or seen any of the shooting, and at one point when the Cat Creature suddenly jumps out to attack, she got such a fright she let out a scream- much to the delight of the producers and director”

From Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal-“here he (Curtis Harrington) successfully recreates the moody thrillers of Val Lewton of the 1940s. Relying on creepy atmosphere and suspense.”

Deal points out one of the prevailing great elements of The Cat Creature, it’s fabulous casting of course Stuart Whitman who is a tremendous actor, his appearances go all the way back to the early uncredited 50s classics like When Worlds Collide (1951) and Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Whitman was nominated for an Academy Award for his startling performance in The Mark 1961, as a tormented man dealing with his repulsive impulse to molest children and his ultimate redemption. It was a risky role, that he inhabited with dignity and pathos. A prolific supportive actor and leading man he appeared in Cimarron Strip tv series from 1967-1968. One of my favorite films of his Shock Treatment (1964) was another powerfully nuanced portrayal of Dale Nelson an actor who is paid to infiltrate a mental hospital to expose a crazy psychiatrist Edwina Beighly played by the silky and sly Lauren Bacall. Stuart Whitman has appeared in stinkers too, like Night of the Lepus (1972) about giant mutant bunnies, eh not so much… in Jonathon Demme’s Crazy Mama 1975 with Cloris Leachman, and a very slick Italian cop thriller called Shadows in an Empty Room aka Blazing Magnums (1976). And since we’re celebrating these ‘tele-fright’ films of the 70s let’s just mention his other supporting roles, he plays a psychic looking for a missing husband in Revenge! (1971) with Shelley Winters as a deranged mother who lost her daughter and The Woman Hunter (1972).

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David Hedison of course was popular with horror fans for his campy over-the top performance as a altruistic scientist who loses his head over his discovery to transport matter in the fantastical classic Sci-Fi hit, The Fly 1958 (which is part of my series to follow Keep Watching the Skies -coming up The Year is 1953) starred in the hit television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)

The supporting cameos are such a treat! Seeing Gale Sondergaard who is terrific as the occult shop owner Hester Black who while reading Professor Edmonds his tarot cards gets into a battle of the wills between skepticism and fanaticism. Sondergaard received the first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Anthony Adverse (1936) I adore her as Emily in the Abbott & Costello romantic comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946) even then she was open to the spirit world! Sondergaard was one of the unfortunate actors who were targeted by HUAC, brought before them she refused to testify and was blacklisted from the industry for over 20 years. She returned in 1969, and The Cat Creature was her first ‘tele-fright’ (as writer David Deal puts it) of the 1970s.

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The Deputy Coroner (Milton Parsons) looks like a corpse himself, just one of the macabre details that Harrington likes to throw into his ‘horror of personality’ films and teleplays.

The busy working actor Kent Smith has appeared in so many film and television supportive roles. Best known by horror fans for his roles in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat people (1944)

Here he plays Frank Lucas the cat creature’s first victim. Ironic isn’t it! His other tele-frights include director Curtis Harrington’s  How Awful About Allan (1970) starring Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris and Joan Hackett. He was also in The Night Stalker (1972) and The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974). One of my all time favorites, is the lovable, ubiquitous the theatrical acrobat likes of Burgess Meredith who could inhabit the role from vagabond to thespian at times quixotic poetic tongued –the sharp, and saturnine character actor John Carradine who plays the manager of a sleazy hotel clerk. Carradine can make the smallest part enormously unforgettable and has graced many a tele-fright– Crowhaven Farm (1970), The Night Strangler ((1973) and Death at Love House (1976) Next to Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, I have such a sweet tooth for John Carradine and he’s another icon I’d love to feature here at The Last Drive In.

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From David Deal’s terrific Television Fright Films of the 1970s a movie of the week companion –“Charlie Chan’s number one son Keye Luke is the amulet thief in his only telefright appearance of the decade but most curious is Peter Lorre Jr. who appears as a dying pawn broker Lorre Jr. was really German born Eugene Weingand a notorious imposter who was once taken to court by Lorre for using his name. Lorre died before his case against Weingand was settled, allwoing the impersonation to continue. Relative newcomer but top billed Meredith Baxter was fresh off the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom and would soon marry her co-star David Birney, where she would heifeenate her name and has become a fixture to television.”

Composer Leonard Rosenman is responsible for the score, he has won Oscars and Emmys for his compelling music, for instance Fantastic Voyage (1966), A Man Called Horse (1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) Race with the Devil (1975), Bound for Glory (1976) and supplied the poignant music for the dark disturbing psychological mini-series starring Sally Field–Sybil (1976). He also added his music to other tele-fright films such as Vanished (1971) The Phantom of Hollywood (1974) and The Possessed (1977) starring wonderful supporting actress of the 1970s Joan Hackett.

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Though I am a huge fan of the directors body of work, I have to look away from Harrington’s predilection to either kill off cats or make them look sinister in his films, so avoid The Killing Kind (1973) with Ann Southern or if you love rabbits lets not forget the poor bunnies in Whats The Matter With Helen (1971).

Also the sound the cat creature makes doesn’t sound anything like a growling menacing cat, it sounds like an old man who smokes too many cigars and needs to spit up his oatmeal and prunes.

2-The Devil’s Daughter 1973

Satan Has Returned For Her!

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Aired January 9, 1973 ABC Movie of the Week

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc  and screenplay written by writer/director Collin Higgin’s whose credits include the cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon and one of my personal favorite films–Harold and Maude (1971), he also penned the memorable feminist comedy classic Nine to Five (1980) starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda.

Busy 70s television Canadian born actress –with the girl next door beauty –Belinda J. Montgomery plays Diane Shaw, whose mother has died, leaving her with the revelation that she is actually the daughter of Satan. Diane’s mother Alice Shaw (Diane Ladd) had carnal knowledge with the prince of darkness and Diane is the product of that unholy union. Alice was also friends and worshiped Satan with Lilith who befriends and lures our wayward devil waif into a web of suspense as she spirals toward her fate.

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Naturally as the working formula would suggest Diane is then pursued by devil worshipers headed by Lilith Malone played by the grand lady herself, Shelley Winters. Of course there are elements that pay tribute to the far superior classic pre-occupation with devil cults and paranoia in the city Roman Polanski/William Castle’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) brought to life by the stunning performance by Mia Farrow, and the presence of such greats as Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly and Maurice Evans.

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Shelley Winters having a Ruth Gordon/Minnie Castavet moment!!!

Feeling trapped by her destiny, she soon meets and falls in love with Steve Stone (another tele-fright favorite-Robert Foxworth). Steve asks Diane to marry him and so life is possibly good again? Well maybe not so much…

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Lilith-“Dear, You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s old friends”

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Alikhine-“You are your mother’s daughter!”
Lilith- “SHE WAS ONE OF US”
Mrs Stone (Martha Scott) “She got religion, and turned away”
Alikhine-“You are your father’s daughter!”
Diane –“NO! NO!”
Alikhine- “He is the evil one.”
Mrs Stone-  “The all seeing… he is Lucifer”

First off, The Devil’s Daughter is still entertaining to watch, I adore Belinda J. Montgomery and I could watch Shelley Winters bring in her mail. She’s been lighting up the screen since she played the neurotic Jewish mother Faye Lapinsky in director Paul Mazursky’s sublime Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976) to watching her as Belle Rosen who swims under treacherous waters in The Poseidon Adventure (1972) , as she envision Ma’ Kate Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) or the tragic Helen Hill/Martin in Curtis Harrington’s gruesome horror of personality thriller What’s the Matter with Helen (1971)  as the bellicose Mrs. Armstrong in Bernard Gerard’s The Mad Room (1969) as the vengeful and deranged mother in the tele-fright film Revenge! (1971) going back to the luckless love-sick and doomed Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun (1951), as the delightful singer Binky Gay in Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), the sympathetic Terry Stewart in William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) or the gutsy and classy torch singer –Joy Carroll alongside Frank Sinatra in the dazzling musical noir film Meet Danny Wilson (1951)…! there it is I just adore Shelley Winters!

Belinda J. Montgomery was one of the more prevalent actresses in the 70s teleplays, like Season Hubley who looked fresh scrubbed and awfully pretty but could play it all damaged and less than pure if you know what I mean.

The Devil’s Daughter plays like a dark comedy, with a surprisingly pessimistic or should I say fatalistic ending, not unlike it’s finer forerunner Rosemary’s Baby.

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Directed by Jeannot Szwarc had started out his career working in television and has directed many popular contemporary television series link to IMBd to see his complete credits, in the late 60s and 1970s he worked on Rod Serling’s television horror anthology series from 1969-1973 Night Gallery.

If you’re familiar with the series you’ll recognize the painting of Satan that emblazon’s Lilith’s living room wall, could be a tout to the series that utilized artwork of art director  Thomas J. Wright who painted all of the paintings used to introduce each story.

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Szwarc directed a the ‘tele-fright’few Night of Terror (1972) and in 1973 directed the Lovely But Lethal episode of Columbo starring Vera Miles. Some of his notable theatrical releases – Bug (1975), Jaws 2 and the romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time (1980).

What makes The Devil’s Daughter the most interesting to watch are the familiar character actors that populate the film. The nefarious characters that are not quite they seem to be on the surface. Of course there’s the mentioned Diane Ladd as the profane mother who slept with the devil in the first place but in her waning years found religion but was executed by the cult for her transgression. There’s the wonderfully perspicacious Ian Wolfe whose presence always adds an extra depth to any story, here he plays Father MacHugh a kindly priest who while he doesn’t believe the gossip about Lilith would rather see Diane move out of Lilith’s house and live with a girl her own age. When Diane does decide to move in with a friend, Lilith blows her stack…

Fans of Dan Curtis’ cult television horror soap opera of the 1960s Dark Shadows will recognize Jonathan Frid as Lilith’s mute ‘chauffeur companion.’

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Film star Joseph Cotten plays Judge Weatherby, Martha Scott as Mrs. Stone, Lucille Benson ( a quirky character actress who was great at playing batty old ladies) as Janet Poole and Thelma Carpenter as Margaret Poole curious twins, a pair that reminds me of the odd relationship between Sylvia Miles as Gerde Engstrom and Beverly D’Angelo as Sandra in Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1977) which I am highlighting this Halloween month of October! The Poole sisters dress alike, Janet is white and Margaret is black, and they have cats with opposite colors.

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The persnickety Abe Vigoda (the irascible Detective Fish from tv’s Barney Miller) plays Alikhine an expert in ancient art of dance, Robert Corthwaite (the fanatical scientist intent on idolizing the superiority of the super carrot in The Thing from Another World 1951) plays pastor Dixon.

