Saturday, October 8, 2016

Season of Horror: Lemora, the Lady Dracula (1973)

Time to pay homage once again to Bob Wilkins with a frightening film known as Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural. When I first saw this movie in the 1970s on Creature Features, it was called Lemora, the Lady Dracula, and it disturbed me so greatly that I never forgot it. It wasn't until 2010 that I found it on DVD and was able to see it again. It's been a few years since I've last seen it, but I expect it will still creep me out. This movie is a brightly colored fairy tale nightmare.

"Is fun evil? The real sin is for a girl to deny herself life and joy."

It opens with a 1930s southern gangster in pinstriped suit gunning down a woman and man in bed and grinning about it. As he makes his quick getaway, he runs down a granny in the road. We switch to young and innocent singing angel, Lila Lee, belting out a high pitched hymn in church with a congregation composed entirely of women. Through the sermon on good and evil the minister delivers, we learn that she was removed from her parents three years prior, and her poppa, Alvin Lee, was the guy who just murdered his wife in bed.

There is some ominous, plodding music playing as we see Alvin Lee driving his car, as evil eyes appear to be watching. He is having trouble driving and when he stops, he is confronted by a hooded figure, which he shoots at with no result. A group of guys dressed in black, reminiscent of Lon Chaney in London After Midnight, grab him and they pull a newspaper article out of his pocket about his daughter, Lila Lee. The hooded lady smiles.

As Little Lila Riding Hood packs her suitcase, we hear a letter being read, telling Lila that her father is on his deathbed and is asking for her to come forgive him. She is instructed to come alone and is told that due to her devotion to God it is believed she will not fail to come see her father. The letter is signed by fellow Christian, Lemora. Lila leaves a note behind telling that she's afraid to go see her father and forgive him, but she wants to be a good Christian.

She sneaks out of the house at night and tries to hitch a ride from a lecherous guy, who tells her he's not running a taxi service. While he's in the house picking up his date, she sneaks into the back seat of the car and hides on the floorboard. The daters get into the car and talk about Lila living with the reverend and being a temptation to him. We see a flashback of the reverend teaching her and he gets angry when she hugs him, but then he walks in on her while she's dressing. There's something untoward going on there. Good and evil, indeed.

When the daters stop to make out, Lila gets out of the car and makes her way through the dregs of a city where a woman sits in a red lit window, and a man is beating his wife in the street, but stops to ask if she's looking for a good time before he resumes the beating. Lila goes to buy a bus ticket but is told they don't sell a ticket for the trip she's requested, since it's not part of a regular line and that she'll need to buy it from the bus driver out back. The ticket man pleasantly offers her a chocolate and suggestively asks if she likes soft or hard centers.

She finds her bus with the creepiest bus driver you would never want to have, who asks her if she's going to Asteroth. He bolts the door and she finds a seat in the back, being the only rider on the bus. She asks if she can open the window, but when she does, the stench makes her close it quickly. The bus driver laughs and explains that the marshes are rotten.

He begins telling her about the people who have the Asteroth look that was caused by some epidemic. Then he tells her she should get some sleep. As she's sleeping, she is roused by growling creatures running through the woods at the bus. Naturally, this is when the bus breaks down. He goes out to fix the bus and is attacked by the gruesome creatures. As they attack him, he tells her to pull the brake and she coasts down the hill and crashes the bus. She is about to escape through the bus window when the growling creatures approach the bus and start smashing the windows to get in. They are attacked by the fanged guys in black. Lila passes out, but we hear Lemora's voice giving the command to burn those things after they carry her to the stone house.

Lila wakes up in what must be the stone house and finds that she is locked in. She hears high pitched cackling children and sees silhouettes of dancing figures through the window of a house nearby. A toothless old crone enters the stone house with a plate of food calling out for Mary Jo. Lila tells her name and asks who's Lemora and where her father is. The old woman begins singing a creepy song in a witchy voice while circling Lila Lee. The old woman is summoned and runs back to the house. Lila begins to pray and little children laugh strangely at her through her barred window.

The reverend waits by the phone with Lila's crumpled note and gets in his car to leave. He hears a report on his car radio that Alvin Lee has evaded police.

It is daytime and Lila is screaming to be let out but nobody appears to be around. At night she hears the old woman singing as she approaches the stone house door, and when she enters, Lila pushes her down and escapes. She crawls under the house and hears Lemora and her father talking about how it's the last time before he changes and that her throat burns and she's thirsty. She is annoyed when the old woman interrupts to tell her that her little girlie has run off. Some creepy crawly startles Lila, causing her to scream and be discovered by the imposing Lemora as she exits the crawl space.

When Lila asks to see her father, Lemora says she can't until she's immune to his disease, which won't happen until after the ceremony on the following night. Lemora leads her into the house and we get a better look at the scary lady. She tells Lila to go to her room and change into the clothes laid out for her. She finds some bloody meaty looking morsels on a tray and starts consuming them ravenously. She hears a screaming, crying child and looks out the window to see the men in black dragging the kid into the stone house.

