Happy Halloween 2016 from The Last Drive In: Here’s a special Postcards from Horror Land -Color edition

blow-up Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

dont-look-now-1973

psychomania-1973

house-on-haunted-hill-1958

rosemary-s-baby-theredlist

barbarella-1968

the-stepford-wives-1975

trelkovsky-on-stairs

halloween-1978

alice-sweet-alice-1976

ruth-gordon-rosemary

black-sabbath-1963

suspiria-1977

the-fog-80

play-misty-for-me-1971

the_tenant_1976

rosemarys-baby-1968

the-birds-1963

the-sentinel-1977

barbarella

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

rear-window-1954

planet-of-the-apes-1968

games-1967

the-devil-rides-out-1966

santa-sangre

suspiria-1977

daughters-of-darkness-1971

planet-of-the-apes-1968

the-devils-rain-1975

blacula-1972

salems-lot-1978

lemora-1973

el-topo-1970

pit-and-the-pendulum

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

jodorworskys-santa-sangre

the-pit-and-the-pendulum

burnt-offerings-1976

the-haunting-of-julia

the-changling-1980

the-brotherhood-of-satan

the-premonition-1976

dolls-1987

the-abominable-dr-phibes-1971

brother-hood-of-satan

rosemarys-baby-1968-gordon-and-blackmer

the-dunwich-horror-1970

daughters-of-darkness

lets-scare-jessica-to-death

the-ghost-and-mr-chicken-1966

the-tourist-trap-1978

kill-baby-kill-1966

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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!”

Lemora, Lady Dracula

“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

Celeste Yarnall-The Velvet Vampire
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

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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 journey’s through the town, seeing once again that there are two types of beings that exist here. The higher form of vampire who wear hooded black cloaks and wield torches and are more human-like. And the lesser bestial, mindless and monstrous anomalies that roam the town and the surrounding woods. The two are in conflict with each other.

The Reverend has gone in search of his lovely little choir girl. And he finds her…

Is the entire experience a dream, a sexual fantasy- a flash in time, in the blink of a cinematic eye, while Lila Lee is intoning her angelic solos in the choir in front of an all-female congregation? Hhhmmm…

Lemora, Lady Dracula

Lemora-“Lila… oh yes, you cannot kill me. I am the unkillable. My spirit is the strongest ever. No matter by which name I am called, I am recognised as the most powerful in the hearts of all.”

The female protagonist of the film, Lila Lee is the spectator. I also propose that Blackburn created a feminist film. She takes the journey and becomes empowered by it. She is the witness to her own journey while we hold our gaze. She’s the one in control ultimately breaking free of the church. She chooses which path she will take between good and evil, and she takes control of her ‘desire’ before Reverend Mueller can act on his desire.

lemora-lobbycard with Smith and Blackburn

The Sexual Subject a Screen Reader in Sexuality-Chapter II ‘Desperately Seeking Difference’ by Jackie Stacey
Theories of Feminine Spectatorship:Masculinization, Masochism or Marginality– Stacey discusses Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ who uses psychoanalytical theory to base her premise on cinema which depends upon voyeuristic and fetishistic forms of looking. Stacey argues that Mulvey is too restrictive in her identification with only the male gaze. She cites David Rodowick who asserts that “Mulvey’s theory is flawed because she discusses the female figure as restricted only to its function as masculine object-choice. In this manner, the place of the masculine is discussed as both the subject and object of the gaze and the feminine is discussed only as an object which structures the masculine look according to its active (voyeuristic) and passive (fetishistic) forms. So where is the place of the feminine subject in the scenario?” Stacey suggests the one way to fill the theoretical gaps would be to do a thorough examination or analysis of the film’s narrative would demonstrate that “different gendered spectator positions which are produced by the film’s text, contradicting the unified masculine model of spectatorship. This would leave space for an account of the feminine subject in the film text and the cinema audience.”

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Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland 2010

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I won’t divulge anything else about the plot so you can decide for yourself which way you see it unfolding. I will say that the film has an ambiguous mimesis. We are left unsure of what we are witnessing. Is it fantasy or reality. The past or present. Even if it is just a violent reverie, it’s a ‘pretty lie’ that is intoxicating and terrifying and such a cult jewel that shines in the trope of vampire films and one of THE most powerful gems of ’70s horror.

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“Who are you?”
I am whatever you want me to be"
“I am whatever you want me to be”

Continue reading “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!””

Coming up next at the Drive In – Richard Blackburns Masterpiece -Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

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Lemora

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