Some of the dialogue is as campy and hilariously high brow as all get out–“You are promised in marriage to the Prince, the Demon of Endor.”

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And much like the climax of Rosemary’s Baby there is the ensemble of Satanists seen in Lilith’s scrapbook of yesteryear, the cult standing around in living rooms in their robes posing for a the photograph.

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Diane struggles to fight back her legacy as the Devil’s own daughter as she struggles with nightmares, manifests her inherited evil nature and wearing her ring with the strange insignia, mentally impels a young boy to walk out into traffic, nearly getting him run down by a car.

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There’s a nice touch as she meets her roomate’s horse and they become frightened by her presence bucking and whinnying, a sign that they can see her evil essence. When Alikhine (Abe) leads the ‘ancient dance’ at the party Diane has an instinctual rhythm that guides her movements. Will Diane succumb to her legacy or will she use her power to fight her destiny? I won’t tell… “They actually refer to me as the Devil’s daughter.” -Diane

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3-Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 1973

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Aired October 10, 1973 ABC Movie of the Week

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“Sally, Sally, Sally… We want you, we want you. It’s your spirit we want, your spirit we need… When will they come to set us free… there’s time enough we have all the time in the world.” 

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of the most remembered television horror films of the 1970s. It no doubt has left a lasting impression with so many of us. Enough so, that director Guillermo Del Toro remade it with more teeth and polished effects in 2010, renewing a whole revitalized generation of fans of the story and mood of the piece in all it’s palpitating unreality. That’s why it has maintained such a cult status all these years. The creepy atmosphere is partly credited to director John Newland who wasn’t a stranger to stories of the macabre and uncanny as he developed the late 50s series One Step Beyond. which dealt with real life experiences with the uncanny and the supernatural. He also had a hand in directing several of Boris Karloff’s anthology series that blended mystery, horror and noir in his 60s series Thriller.

I love the color palate by set designer James Cane–the purple and blue tones, the reds and pinks, the golds and browns, the lighting and set design is a rich visual set piece to work within the modern ‘things that go bump in the night’ trope.

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Felix Silla, Tamara De Treaux & Patty Malone as the creatures: on the set of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Newland worked steadily through the 60s and 70s with Karloff on Thriller and then with Rod Serling on Night Gallery. In Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, director Newland has such a grasp on what is eerie and spooky in the classical sense delivers an atmosphere that is rich with a wonderful color pallet. He produces a simple story with spine tingling chills, that are often missing today. Newland’s device works great often due to the lighting and the quick glimpses, as you just catch aspects of these little menaces, rather than have them appear for long periods of time on camera. Another creepy mechanism that I find startling is a device within the make-up developed by Michael Hancock   (The Omega Man 1971, Deliverance 1972, Altered States 1980, Se7en 1995). where the creatures speak but  their mouths do not move, it is as if the voices come from behind their faces.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) Directed by John Newland
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Directed by John Newland

It’s an odd effect, and though it lacks the virtual ‘teeth’ that Del Toro’s savage creatures have, I am filled with such nostalgic shivers for the old look of things. The kitschy decorating for instance. The creature masks also remind me of something you’d see in The Twlight Zone, episode of Eye of the Beholder, in the same way make up artist William Tuttle created masks where their mouths didn’t move when they spoke. The effect just works. The three little devil imps with their shriveled scowling faces and piercing eyes and creep-tastical voices are among the most iconic and remembered creatures from the 1970s.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is “lit like a horror movie–pools of light glow amidst shrouds of darkness and mysterious shadows abound” “Even a darkened party scene is justified as reticence to reveal the house remodeling underway. The truth is fear of the dark is universal., especially when prune-face goblins tug at our bedclothes.”- David Deal: Television Fright Films of the 1970s.

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Alex (Jim Hutton) and Sally Farnham (Kim Darby) inherit a eerie old Victorian house from Sally’s grandmother that holds a dangerous secret legacy, as it harbors the spirits of little devil imps who need to be set free by a designated person whose soul they aim to possess. Once Sally moves in to her grandparents garish and secretly ghoulish old house, Sally discovers these little creatures living down in the pits of hell behind the bricked up fireplace in the creepy, musty den. Like her grandfather before her, Sally is next in line to ‘set them free’ by being their chosen sacrifice. She now must convince her success driven husband Alex that she isn’t crazy or a hysterical, bored housewife. Alex refuses to listen to Sally’s pleas to leave the house, or that the strange happenings and sightings of antagonistic little demons are real and not born out of her imagination or a way for her to sabotage his budding career that takes him away a lot. The only person who not only believes Sally but has tried to warn her not to meddle in things she doesn’t understand, is William Demarest as cantankerous handyman Mr. Harris, who worked for Sally’s grandparents. He knows about the little evil gnomes bricked up behind the fireplace and tries to no avail to get Sally to leave the creepy den as is, “Some doors are better left unopened.”

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Sally pushes on the bricks of the old fireplace, Mr. Harris the handy walks in, in his
sour-puss scowling manner-

Mr Harris-“It won’t work.! Sorry Miss I didn’t mean to make you jump”
Sally-“It’s alright… well why won’t it work? I mean surely all it needs to be is smashed open”
Mr. Harris- “those bricks are cemented 4 deep and reinforced with iron bars. There’s no way of opening it up.”
Sally-“now who’s idea was that?”
Mr.Harris-“Your grandmother had me do that twenty years ago.”
Sally-“Why?”
Mr. Harris-“Well, it, it was after, er (he stops and looks at the fireplace)
Sally-“after what?”
Mr. Harris- “I just can’t open it up.”
Sally-“Now Mr. Harris surely you’re not afraid of a little hard work, hhm?”
Mr. Harris-“Its not the work it’s just that some things are better left as they are”

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Sally-“Whats this?”
Mr. Harris-“That’s for cleaning out ashes”
Sally-“it’s been bolted shut”
Mr. Harris-“By me, and that’s the way it should stay!”

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Told by both Alex and cranky pants Harris to leave the fireplace alone, naturally she unbolts the ash pit, releasing the creatures who proceed to torment her, making it look like she is crazy, torturing her, gas-lighting her, as we here whispered tones of
“No don’t hurt her, not yet… “but I want to I want to…”

Oh there’s plenty of opportunity and time to torment, hurt and and drag Sally down to hell. Sally, it’s too much fun to drive her mad, messing with the lights whiles she’s taking a shower, then leaving the straight razor on the dark bathroom floor, poking out from behind curtains and bookcases, peaking out of the floral arrangement at the haute dinner party intended to impress Alex’s boss, placing a chord across the steps hoping she’ll fall down the long staircase. Sally sees these little menaces everywhere but no one else does. Alex doesn’t even believe that it’s mice, the place was fumigated right before they moved in. After Alex has a fit and fires Mr. Harris for filling his wife with dread, he finally reaches out to him wanting to hear about the history of the house.

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Apparently, Mr. Harris tells Alex, that Sally’s grandfather was heard screaming in the study the night he disappeared presumably as he was being dragged down into the pits of hell. After that, the fireplace was bricked up and the ash pit bolted shut. The wicked little imps have been waiting all this time to be set free.

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The simplistic story, everyone at one time has been afraid of the darkness and the unseen terror that it holds and the beauty of this enduring film which moves along in a very quick pace that doesn’t seem rushed, nor empty. Each scene while at times frustrates from the standpoint of stupid things you don’t do if you feel you’re in danger, like at the height of the danger drawing ever so near, just lie down on the bed and take a nap, okay you’ve been drugged with the sleeping pills slipped into your coffee by those little creeps. You will forever ask yourself, go to a hotel, why not just get out of the house. You feel like you want to scream at Sally, get the hell out… now for the love of Mike! And by the end, it tickles you to finally see her being dragged and daunted.

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It’s hard to make out in the darkly lit scene but the goblins are climbing the stairs like a mountain.

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Sally -“It’s was something like this little ferocious animal grabbed at my dress… Alex’s irritated voice scolds Sally like a child--“Look Sally you’ve got to stop this!!!” 

I must admit, it’s too delicious to see these little nasty creatures bounding up the stairs, rigging them with a chord in order to cause one to trip, fall and break ones neck, and pop out of the luscious darkness wielding what is to them a giant a straight razor. These little evil imps inhabit our world view perfectly of those ‘things that go bump in the night.’

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Kim Darby is plain and perfectly whiny within the horror version of Diary of a Mad Housewife, but that works to the films sense of go ahead drag her down the stairs already feeling, though I cheered for Carrie Snodgrass in the afore mentioned film of the 70s. ” Sally trips into a surreal world of gloom and although she never really gets a grip on things, she still shows some resolve.” Buying flashlights and candles instead of a room at a Hotel. sure Sally sure…

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Alex and Sally experiencing martial woes and little devil imps in the suburbs!

As Sally puts it when having a heart to heart with her only friend Barbara- “Most of the time she feels like a reasonable adjunct to his getting ahead”

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Barbara tells Sally that she knows exactly what’s it’s like to be “left by yourself to brood”
‘Making imaginary mountains out of imaginary mole hills” that’s exactly what her friend Barbara thinks the breaking of the ash tray by the side of the bed and the sounds of something lurking behind the kitchen garbage merely was…

This 70s tele-fright film could work as a horror story that embroiders the dismissal of women, their needs, their perceptions and their entire world into a adult fairy tale/nightmare. How a woman can become discounted when what she thinks and feels is chalked up to being merely her ‘imagination’ or emotional distress, and/or an unreasonable emotional dependency on her man who is trying to make it. Or… she is just plain exuding hysteria. Don’t Be afraid of the Dark consists of blunt hyperbole of the hysterical woman not in it’s undercurrent rather, right out in plain sight a contrast to the ‘shadows’ and goblins that lurk in the dark. Metaphor for women’s desire to be set free? I’ll leave that to scholars…

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Kim Darby looks better than ever… no frowzy Sally here!

Actually I read that originally actor George Hamilton was cast as Alex. The chemistry would not have been as well suited as Hutton’s disbelieving soul. Hamilton is too sharp an actor for Darby’s frowzy simple girl next door style. William Demarest gives a well suited supportive performance as the cranky handyman Mr. Harris who knows all to well about the secrets of that bedeviled house with it’s ancient wicked creatures lurking about. It is Sally’s friend Joan played by Barbara Anderson who finally believes Sally isn’t going mad. At first she suspects that it is a mad housewife deal, sexual frustration, martial woes, and just plain hysteria. Anderson won an Emmy for her role on Ironside as Officer Eve Whifield.

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Writer Nigel McKeand was sometime actor and was one of the demonic voices on the film. Prolific composer Billy Goldenberg (Columbo) is adept at both classical and pop music and has been in demand, providing music for film and television since the mid 60s. He tele-fright scores include Ritual of Evil (1970), Duel (1971), Terror on the Beach (1973), Reflections of Murder (1974), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), The UFO Incident (1975) and One of My Wives is Missing (1976).

One of the great aspects that work in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is the set direction by James Cane, the big old Victorian that creates the mood of a ‘chamber piece’ is so creepily garish with colors that clash, and a mix of neo-gothic, Louis VI and contemporary styles that even Sally decides to hire decorator Francisco Perez (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) whom the dastardly gnomes accidentally cause to fall down the steps killing him. Still, Alex doesn’t quite see that something is wrong with the house.

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Even after Joan (Barbara Anderson) begins to believe Sally, the efforts made to protect her friend are sluggish and frustrating, just to make our skin crawl with anxiety as these wicked little things chant “we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you”, while Sally is destined to go the way of her grandfather. This special Movie of the Week chiller is brimming over with eerie atmosphere.

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Felix Silla, who played one of the creatures also played Cousin It in The Addams Family.

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4-Dying Room Only 1973

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Aired September 18, 1973 ABC Movie of the Week –

Directed by Philip Leacock with a screenplay by Richard Masterson. (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) This iconic writer/visionary has too many credits to list them all, link to IMBd to see the breadth of this genius’ work.

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She’s Alone. No One Believes Her. And There’s No Way Out!

While driving across the desert Bob and Jean Mitchell (Dabney Coleman and Cloris Leachman) stop at a desolate roadside diner late one night. When Bob goes to the gent’s room, he doesn’t return, just vanishes completely! The locals including Ned Beatty as Tom King, the wonderful Louise Latham as Vi and Ron Feinberg as Lou McDermott  all appearing unfriendly and downright menacing. The worst of all being diner owner Jim Cutler who considers people like Jean and Bob ‘moron city folk’ (Ross Martin who does sinister really well!)

 

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Jean “You must have seen where my husband went”
Jim Cutler-“Are you telling me I did?”
Jean “He was sitting right there at that table. Right there.”
Jim Cutler-“And I was right there at that griddle, with my back turned how would I know where he went. Maybe he got sore at ya and just lit out. Cause your husband ain’t here ain’t no fault of mine.”

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One of the most underrated character actresses Louise Latham!

These uncooperative folks deny even seeing her husband at all. Then as the paranoia and panic builds someone drives off with her car, stranding her there and now are coming after her. Jean goes to the sheriff played by recognizable character actor Dana Elcar but she has no proof of a crime and tries to get him to believe her protect her from the danger she is in and of course find Bob.

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This familiar theme of the missing husband had been seen in tele-fright flicks such as Honeymoon with a Stranger 1969 starring Janet Leigh, and And No One Could Save Her 1973 starring Lee Remick.

Richard Matheson’s teleplay, from his short story strikes that universal chord of paranoia, alienation, helplessness and abject fear stuck in the middle nowhere, working like a claustrophobic stage play Dying Room Only puts our heroine in an environment surrounded by hostility with authority figures who don’t believe you all while stuck in the middle of a lonely unforgiving desert.

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Cloris Leachman is one of THE most talented comedic actresses, just brings to mind her iconic role as Mary Tyler Moore’s narcissistic and fashionable friend Phyllis Lindstrom from 1970-1977 and her outre brilliant performance as Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (1974).

Ross Martin best known for Artemus Gordon of popular television series The Wild, Wild West, and as Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch Blake Edwards striking suspense thriller Experiment in Terror 1962, and his pretentious art critic Dale Kingston in Suitable for Framing on Columbo’s 1971 episode co-starring Kim Hunter. Ross is just superb as a menacing figure, showing up in another tele-fright film Skyway to Death, before his death of a heart attack in 1981.

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Ned Beatty is another marvelous character actor who’s creepy statement to Jean is chilling a complete departure from the cowering victimized Bobby out of his element in Deliverance 1972 who goes through his own ordeal with local hostile types here plays a slovenly cretin, Jean asks for change to use the pay phone, Jim Cutler (Ross Martin) tells her he’s fresh out and Tom (Beatty)- looks straight at her, jingles coins in his pocket and walks over to the pinball machine to play a few rounds. One of his more menacing lines–“The only thing I’m gonna regret, lady, is that I’ll only have ten minutes alone with you before I kill you.”

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Dabney Coleman has few lines like this for instance– “These two men happen to be jerks and this… is a dump.” Not quite Bette Davis…

Dana Elcar appears to be a well-meaning but powerless sheriff… Is he part of the conspiracy?

From David Deal’s Television Fright Films of the 1970s –“This story of frustration has the feel of dream logic at first as Jean’s world suddenly turns into a series of unexplainable roadblocks.

Dying Room Only is a film that pushes the trope of paranoia and no-one will believe me. Director Philip Leacock who keeps the film tautly wound, especially during the first half. Leacock worked on many popular television shows of the 1960s. His tele-fright films in the 1970s include When Michael Calls (1972), and Killer on Board (1977).

Composer Charles Fox was twice nominated for Oscars The Other Side of the Mountain, Foul Play, and won two Emmy’s both for Love American Style. Among his credits are Barbarella 1968, The Green Slime 1968, The Drowning Pool 1975. I just learned that he wrote Killing Me Softly with His Song with lyrics by Norman Gimbel in collaboration with Lori Lieberman in 1972, made famous by amazing songstress Roberta Flack, who gives the most stunning rendition.

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5-Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

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 If there are devils, there must also be gods. I don’t know. I have no thoughts…

Aired on February 13, 1973, as the CBS Movie of the Week

With a teleplay by Ron Austin and Him Buchanan -and music by Mort Stevens who worked on many Boris Karloff’s anthology series Thriller… Horror at 37,00 Feet is directed by David Lowell Rich 

Television Fright Films of the 1970s by David Deal– “Horror at 37,000 Feet is either a meditation on the inherent savagery of the human race on the primal fears and ancient behaviors that tether us to the past, no matter how far we advance with our technology or just a silly horror movie.”

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Alan O’ Neill –“You know I think I’m gonna put some black stone on the floor here around the altar”
Sheila O’Neill-“Very nice if you’re planning to use it as a bar”
Alan O’Neill -(laughs) “That’s a little nasty”

Architect Alan O’Neill (Roy Thinnes) appropriates the remains of a cursed abbey from his wife’s familial state in England, loads them onto a plane with the intention of flying them to America and using them in their home. During all this time it also happens to be the night of the summer solstice and I might add, a full moon. A foreboding glowing moon that shines over Heathrow Airport. Once the stones and pieces of the abbey are stowed away safely in the cargo hold, ten passengers board the red-eye flight.

Buddy Ebsen as millionaire Glenn Farlee, Tammy Grimes as Mrs. Pinder, Lynn Loring as Manya Kovalik, Jane Merrow as Alan O’Neill’s wife Sheila, France Nuyen as model Annalik, William Shatner as faithless minister Paul Kovalik, Paul Winfield as Dr. Enkalla, H.M Wynant as Frank Driscoll, a little girl Jodi played by Mia Bendixsen who is flying alone with her doll. And then there’s the crew Chuck Connors as Captain Ernie Slade, Will Hutchins as cowboy Steve Holcolm, Darleen Carr as flight attendant Margo, and Russell Johnson as Jim Hawley.

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Once everyone settles in, the spirits of the long dead druids break free in the cargo hold and threaten to take over the plane in order to claim their human sacrifice. The tension among the passengers starts to unfold as they try to figure out what the menace is, and what it wants.

Horror at 37,00 Feet is the only credit for V.X. Appleton whose story the film was based on. It was Emmy winning director David Lowell Rich’s first supernatural film for television but he would go on to make the cult favorite Satan’s School for Girls, Runaway! (1973) and another frightening flight film called SST-Death Flight (1977). Rich also made Madame X (1966) with Lana Turner and Eye of the Cat (1969) with Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt and Eleanor Parker and lots of felines…

People might make a comparison with some of the elements of Horror at 37,000 Feet and Cruise Into Terror 1978 on a rival network. While the basic framework, passengers board a cursed ship daunted by supernatural powers, Horror at 37,000 Feet just has a campier, creepier more atmospheric mood and sensational theatrics because of it’s cast. In that film, the passengers of a boat are threatened by the son of Satan. Horror at 37,000 Feet utilizes a more nuanced menace, the spirits of ancient druids, which is a totally more unique narrative, as they howl and cause an eerie frosty freezing burning cold throughout the cabin of the airplane as they hunger for their sacrifice. Barry Thomas in charge of the sound department creates some authentically chilling aural scares as the wailing, groaning old ones, and the supernatural static that encircles them…

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The ensemble of this horror film might not be too proud of it but it is quite a diverse cast indeed. Tammy Grimes is deliciously eerie in her unbounded knowledge of ancient cults, Lynn Loring as usual is perfectly intense and tightly wound. It’s all so outlandish and campy. Jane Merrow from Hands of the Ripper (1971) plays architect O’Neill’s wife, Sheila. Among the other great actors is millionaire Glen Farlee played by Buddy Ebsen, a Mrs. Pinder Tammy Grimes, who seems too in sync with all things supernatural and sort of sympatico with the druid mythology. There’s a man of god, who has fallen and is having a crisis of faith- drowning himself in alcohol and self pity. Who else could play that without breaking a sweat by the brilliant to happily hammy master most likely hand picked just to re-visit his role as the tormented man on a plane William Shatner as Paul Klovalik… Shatner is not at all a stranger to being terrorized on a plane by strange creatures–if we just think back to a decade before on The Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet that aired 10 years before in 1963. Shatner played Bob Wilson crazed by his visions of a monster on the wing of the plane, daunted by a gremlin who is tearing the wing and tinkering with the engine of a plane when no one, not even his wife will believe him much to the fate of the flight.

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A film like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) , creates a world of tension as the variety of personalities each respond to the crisis in their own way, not to compare this Movie of the Week with the masterpiece of cinema, Horror at 37,000 Feet is itself an ensemble morality play as much as it is a supernatural story. The tensions, conflicts and personal dynamics are tested by the imminent danger and the doomed fate they are faced with.

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Alan (Thinnes)  “Are you beyond fear or are you just drunk?”

Paul (Shatner)  –“Both but if I were you I’d worry more about your fellow passengers than what ever it is you brought on board”

Things start to go wrong as soon as the flight leaves London as the plane is being mysteriously suspended in mid air going around and around in circles. The mysterious and uncanny entity smashes out of it’s crate in the cargo hold and freezes Mrs Pinder’s dog Damon. The cold then begins to manifest itself inside the cabin. A green boiling oozing Lovecraftian kind of menace reveals itself.

When Captain Slade and Hawley investigate, Hawley is quick-frozen like a bag of organic cauliflower. The evil power rips through the carpeted floor of the plane and an ugly greenish brown ooze bubbles and smokes as ancient unintelligible voices chant. That is how the malevolent entity shows its presence.

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Co-Pilot Jim Hawley “Look at this there’s something like moss on the bulk head.”

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An evil unspeakable horror that you cannot really see. From the old school of less is more, and it’s what you don’t see that creates more dread. It’s more creepy and effective that way. Sheila O’Neill (Jane Merrow), whose family built the abbey passes out and speaks Latin and hears voices that torment her, calling her name, which prompts Mrs. Pinder to explain a bit about what’s going on.

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Paul- “Do you remember what you said when you fainted? (he speaks a Latin phrase)
Sheila “Yes I heard that, one of the voices what does it mean?”
Alan – “Well do you know or don’t ya?”
Paul “It’s from a Black mass…”
Alan “a prayer… to the devil?”
Manya-“or to that thing back there!”
Alan “My wife is imagining things that’s all


Manya “She’s hearing voices… Paul says she was reciting a black mass”
Paul –“I was probably wrong I was a worse scholar than I was a priest”
Mrs.Pinder “It was a man’s voice wasn’t it?”
Sheila -a crazed look in her eyes-“Yes”
Mrs. Pinder “Do you know who that was my dear… ? In 1407 Lord Compton the owner of the land in which the Abbey stood, your ancestor was burned at the stake for heresy and murder. He worshiped the Druid gods. Offered human sacrifices. Members of your own family.”

It seems the abbey was built on a sacred grove of the druids who had performed human sacrifices. Every hundred years at the solstice, the spirits of the ancient druids come back demanding their sacrifice. Mrs. Pinder asserts that it’s Sheila they want. The panic sets in as everyone jumps to wild conclusions for self preservation’s sake, They decide to make a pseudo Sheila, attaching her fingernail clippings and strands of her hair to the little Jodi’s creepy doll. They paint it’s lips red with Sheila’s lipstick. It’s a grotesque site. They try offering that to the spirits who are drawing nearer, only being held off by a fire the passengers have lit, and their safe space is growing smaller with each hour. They try to substitute the doll for Sheila as their sacrifice. The druids aren’t buying it!

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Glen Farlee (Buddy Ebsen) has a soliloquy “Maybe she’s right. What other explanation could there be. Everything’s gone crazy!”  The plan doesn’t work so the group decides to light a fire on the plane to keep the evil spirits away, and soon the fire burns out and all looks grim. Of course Shatner stands out in this film as the faithless, pessimistic, nihilist defrocked priest Paul Klovalik as he drinks heavily and tries to shut off the chaos surrounding him, feeling helpless and hopeless. “The closer to heaven, the more discordant” and generally dismisses the rest of the passengers bitterly as fools and barbarians.

 

Paul Kovalik: “You don’t need a priest, Mr. Farlee. You need a parachute….
I’m going to open a bottle of it right now. It might not make me happy. But it will amuse me to think of all of you back here worrying about your lives… as though they were of some importance.”

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Shatner certainly isn’t playing this kind of guy, that’s for sure!

At the end Paul Klovalik does find a flicker of faith left and rises to the occasion. But will the ancient old ones, the druids get what they want?

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6-The Invasion of Carol Enders 1973

Her task is clear, to find an confront her own murderer!

Aired November 5, 1973, ABC Movie of the Week.

From David Deal’s book Television Fright Films of the 1970s-“Producer-director Dan Curtis had his hand on several intimate productions in the early 1970s, which were shot on videotape in Canada. The Invasion of Carol Enders is one of these. Carol Enders (Meredith Baxter) and her fiance Adam Reston Christopher Connelly are attacked while spooning in lover’s lane and Carol is seriously injured when she attempts to escape. Meanwhile, Diana Bernard (Sally Kemp) the wife of a doctor, is fatally injured in an automobile accident. Both patients are sent to the same hospital. and Carol makes a miraculous recovery just as Diana dies. Upon Awakening, Carol claims in very convincing terms to be Diana. When the police determine that Diana was murdered, Carol/Diana leaves the hospital to find the killer. This mild-mannered story of possession will not appeal to those with a fancy for the macabre. It plays more like a soap opera mystery that happens to have a kernel of the supernatural driving the action.”

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The story is by Merwin Gerard whose list of credits include tele-fright films, The Screaming Woman (1972) starring the great Olivia de Havilland, The Victim (1972) and She Cried Murder (1973) The story was adapted by Gene Raser Kearney. Kearney wrote several Night Gallery episodes for Rod Serling and my cult favorite Games (1967) starring Simone Signoret and Katherine Ross, directed by Curtis Harrington and Night of the Lepus (1972)Giant killer bunnies, ehh not so much…

Meredith Baxter was in the midst of her breakthrough television series Bridget Loves Bernie in 1972 when she did this film. She also appeared in Ben in 1972 and the other film I covered directed by Harrington, The Cat Creature. Her most famous roles aside from tele-films were of course as Nancy on the thoughtful nighttime drama Family 1976-1980 starring Sada Thompson and Kristy McNichol then she went on to play Elyse on Family Ties in the 80s.

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Peyton Place alumnus the handsome Christopher Connelly plays Adam Reston and familiar character actor Charles Adiman plays Dr. Peter Bernard both are good at playing the perplexed husband routine. Connelly’s Adam Reston even helps the police in their investigation, playing an important part in solving the mystery. Dan Curtis favorite John Karlen plays Diana’s ex-husband David Hastings, the number one suspect in her death. George DiCenzo plays Dr. Palmer and Sally Kemp is Diana Bernard.

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Carol-“I knew Diana, probably better than anyone. She was hard on you David, a lot harder than you deserved.”

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Dan Curtis has executive producer credit on this film. and an un-credited nod for direction because several snippets of footage–including Diana’s car crash are taken from his tele-fright The Norliss Tapes, which aired the same year. Some sources list the film as having aired on March 8 1974, some claim it was released in 1973. I’m choosing to include it in my feature here as a 1973 release.

Director Burt Brinkerhoff was an actor, mainly on television in the 50s and 60s and this was his first film as director. He would go on to make the horror film Dogs, and yet another television adaptation of Frankenstein in 1987.

The film plays more like a murder mystery/thriller, but you cannot escape the supernatural narrative that exists, references to India where  the air was “thick with the spirits of the dead, it was like incense.”

The Possession of Joel Delaney came out in 1972 and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud came out in 1975, Audrey Rose came out in 1977. The subject of reincarnation was threaded throughout the 1970s as an appealing and uncanny, almost taboo trend.

Continue reading “Halloween Spotlight: ABC NBC & CBS Movies of the Week–the year is 1973 🎃 13 Fearful Tele-Frights!!”

Postcards From Shadowland: no. 15

Anna The Rose Tattoo
Anna Magnani in Tennessee William’s The Rose Tattoo (1955) directed by Daniel Mann
Blood of a Poet 32 Cocteua
director Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of the Poet (1932) starring Enrique Rivero
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Lillian Gish stars in Broken Blossoms in D. W. Griffith’s (1919) visual poetry
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Kongo (1932) Lupe Velez torments Virginia Bruce in this remake of West of Zanzibar (1928)
GIULETTA MASINA in Fellini's masterpiece oneric journey Juilet of the Spirits 1965
Guiletta Masina is brilliant in Juliet of the Spirits (1965) Fellini’s masterpiece oneric journey
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director Kaneto Shindô’s Kuroneko (1968) a beautifully disturbing ghost story
Anita Louise as Titania
Anita Louise as Titania Queen of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1935
Brando and Schneider The Last Tango in Paris
Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in The Last Tango in Paris 1972
Ohmart and Franz The Wild Party
Arthur Franz, Anthony Quinn and Carol Ohmart in The Wild Party 1956
Annex - Alexander, Katharine as Alda Death Takes a Holiday)_01
Death Takes a Holiday (1934) Katherine Alexander as Alda with Fredric March as Prince Sirki/Death
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Richard Fleischer directs Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler 1968
Dead of Night
Part of several segments of this classical ghost story, Alberto Cavalcanti directs Michael Redgrave in perhaps one of the most famous frightening tales in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” Dead of Night (1945)
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Peter Breck is attacked by Nymphomaniacs in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963)
Brighton Rock Dick Attenborough as Pinkie Brown with Carol Marsh
Film noir thriller Brighton Rock (1947) starring Richard Attenborough as Pinkie Brown co-stars with Carol Marsh
Clementine
John Ford’s epic western drama -My Darling Clementine 1946 starring Henry Fonda and Linda Darnell
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Charles Busch, left, and Peter Francis James in a 1993 Classic Theater Company production of “The Maids” (1933) in which the sisters were men in drag
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon Jérôme Pomino
The Living Dead Man 1926-Michel Simon as Jérôme Pomino
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François Truffaut’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with The Bride Wore Black (1968) starring the incomparable Jeanne Moreau
The Sea Hawk 1924
The Sea Hawk (1924) directed by Harold Lloyd starring silent film idol Milton Sills
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Harriet Andersson in Through A Glass Darkly (1961) director Ingmar Bergman
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA.  Credit: Janus Films.  Playing 4/24 - 4/30.
The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel’s VIRIDIANA Janus Films. 

MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!

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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!

We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!

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Gloria Stuart The Invisible Man

Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !

Let’s drink a toast to that notion!

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The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to runs your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay! From A-Z

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phantom in the rue morgue 1954
Phantom in the Rue Morgue 1954

ELIZABETH ALLAN

Elizabeth Allan

A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958 she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.

Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)

The film is a Tod Browning’s re-take of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).

The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.

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Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) hatch an intricate plot to trap the murderers!

Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit, includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna  (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all what it seems?

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire
Elizabeth Allan (below center) and Carroll Borland as Luna in Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935)
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Elizabeth Allan and Carroll Borland Mark of the Vampire (1935)

The Phantom Fiend (1932)

Directed by the ever interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.

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Ivor Novello is the strange & disturbing Michel Angeloff. Elizabeth Allan is the daughter of the landlords who rent a room to this mysterious fellow who might just be a serial killer. Daisy Bunyon falls captivated by this tormented and intense young man…
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A.W. Baskcomb plays Daisy’s (Elizabeth Allan)father George Bunting and Jack Hawkins is Joe Martin the regular guy in love with Daisy
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Michel Angeloff (Ivor Novello) to Daisy Bunting (Elizabeth Allan) “Stay away from me… don’t ever be alone with me…{…} -You trust me, no matter whatever I’ve done?”

The Mystery of Mr. X (1934)

There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes have put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.

Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!

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HEATHER ANGEL

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Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943) and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.

Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.

The L.A times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low- budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”

Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervillles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.

Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909.
Heather Angel in Berkeley Square (1933) Image courtesy Dr Macro

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932)

Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s thriller Originally serialised in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.

In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror oriented story it calls for the great detective to investigating the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from it’s victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.

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Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

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Douglass Montgomery as Neville Landless and Heather Angel as Rosa Bud in the intensely superior rare gem The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.

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The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!

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Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vie for Rosa’s affections. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.

OLGA BACLANOVA

Olga Baclanova

Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind the scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.

It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal and loyalty.

Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact a poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folk. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead and more!

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Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but much reverence paid toward the Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.

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( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tight rope walker, the subtle choreography between gut wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)

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Baclanova and Earles

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“You Freaks!!!!”
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Gooba Gabba… I guess she isn’t one of us after all!

here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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Continue reading “MonsterGirl’s Halloween 🎃 2015 special feature! the Heroines, Scream Queens & Sirens of 30s Horror Cinema!”

Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

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Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
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Françoise Dorléac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
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Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

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Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

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There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
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Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
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Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ♥ Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) & Dream No Evil (1970) Journeys of: The Innocent/Absent Father Archetype & Curse of the Lamia or “Please don’t tresspass on my nightmare!”

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“For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet. Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.”
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’

LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL 1973

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Run, little girl! Innocence is in peril tonight!

The Light in the Window … The Lock on the Door … The Sounds in the Night! A Possession is Taking Place!

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A while ago I double featured Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and The Night God Screamed (1971). I made it clear that I felt Let’s Scare Jessica to Death was the superior film but somehow they made good companion pieces. And since I’m a child of the 70s, those days of the double bill, musty theaters, milk duds and groovy posters, I’ve decided to pair these particular films. And once again, I’ll emphasize now that I believe Lemora to be by far not only the superior film, but one of the MOST uniquely beautiful horror/fantasy films I’ve ever seen.

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Because the film hit a very bumpy road on it’s release, it wound up being passed around like an orphan from one distributor to another. Thus the reason for several titles over the years. It has been called The Legendary Curse of Lemora and Lemora, Lady Dracula, the latter hoping to ride the wave of low budget vampire films that have now also attained cult status such as Bob Kelljan’s authentically potent Count Yorga Vampire 1970 starring Robert Quarry, and the equally stylish Blacula 1972 and of course the Gothic vampire pageantry of Hammer Studios churning out stylish costume melodramas with a lesbian vampire sub-text like The Vampire Lovers 1970 and Lust For a Vampire 1971, Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire 1971, and Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride 1972. The liner notes written by Richard Harland Smith of Video Watchdog & Chris Poggiali of Fangoria and Shock Cinema interviewed Richard Blackburn and Byrd Holland and point out that Blackburn’s film is “less exploitative” yet “not unerotic” while using the “fragility of innocence.”

From the Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema-Edited Andy Black
Bev Zalock’s- Girl Power From The Crypt

“In a sense, horror more than any of the other exploitation genres, with its monsters of the imagination, feeds fantasy and configures fear in a very direct way. With its linking of sex and death, horror taps into the unconscious and is associated with surrealism and the fantastic in both literature and cinema. Desire becomes the primary mise-en-scene within the realm of the supernatural and, as David Pirie observes in his excellent book The Vampire Cinema’ there is a strong cultural connection between our perception of sex and the supernatural. Pirie cites an article by Susan Sontag written in 1967 entitled “The Pornographic Imagination” in which she locates the fantastical realm of the human imagination as the site in which the two are classically connected.” – from Susan Sontag’s piece–Styles of Radical Will 1966

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Celeste Yarnall is the dark lady vampire in Stephanie Rothman’s -The Velvet Vampire-co-starring Sherriy Miles.

In addition to these lesbian vampire narratives, you have Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos 1970 and auteur Jean Rollin’s distinctive style who like Hammer connected suggestions of the ‘pornographic imagination’ that Susan Sontag describes. Films that use the spectrum of surrealist imagery from the Gothic to the gory. What they share is a ferocious appetite for power and the desire for sexual freedom.

Directed and written by Richard Blackburn  (Eating Raoul 1982 with cult idol Mary Woronov and co-written with director Paul Bartel) fresh out of UCLA film school, with his pal Robert Fern. Blackburn has said in interviews that there are things he would have done differently with a better budget and more time. He shot Lemora in a month. I think the crudely macabre tonality of Lemora is what makes films like these from the good old ’70s oneiric, quintessential, haunting and flawless as is.

There is a discrepancy as to whether the running time of the film is either 85 minutes or 113 minutes (uncut). The remastered DVD through Synapse Films took the original 35mm negatives and brought this film back to it’s ‘never before seen clarity.’ The prints were presumed lost for over 30 years.

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The hauntingly macabre and somber music is by Dan Neufeld who crafted electronica and claviers and what I think might be a Melatron to evoke the eerie essence of the story is absolutely brilliant. With crying strings that fortify distorted wails and moans. With music box tinkling, poignant yet eerie flutes and piano, muted horns-noises that shimmer and reverberate on cue with the dialogue or surreal set piece- I wish Dan Neufeld had done more movie scores. The sound design, the dysmorphic groans-unearthly wails- they’re the sounds you’d imagine the ‘old ones’ make in a Lovecraftian tale. Even the crickets and chorus frogs of the swamp sound metamorphosized  into frightening aberrations.

And the visual settings that create a landscape of fable, folklorish imagination and sleep walking nightmare that contributes to the film’s fantastical quality was done by cinematographer Robert Caramico (Orgy of the Dead 1965, The Black Klansman 1966, The Wild Scene 1970, Octaman 1970 yes it’s a guilty pleasure of mine!, Blackenstein 1973 and The Manhandlers 1975) The sequences are saturated with a European color palate and low lighting that permeates the dream-like magnetism.

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Art direction by Sterling Franck who took Blackburn’s book of Charles Adams prints and ripped the pages out, putting them up on the wall to study. The creaky bus Hy Pyke  drives is an actual 1913 REO bus.

The visual effects were done by Byrd Holland (Rabid 1977,The Baby 1973) costumes and wardrobe by Jodie Lynn Tillen (Angels Hard as They Come 1971, Switchblade Sisters 1975) Tillen dresses Lila Lee, her hair done up with pale blue ribbon and black patent leather shoes on her journey as if she were Alice from Lewis Carroll’s story. For all the modern CGI effects in contemporary film- Holland gives special credit to his lab assistant Doug White. I prefer the look of the 70s, and as Byrd Holland said these were the only tools they had in their make-up kit. I think the simplicity is so effective it taps more into the primal…

Tillen’s costumes use night-fevered colors–The most decadent black satin for Lemora, with rhinestone buttons on the cuffs and velvet black gloves, or lace hand ornaments that reveal her deathly black nails. Only the choir robes, the reverend’s shirt and Lila Lee’s nightgown are white. Her pale pink and blue dresses splinter the darkness that looms about. White and the pale pink and blue obviously symbolizing purity and innocence, diverges wonderfully against the forbidding black nails, pale purplish lips, burnt orange, mustard golds and satin lilac purples. In Lemora’s nether region there is a deep blue tinge throughout the film’s lens. Blackburn’s film does have; as he states a “quasi European slant.”

Like Rollin’s work who created expressionist, surrealist and pulp influenced imagery, the use of color portrays an atmosphere of the uncanny. Daniel Bird a Rollin enthusiast cites his work as ‘pulp gothic’ referring to his colors as cobalt blue and scarlet. Much like the colors in Lemora.

The darkest Gothic blues, Victorian purples and greens, fiery red haze of the lantern light and blood red ‘sort of’ like wine in the goblet, to the blood red Victrola, –Sharon Cassidy was responsible for the archetypal fairytalesque hair styles.

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The dialogue is perfectly suited for a modern day adult fairy tale, filled with innuendo and simplifying the story so that it translates more effectively as a fairytale and not dramaturgical, which might have constrained the film’s fantastical moodiness.

I caught Lemora, as many of us did back in the days of Fright Night on channel 9 in New York. I was mesmerized by it from the outset. In James Arena’s entertaining and nostalgic book Fright Night on Channel 9 he mentions Lemora in his section The Fright Night Experience-1983 having aired on March 19th within weeks of Mind of Mr. Soames with Terence Stamp ( I will be covering this film down the road) Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (another fav of mine!) and Don’t Look in the Basement. So many of these obscure low budget gems found their home and reached us fans on late night theater like Fright Night and Chiller Theater. But I wax nostalgic…

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Lesley Gilb (Taplin) who plays Lemora, was very intellectual, had more academic interests than to continue as an actress, Blackburn recalls. She died tragically in 2009 in a car accident on Highway 101. Ironically I just wrote about that particular road in my last double feature with Man on a Swing. It’s sort of eerie to be hearing about her tragic death on that same highway that Joel Grey refers to while being questioned about the murder of a young girl. Having two kinds of fans, the people who knew Lesley for the performance in this cult masterpiece and the people who knew her as a social activist. From IMDb it lists her as having worked as a film producer, production assistant, production manager, story editor, researcher, writer, gallery manager, publisher, teacher, and a dedicated volunteer with many downtown Los Angeles organizations.

Cheryl *Rainbeaux* Smith who plays the very ethereal Lila Lee was seventeen when she starred in Lemora. I think she did a terrific job of portraying a naive thirteen year old, then allowing herself to emerge out of her prepubescence singin’ angel into a feverish nymph.

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Sadly succumbed to a hard life of heroine addiction and died in 2002 of hepatitis. Once a member of the girl band, The Runaways. Auditioned for the role of Iris in Taxi Driver (1976) which of course made Jodi Foster’s career. Smith had parts in many ‘B’ movies of the 70s & 80s. I loved her as Lavelle in Jonathon Demme’s  Caged Heat 1974. This taut women-in-prison film also stars Juanita Brown and Roberta Collins, plus! Barbara Steele plays Superintendent McQueen!

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The gorgeous Cheryl Smith in the superior women-in-prison- flick of the 70s by Jonathon Demme- Caged Heat 1973

Smith was a groupie in Phantom of the Paradise 1974, The Swinging Cheerleaders 1974, Farewell, My Lovely 1975 with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling. Massacre at Central High 1976, The Incredible Melting Man 1977, The Choirboys 1977, Laserblast 1978, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Vice Squad in 1982.

I perceive several different allusions within the narrative of this adult fairytale, with it’s strong sexual overtones and the central theme of corrupting innocence. A story that harkens back to dark and grim folktales representing the  a coming-of-age rite-of-passage tale.

From–The Dread of Difference-Gender and the Horror Film edited by Barry Keith Grant from Chapter 3 –Carol Clover’s ‘Her Body, Himself’– “What makes horrorcrucial enough to pass along’ is, for critics since Freud, what has made ghost stories and fairy tales is engagement of repressed fears and desires and it’s reenactment of the residual conflict surrounding those feelings. Horror films respond  to interpretation as Robin Wood puts it, as ‘at once the personal dreams of their makers and the collective dreams of their audiences–the fusion made possible by the shared structures of a common ideology’

In an interview back in 2010 at Cinemamateques Egyptian Theatre 2010 Richard Blackburn discusses how mind blowing it was for him to read the French critics reviewing Lemora, in magazines during the film’s release who actually cited Blackburn’s literary homages, and how much insight they had into his reading sensibilities. How “they had gotten all the references.” One of his favorites was Arthur Machen’s The White People. You can see shades of this in the sequences of Lemora and her horde of spooky children with their secret rites and ritual dancing, and the initiation of a young girl into a secretive occult society.

Richard Blackburn on the right
Director/Writer -Richard Blackburn on the right being interviewed in 2010.

From Wikipedia- the synopsis of The White People- A discussion between two men on the nature of evil leads one of them to reveal a mysterious Green Book he possesses. It is a young girl’s diary, in which she describes in ingenuous yet evocative prose her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives, as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and ritual magic. Throughout, she makes cryptic allusions to such topics as “nymphs“, “Dôls”, “voolas,” “white, green, and scarlet ceremonies”, “Aklo letters”, the “Xu” and “Chian” languages, “Mao games”, and a game called “Troy Town” (the last of which is a reference to actual practices involving labyrinths or labyrinthine dances[1]). The girl’s tale gradually develops a mounting atmosphere of suspense, with suggestions of witchcraft, only to break off abruptly just at the point where a supreme revelation seems imminent. In a return to the frame story, the custodian of the diary reveals that the girl had “poisoned herself—in time”, making the analogy of a child finding the key to a locked medicine cabinet.[2]

Blackburn remarked that he was pretty steeped in horror literature at the time. One in particular was to Arthur Machen the Welsh author and mystic of the early 20th century, best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction much like his contemporaries, and friend H.P. Lovecraft. Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and of course August Derleth and Ray Bradbury. The hellish bus ride through the nightmare forest had been considered Lovecraftian by Blackburn in his commentary on the DVD. Blackburn contributed his thoughts to the DVD liner notes saying that it was a nod to Lovecraft’s short story “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” where the population of a small fishing village devolve into monstrous things, much like the inhabitants of the abandoned Astaroth. Blackburn also was inspired by Lewis Carroll ( I did think of Lila Lee & Alice Through the Looking Glass) and James M. Barrie with the ‘lost boys’– as you can see with Lemora’s children. There’s a reference to Tennessee William’s cannibalistic children in Suddenly, Last Summer as similarly undead urchins.

Also wonderfully descriptive on the liner notes- “dark tale of childhood terror and transgression-both set within sprawling nightscapes.”

Alvin Lee evil gangster
the notorious and evil gangster Alvin Lee, Lila’s father

The film’s narrative is drenched in subtextual planes, like Lila Lee’s father(William Whitton) being a gangster in the South during prohibition era late twenties, early thirties. Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encylcopedia of Film sets the film in Georgie in the ’20s. Though the story is supposed to be situated in the deep south, it was actually shot on location in Culver City and Pomona Valley California.

The song the ornery old woman (Maxine Ballantyne) sings to Lila Lee while she’s locked in the little stone house is something that Blackburn’s grandmother used to sing to him. I remember hearing it sung to us by the librarian around Halloween when I was in kindergarten.

This version was collected by folklorists Iona & Peter Opie in the 50s in England. The Opies claim that published versions go back as far as 1810:

My kindergarten class experience-

“There was an old lady all skin and bones, whoooo, oooo, oooo
She lived down by the old graveyard, all alone, whoooo,ooooo,ooooo
One night she thought she’d take a walk, whooooo,ooooo,oooooo
She walked on down by the old graveyard, whoooo,ooooo,oooooo
She saw the bones a laying around, whooooo,ooooo,ooooo
She went to the closet to get a broom, whooooo,ooooo,oooooo
She opened the door, and… BOO!”

The film’s version of the folk song–

The Old Woman singing while circling Lila Lee, “There was an old woman all skin and bones, Ooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. And she did weep and she did moan, Ooooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. She walked on through the streets of town. Ooooh-ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh. Where all the dead lay on the ground. Ooooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh. Then turned and to the parson said. Ooooh ooooo ooooo. Will I look like that when I am dead? Ooooh ooooo ooooo. The parson to the old woman said… BOO!!!!”

Lila screams, the old crone cackles with glee!

Myself, I see a synthesis of ideas and several different parallels from fairy tales , mythology and classic literature disambiguated in the narrative. From the frightening mythical she-creature Lamia in Greek Mythology who was a child eating demon, the mistress of Zeus who angered Hera so much that she killed Lamia’s children except for the cursed Scylla. Hera then transforms Lamia into a monster who steals and devours other people’s children. Later traditions referred to her as a vampire or succubus that seduced men and fed on their blood.

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Loving Lemora feeds off the blood of her children

Here are some little tidbits of info about the lore of the Lamia I found from Wikipedia-Folklorist David Walter Leinweber in Witchcraft and Lamiae in “The Golden Ass” notes that translations and the evolution of the story reveal many vampiric qualities. In Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere, Lamia is a “velvet,” a type of warmth-drinking vampire.

“She became a kind of fairy-tale figure, used by mothers and nannies to induce good behavior among children.” Wikipedia lists Christian writers having warned against the seductiveness of the lamiae.

John Keats described the Lamia in Lamia and Other Poems, presenting a description of the various colors of Lamia that he based on Burton’s book- ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy.’

Melancholy is a very good word to describe the sense of atmosphere in Lemora. There’s a relentless twilight and night world, a pervasive wickedness that blankets the darkness with gloom and dread.

In terms of literary allusions I can even see a bit of Hansel & Gretel the journey of children who wander through the enchanted woods only to stumble upon a witch who wants to eat them. Little Red Riding Hood, a tale that has representation of a ritual of puberty, where the young attractive girl who goes through the process of leaving home is transformed into a woman , who comes to her sexual awakening by the ‘wolf.’

And of course the more direct identification would be with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla. The most beautiful adaptation for me is Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses 1960.

Blood and Roses-Roger Vadim

Another connection I could make is the story or long narrative poem of Christabel written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which also utilizes a central female character who meets a stranger called Geraldine. Familiar as Coleridge was in suggesting mysticism and ambiguity with his The Rime of The Ancient Mariner. Many modern critics seize upon the theme of lesbianism and view it as a feminist poem. Interpreting the powerful mesmerizing presence of the supernatural, and demonic forces which are underlying in the piece. Geraldine is later revealed to be both ‘sexually and morally’ nuanced.

“Christabel goes into the woods to pray to the large oak tree, where she hears a strange noise. Upon looking behind the tree, she finds Geraldine who says that she had been abducted from her home by men on horseback. Christabel pities her and takes her home with her; supernatural signs (a dog barking, a mysterious flame on a dead fire) seem to indicate that all is not well. They spend the night together, but while Geraldine undresses, she shows a terrible but undefined mark: “Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast: Her silken robe, and inner vest,
Dropt to her feet, and in full view, Behold! her bosom and half her side— / A sight to dream of, not to tell! / And she is to sleep by Christabel” (246–48)

Vain Lamorna A Study for Lamia by John William Waterhouse
Vain Lamorna A Study for Lamia by John William Waterhouse – Take out the ‘N’ and you have Lemora.

Even the name Lemora could be a derivation of Lamia or Camilla, it’s very Victorian, Gothic and macabre- amorous as it rolls off the tongue. Perhaps one question I would ask Blackburn is, did he use as inspiration for the title character Lemora, Waterhouse’s painting of Lemorna the Lamia?

As an adult fairytale which uses film credits like The Reverend, The Old Woman, The Bus Driver, The Ticket Seller, The Young Man–all characters designated for a fable-the film conveys an atmosphere of sexual repression, religious anxiety, and archetypes of the ‘innocent’ and the ‘absent father’. Lila Lee’s trial of temptation and seduction becomes a sexual journey that is quite unsettling but beautifully rendered.

Lila Lee much like the character of Grace MacDonald in the second feature I discuss Dream No Evil, is also in search of her father. Her authentic father, and prior to that, the ‘heavenly father’ as the church represents the patriarchal figure of fatherhood. In this film, it is challenged by the dark inexplicable forces of the Monstrous Feminine or female abjection which is represented in the form of Lemora who is demonic and Sapphic.

Lemora is lensed through a fantastic eye that translates wonderfully the notion of, the ‘Monstrous Feminine’ and these other modern cultural & classical archetypes. What I think is really fabulous is that the narrative operates from the female gaze, and not the socially constructed male gaze that was common in cinema, but I talk a bit about that later.

And incidentally, I’ll be doing a piece for The Great Villains Blogathon coming up in April, hosted by Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin. I’ll be talking about Gloria Holden’s more sympathetic Contessa Marya Zeleska in Lambert Hillyer’s timeless horror classic Dracula’s Daughter 1936  “Yes, you’ll do very well indeed. Do you like jewels, Lily? It’s very old and very beautiful, I’ll show it to you.” Zeleska says to another blonde nymph Nan Gray as the naive and hungry model Lily. God I still love that scene! Say if you’re interested drop them a line and join in the Villainous fun…

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Gloria Holden as the Contessa Marya Zeleska in Dracula’s Daughter 1936

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is hypnotic, transgressive, surreal, rebellious and as one of Blackburn’s interviewers said, it has an ‘odd fabulousness’ surrounding it.

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Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini write in their book ‘The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ that Lila Lee flees, ‘to escape the sexual advances of the minister’. While Lila Lee does embrace him with a burgeoning affection/attraction she is still an innocent which makes the relationship very uncomfortable on purpose. Silver and Ursini also perpetuate the on-going rumor that Lemora was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, rather than by the Catholic Film Board. Phil Hardy and Barry Kaufman claim that it was the Catholic Film Board that condemned Lemora as anti-catholic. “the entire plot of the film reeks of anti-Catholicism” from Demonique #4, FantaCo Enterprises, Albany, 1983, p.3 by Barry Kaufman.

In the big black beautiful book Phil Hardy edits ‘The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror’, which I sometimes go to as my reference bible, he writes, “leavened with a fierce anti-Catholicism that recalls not only Communion 1976 (he’s referring to Alice Sweet Alice 1976) but also the works of Luis Buñuel.Hardy also says the film has “considerable eroticism which details in a most imaginative fashion and with with scant regard for conventional ethics the sentimental/sensual education of a young girl…{…} Blackburn’s elaborate yet meticulous mise-en-scene captures the essential amorality and mysteriousness of the world of childhood.”

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When asked about the film being banned by the Catholic Church and the Catholic Film Board. Blackburn says he’s not sure if that was ever true. He was told that it had been rated C by the Catholic Legion of Decency and felt honored since Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956) starring Carroll Baker and Karl Malden had gotten ‘the big C’ for condemned too.

During that interview he was asked why if the film was such a beautiful fable with it’s ‘odd fabulousness’, why he didn’t make another one?

Richard Blackburn replied, “first of all it was an abject failure.” His initial impetus was the craze of all the vampire films that were being produced at that time. But the film had a dismal release, receiving bottom billing and wound up at drive in theaters (and that’s bad?) His favorite description of the film was in the Village Voice-the reviewer called it ‘artsploitation.’  He went on to say that, “The reason the film fell through the cracks is that it didn’t have enough gore or action in it to be exploitation and it didn’t have what it would take to be called an art film…”  I think Lemora IS every bit an art film and it still has the power to cast it’s unconventional and eerie spell to this day, I’d love to tell Richard Blackburn that myself. I would love to interview him for MonsterGirl Asks.

The Plot

It’s the story of a young girl’s fall from innocence and her sexual awakening real or imagined- she is submerged into a world of erotic images, threatening forces, menacing and horrific, while being held captive by a mysterious woman who is surrounded by a legion of sinister undead children with black nails, and an old crone who loves to cackle and scare the bejesus out of her with little folk tunes! As Phil Hardy says, Lemora “(Gilb) attempts to initiate her into the delights of vampirism” Hardy also makes the comparison of Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness 1971 (yet another fantastic vampire flick) and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) which Goregirl’s Dungeon has highly recommend and I still haven’t had the chance to see it yet. Writer Tim Lucas compares the film as a whisper of Val Lewton, while I’m not sure I can see that, I sort of see why he also mentions director Harrington. There’s a bit of Curtis Harrington in the film’s gritty portrayal of human nature spiraling downward with some supernatural edginess to create a landscape of dread. I’m a huge Curtis Harrington fan. Perhaps the added gangster meets eerie is reminiscent of his Ruby 1977 with Piper Laurie. But that film was four years down the road from Lemora.

Alvin and his gun

Lila's mother in bed with her lover

Alvin Lee kills his wife

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The notorious Alvin Lee’s daughter is an ethereal, prepubescent girl of 13 named Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) who is being raised in the church where she sings in the choir- “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and is cared for by the Reverend Mueller (director/writer Richard Blackburn) who secretly lusts after the little blonde waif known for her angelic voice. In a newspaper clipping she is referred to as The Singing Angel. Lila Lee’s celestial other-worldliness draws you in… the film emphasizes how much everyone desires her…

The Reverend addresses the all female congregation with a fury –“Vicious slander and gossip about our own Lila Lee.”

Being the daughter of a notorious gangster and having an almost trance like beauty that could be mistaken for the wiles of the devil, the Reverend defends Lila Lee to his congregation as “the most innocent creature on God’s earth.”

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Curiouser… and curiouser… an all female congregation

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It’s the prohibition era in the deep south. Lila Lee’s father, a gangster brutally murders his wife and her lover while in bed. She is removed from her monstrous parents for more than three years. Reverend Mueller gives a stirring sermon to the gossiping congregation spreading maliciousness about their own Lila Lee- “Must you demand that this poor innocent child be punished as well” -The sins of the father being delivered upon the child.

Her father Alvin Lee, flees and runs over a poor old woman, an almost more refined version of the old crone Solange. He becomes a fugitive from the law and reviled by the whole county as evil, escaping into the backwoods of a clandestine community reigned over with a languid poise by the elegant, enigmatic and arcane Lemora.

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As Alvin Lee drives, he is being watched by the unseen eyes of Lemora’s vampiric drones

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Lila Lee packs her things, to go and meet her father

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Lila is all too happy when she gets a letter from the mysterious, Lemora, relating the story of how her father is dying and is deteriorating rapidly. He wants to see her before he dies so she can forgive him for his sins.

“Dear Lila, I’m writing you at your father’s request. He is on his death bed. He constantly asks for you to come and forgive him for any harm he has done you. Come alone. If you tell of this or bring anyone with you, you will not be taken to him. The instructions to follow are enclosed. Because of your good work and intense devotion to God, I know you won’t fail him. A fellow Christian-Lemora”

Lila Lee sneaks off in the middle of the night from the church and, ‘the Reverend’, though she leaves him a goodbye note.

” I am going to see father and forgive him. I’m still afraid but I want more than anything to be a good Christian and make you proud of me-Love Lila”

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Lila Lee asks The Young Man for a lift to the bus station
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The Young Man tells her he’s not a taxi service, but doesn’t hesitate to gaze on her with lasciviousness, telling her to get! before he changes his mind…

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During her flight, she encounters various salacious rural folk. She sneaks into the back of a car in order to get to the bus station. Hiding down on the floor of the car she overhears the conversation between The Young Man and his girlfriend.

We see the backs of their heads while they talk about Lila Lee. We hear their voices but there is a sense of detachment and an unreal quality because you do not see their faces, their lips moving or expressions. The camera angle purposefully removes them from Lila in a way that creates a more imaginary feel to the scene. It is her crossing over the threshold from being the singin’ angel in the choir to passing over on into the borderland of the netherworld of Astaroth.

The Young Man talking with girlfriend who refers to Lila as ‘Miss Priss’, accuses Lila of being shacked up with the Reverend and if he were him, he’d have one hell of a time keeping his mind on bible studies.- This triggers a flashback for Lila Lee. Reverend Mueller is reading from the bible.

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After Lila tries to embrace him with a hug, telling him “he’s so good”, he tells her he won’t tolerate these unseemly displays of affection. Obviously challenged by his own sexual attraction to her, he sends her to her room, and opens to the Song of Solomon, the most sensual verse in the bible. “How beautiful are they feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman…”

This is cleverly cross faded over a scene of Lila getting dressed in front of her mirror. When suddenly Reverend Mueller appears in her mirror having opened the door. Or has he? She shudders catching her breath, for a moment turning around to welcome him into her room, a joy of seeing him appear and then the reverie is over and she is back in the darkness in the backseat of the Young Man’s car.

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The rural town folk consist of a host of shady characters- a seedy man peeing on a wall who leers at her, a prostitute looking out the window smoking a french cigar with a red lighting gel cast over her, the reflection of Lila Lee in the window to the right hand corner is a great effect…. There’s a man beating his wife outside a bar, for her infidelity. Her screams are violent and disturbing, as he stops for a moment to gape at Lila “Looking for a good time girlie?”

Then begins music by an unseen bluegrass singer twanging the lyrics of Paper Angel.

“She was holy and divine and I wish that girl was mine. Her eyes they were the bluest of them all. But on that dark black day when she left and walked away… I knew she was a headin’ for a fall…{…} Well I saw her late last night, oh god she was a sight all painted up and colored like a whore. And I knew that wife of mine, the one that’s so divine, and there ain’t no paper angel anymore.” -Paper Angel-Sung by The Black Whole.

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She goes to buy her bus ticket but the trip is not part of any regular line, you just pay the driver when you board. The Ticket Seller (Steve Johnson who does a great job of being way too creepy) gazes at her in the same lustful way, offering her chocolates. “What do you like best, soft or hard centers?”  The whole never take candy from strangers theme… another warning for Lila Lee along the way.

She goes to the back where the bus is idling, and so begins her harrowing journey with ‘the Bus Driver’ an uncivilized wild-man with crazed eyes (Hy Pyke who played Taffy Lewis in Blade Runner) through the eerie fog soaked swamp lands and labyrinthine woods on the way to a town named Astaroth.

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“You goin’ to Astaroth- You Lila?” His voice and grubbiness make him appear like a shabbily dressed Igoresque skid row bum. The bus sputters and clanks so wonderfully illustrative of the film’s atmosphere of degeneration and disorder.

In demonology, Astaroth is the name of the Crowned Prince of Hell. Although it is referred to as a male figure, he was named after the Canaanite goddess Astaroth.

Lila Lee tries to open the window but the stink of the salt marshes that are rotten gets in her nose… the Bus Driver laughs…

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Lila Lee’s image is split down the middle-her reflection in the bus mirror shows the other side of her nature

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“The railroad stopped going through years ago. Swamps all over the place and hardly aint nobody there… and those people oh god those people. Nobody like those people. It’s the way they look they call it the Astaroth look.” He starts to mention an epidemic that beset the town, but when Lila asks him about it, he tells her “I don’t know, I don’t know… don’t make me curious (waving his hands ) they don’t like people asking questions. Sometimes they don’t come back” The Bus Driver is himself a puzzling character that Pyke imbues with a strange confusion and agitation. He’s also the one taking her on her way toward her rite of passage.

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While on the bus, there’s a wonderful split-image of Lila Lee who’s reflection is caught in the bus window. She is framed split down the middle. Symbolic of her journey and the emerging choice she will have to make.

The music that underscores this scene as it descends into chaos, becomes a version of the folk song “There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones”. It prepares us for later with old woman Solange.

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Along the way the bus is taken siege by a strange pack of monstrous creatures who inhabit the forest who make horrible growling, gurgling and beastial sounds as they run along side the bus. The woods people begin to converge on them, chasing the bus down and pounding on the side panels. -It’s such a frightening scene.

Lila Lee asks the Bus Driver what the attack was- “Those are the ones who have taken to livin’ in the woods… they’s the real bad ones.”

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“Pull the break !!!!!”

When the bus actually breaks down the driver gets out to take look under the hood and plans on coasting down the hill, he’s done it before. He takes a rifle with him. Suddenly he is confronted by one of the forest people. He tells Lila Lee to pull the break, she coasts down the hill trying to steer and crashes the bus. Lila Lee suddenly begins to hear the ungodly monstrous noises of the grotesque creatures coming closer…

A monstrous face appears at the window. here you can see the tribute to Dr Moreau’s and Lovecraft- and the wonderful make up by Byrd Holland.

As they start to break the windows of the bus, a figure in a black hat, and cape, pale face, blood shot eyes and fangs raises a wooden stake and slays the creature before it can reach Lila Lee. She cups her hands to her mouth and screams.

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The cloaked fanged vampire stakes the sub-human killing it. Lila passes out.

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Lila Lee is rescued by a mysteriously dark figure, the woman who sent the letter… Lemora (Lesley Gilb) who fixates on Lila Lee’s visage in the newspaper clipping about “Singing Angel” with a special fascination and libidinous gaze.

Lemora has summoned Lila Lee to these dark, shadowy woods to be the ‘object’ of her affection and to corrupt the innocence that Lila Lee exudes. Like the Lamia, she seeks to digest the very soul of what ever goodness lies within this child. At first Lila Lee remains locked in a little stone house, taunted by the ‘old woman’ who brings her food and sings her wickedly spooky songs. While in the stone prison Lila Lee is also visited upon by the ashen faced children that gabble and cluck at her like devil imps.

Lila Lee faints and the scene cross fades-We hear Lemora’s voice “Burn those things after you carry her to the stone house” the screen is black as pitch Lemora’s voice has an elegant lucidity.

Out of the blackness comes the hoot of an owl and the sound of crickets as Lila Lee awakens on a cot in the stone house with a small barred window.

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The scene- it’s tone and colors, the fable quality remind me of the beauty of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

Lila Lee starts to hear a melody on fiddle like a diabolical waltz of “There Was an Old Woman All Skin and Bones” and the cackling of small children.

Lila looks through the bars of the window and sees the silhouette of figures dancing behind the window shades of the large house across the way. The twirling shadows speeds up, as the pitch of laughter goes up a wicked octave.

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A toothless old crone in a black frock with tattered lace opens the locked door to the stone house, holding a lantern that burns blood red and plate of food. In an ancient crackly voice she calls out…

“Mary Jo!” holding up the light that casts the screen into reds and blue. “I’m Lila Lee…Where’s Lemora?” “For a minute I thought you was Mary Jo… same color hair” evidently Lemora has a preference for blondes. When she asks where her father is, the old woman cackles at her…

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“I was as beautiful as you once… not now” She begins to sing the “Skin and Bones” song.

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The old woman amuses herself having scared Lila Lee… until she hears Lemora calling her name “Solange!!” The Old Woman is suddenly struck with fear. She runs back to the house. Her gate through the eerie nightscape has always left an impression on me. We see her pass the tall dark figure who is standing by the front door, waiting for her. Lemora’s menacing shadow is cast beautifully on the house for extra effect.

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Lila Lee kneels down and begins to recite the lord’s prayer.

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The demonic little imps appear at the bars of the window laughing at her… their creepy voices echoing in the night air. She tells them to go away

When the old woman returns to bring Lila Lee more food, she lies in wait and shoves the woman down. Much like Gretel who pushes the old witch into the oven. She makes her escape from the stone house… as the old woman runs after her calling “little girl… little girl, where are you hiding? If you don’t come out I’ll get Lemora” The moment is so fantastically creepy with Solange calling her little girl and the plucked strings and otherworldly night noises.

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Lila Lee hides under the house. And hears her father talking to Lemora.

Alvin Lee who sounds as if he’s suffering from a terrible agony-“Just do me that one favor” Lemora assures him, “You’ll feel different when you’re one of us” He says, “I know this is the last time before I change, but if she’s still here., look I don’t want to turn against my own kin” Lemora decries, “It’s not like that at all. You’d be setting her free!”

We hear her as she begins drinking his blood, telling him that she’s so “thirsty”. Solange interrupts to tell her that her little girlie has run off.

“You stupid idiot, you let her run off.” Something startles Lila and she screams… Lemora hears her.

Sustained strings, flute, and clavier play while Lila crawls under the house. A single muted horn note and Lemora appears. Waxen faced and dark black satin dress covering her entire body from her the top of her neck down to the black gloves. A provincial wraith…

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“Hello Lila… I’m Lemora” Lila crawls out of the under part of the house like the hole Alice had fallen into.
Lila asks Lemore, “Why did you lock me in?”
Lemora tells her, “It wasn’t to keep you in, it was to keep other things out.”

Walking toward the entrance to the huge house, Lila asks to see her father but she’s told by Lemora that she’s not immune to his disease. She’ll have to wait til tomorrow after the ‘ceremony.’

Inside, the house is a Gothic throwback filled with ornate furniture. Lemora tells Lila to go up to her room and put on the clothes she has laid out for her.

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On her way up the stairs, she see a painting of a small child and two little framed collection of buttons. Perhaps a hint at fetish, the trophies of children Lemora has collected over the years.

Lemora watches her go up the stairs-she’s quite taken with the girl. The camera frames Lila from an above angle that makes her look like she’s a small soul in a fun house. It’s an odd angle made to give her the appearance of being lost inside a strange place, which she is.

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Neufeld’s sustained high string note and pensive flutes are perfect for the scene as she enters her room. Heavy dark wood and gold curtains. A plate of raw meat set out for her to eat.

Lila Lee puts on a pale lilac/dusty rose satin dress, slit provocatively down the front.

She goes to look at herself in the small gold hand mirror but the glass has been removed. She takes her own mirror out of the suit case. We hear the door creak open, but the mirror casts no reflection of anyone coming into her room at all. It startles Lila, who turns around and sees Lemora standing there, she drops and breaks her mirror.

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“The mirror is broken but you can see how lovely you are in my eyes.”

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She begins to untie Lila’s hair ribbons, she has a strange look on her face, as if she has been mesmerized by Lemora’s stare… She begins to appear a bit older already. Lila continues to let down her hair herself… Lemora clasps Lila’s face in her gloved hands, telling her to come downstairs the others are waiting.

Lila walks down the hallway as if in a trance. Her dress is slit provocatively down the front. She now walks in bare feet instead of her little girl’s shoes. Again the odd angle from above, she looks like a woman with her hair down now.

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Lila Lee is met by more devilish urchins who cackle and claw at her as she ascends the dark wooden stair case of the Gothic house. The children themselves are a bit androgynous. For me it is hard to tell if they are mostly girls or a few scattered boys. Their clothes, hair and jewelry quite gypsy like do not necessarily reveal this. An interesting gender twist added to the plot.

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“They won’t harm you they’re just curious” Lemora tells Lila gently.

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One of the little ones reaches out to touch Lila’s hand, it has sharp purplish black nails and corpse like skin, and wears a large turquoise ring. “You have pretty skin” Lila Lee lets out a gasp. The child seems wounded by this.

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The ‘Female Gaze’

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As the children sit around in a circle at Lila and Lemora’s feet, the deep strings or it could be a Melatron begins to play the most evocatively haunting melody line. Perhaps one of the most signature themes of the film. The poignant motif that symbolizes Lila’s impending transformation-while Lemora pours a goblet of blood into glasses.
Lila asks if it’s wine. Lemora says “Sort of.” Lila very defensive refuses, “I don’t touch spirits it’s unchristian.”

“It’s very rude not to do what another does when you’re under his roof… if you don’t enjoy our company you can go back to where you were last night” Lemora hands her the glass and tells her to drink!

Lemora takes hold of Lila Lee and leads her in front of the group to sing for the children.

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Lemora catches Lila as she starts to faint, leading her back to the throne like chair
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Lemora –“The drink has done that to you isn’t it nice… now let’s have some music”

As Lila starts to sing a very tentative version of  “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”… the children laugh, as she intones the words of the gospel. Lila’s vision starts to go out of focus and she starts to lose her balance.

Lemora catches her.“The drink has done that to you isn’t it nice… now let’s have some music”

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Lemora walks over to a beautiful old blood red Victrola. And asks Lila Lee...”Do you like to dance?”
Lila stutters, “No… I mean I never have.”

The wonderfully diabolical fiddle version of “Skin and Bones” on the vinyl record sings!

Lemora takes Lila Lee and begins to waltz with her… becoming a twirling, dizzying motion. The room becomes a centrifuge as the children join hands… encircling their Queen and her new chosen one…

There’s a shelf on the wall with a figure of the great god Pan who watches the waltz in the frame with their shadows twirling to the melody.

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The shadows on the wall, the dizzying pace of the waltz reminds me of Ridley Scott’s Legend 1985 which was released twelve years after Lemora. The black satin dressed Mia Sara dances with Tim Curry’s Satan.

“Just give your body up to the music!” Lemora tells Lila Lee excitedly.“The real sin is for a girl to deny herself life and joy especially if she’s as lovely as you…”

Lila Lee espouses “Vanity is a sin.”

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then darkness…..

Later Lemora helps Lila Lee prepare for the ‘ceremony’ by bathing her. It’s the most erotic scene in the film as Lemora tells her, ‘What an exciting figure you have!’

Lemora bathes Lila

lemora and lila bath

Lemora's black nails touching Lila's flesh

Lemora acts as if she is a protector and an amorous admirer who has found a new young girl to reign with her. The sallow Lemora speaks sagely to Lila Lee, giving her comforts laced with a sensually sapphic tone. Lemora’s unearthly black nails caress the lily white flesh of the virginal Lila Lee. Like two lost souls they exist to tempt each other-

Lemora is mesmeric, she tells Lila Lee, –“I really only shows people what they really are.” Lila Lee is being tempted away from her faith by the dark forces of evil. By a female seductress, though her male guardian is struggling not to be hypocritical to his faith by the internal desires for Lila Lee. It is this ancient temptress who might be Lila Lee’s descent from grace.

Lemora says, “Tomorrow, after the ceremony, you and I will become blood sisters… and all my power… all my beauty… all my life will be yours to share.”

Lila Lee asks, “What kind of ceremony? In the church?” Lemora answers,-“Yes.” Lila Lee naively says-“Baptist?”

Lemora-“Oh, no. Much more ancient than that. A church that all the others came from. A ceremony that goes so far back no-one knows when it began.”

Soon, Lila Lee uncovers the horrifying nature of Lemora the reigning queen of Astaroth, that she is a vampire who feeds on the blood of children to nourish herself.

The lesser beastial creatures of the woods with decaying and diseased skin, possess a primal ferocity that the more advanced strain of pale faced fanged vampires do not suffer from. Blackburn referred to these baser forms that are below the status of the other vampires having been inspired by H.G WellsThe Island of Dr. Moreau.

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Lila Lee and the vampires

Will Lila Lee escape the clutches of this mesmerizing woman? As she jo