Lila gets dressed and pulls out her mirror to check herself and drops it when she hears Lemora enter, as she realizes she casts no reflection in the mirror. Lemora tells her to hurry because they are all waiting. She goes downstairs and joins Lemora and the cackling children for a little party.

They sit down together and Lemora pours a viscous red beverage into goblets for the children. Lila asks if it's wine and Lemora replies, "Sort of." When Lila says it's unchristian to drink spirits, she is reprimanded for being rude and is told that she can go back to where she was the previous night. She decides to drink the stuff that looks like Hammer Horror blood and Lemora asks her to sing. She sings her hymn and gets dizzy and falls into Lemora's arms. Lemora puts on a record of the tune the old witch was singing and Lemora dances with Lila and spins her in fast circles while the children circle around them.

They hear a crashing sound and discover that Lila's dad has broken a window and escaped. Lemora tells Lila it's time for her bedtime bath, and the old woman, whose name we learn is Solange, pours water into a tiny tub and is then dismissed. Lemora tells Lila to get undressed and suggests she not be embarrassed to undress in front of another woman, though she remarks on her exciting figure and notes she must be popular with the boys, which Lila denies, stating that they have dirty minds and are silly. She grinds up what appear to be herbs or potions to add to the bath and hums the same tune the old woman sang earlier. Lemora helps her dry off and engages her with a playful, giggly tickle fest before leaving to get a surprise for her. The strange intimacy between the two in this scene is weird and unsettling.

Lila is looking through a religious text when she hears her father enter the room, yet still obscured. She tells him she forgives him, and then he reveals his snarling, infected self, and it is clear he has got the Asteroth disease we saw in the creatures in the woods. He attacks her and scratches her back. She runs and he chases her to the kitchen where Solange is chopping some bloody innards. He rips out her throat and Lemora enters with a torch and sets him alight. He runs off and she escorts Lila to the other room, leaving the twitching and dying Solange unattended.

Lemora comforts Lila and notices her bloody back, which she can't resist sucking on, claiming she needed to since it was like a snake bite. She carries her upstairs and tells her a bedtime story while brushing her hair. She then tells her how she will become Lemora's blood sister in a beautiful ancient ceremony happening the following day.

Lila awakens to the sounds of a whimpering child and looks out the window to see him being dragged out of the stone house to the main house. She searches the bureau and finds a diary written by Mary Jo Spinks in 1892, telling how Lemora was into her dad, her mom was in heaven, and that Mary Jo was beginning to become fearful of Lemora and would have to resist her.

Lila heads downstairs and the portraits on the wall urge her to leave before she is killed as they were killed, and she decides to listen. As she walks around the outside of the house, she hears Lemora talking to the child and spies her through the window as she leans over and begins to suck blood from the child's neck. Lila screams and Lemora looks up and sees her, which begins a long, convoluted chase where none of the creatures seem to try very hard to catch Lila.

Lemora instructs the black clad fanged guys to find Lila before the other, wilder creatures, or they'll wish they could die, which is an odd thing to say since we see the wild wood creatures gang up and stake them all down dead. Lila hides in a coffin in the back of Lemora's car and escapes, which leads to more chasing. Lemora catches up to her and describes what she'll do for her, that she'll give her a life that can never die and that they will rule forever. She says she won't become like her father who was monstrous and debased.

After a dream sequence back in the church, we see the vampires telling her she's not so good and that although she sees herself as being seduced and drained, she is really the one who wants to seduce and drain. We then see a slow motion battle between the infected wood creatures and the more debonair uniformed vampires in black hats and capes, by the end leaving them all lying staked and dead. Or most all, as Lila's father creeps out and tries to attack her. She draws the stake out of a dead Lemora and her father falls on it dying.

Apparently removing the stake has enabled Lemora to be revived and she states that she is the unkillable and recognized as most powerful in the hearts of all. She invites Lila into her arms to free herself from all guilt, and removes Lila's cross, claiming she can be whatever Lila wants her to be before giving her the bite to bring her into the fold. The reverend, who has been searching for Lila, eventually finds her in the end.

This movie still creeps me out and brings back my childhood fears. I was hearing every nighttime creak and rustling sound after watching this movie. Lesley Gilb, who plays Lemora, has an unsettling voice and imposing stature that makes her a fearful Lemora. Although it is a low budget movie, it does a good job of being frightening, in the manner of movies like Night of the Living Dead or Carnival of Souls, and there is a lot more going on under the surface of this film if you choose to spend some time to ponder it, though you can just enjoy it simply for its nightmarish quality.


another aging broad, but sans scrapbook said...

Thanks for this writeup, aabwas!

Christine said...

Thanks, aabbss! : )
I hope I did some justice to this under appreciated gem and inspired others, who may not have had the pleasure of seeing it, to check it out.

Unknown said...

Lovely summary and commentary with great pics. When I was a mere 16 I put out a horror fanzine/magazine thing and did a feature on Lemora, which I like you saw when I was around 12. I loved the sense of place with the locations and simple setups (like the interior of the bus) and all the characters were really convincing. So thanks again love to see this film get its due.

Christine said...

Thanks, Unknown! I think I need to revisit this one. Being a movie that's open to interpretation may have led to its being largely misunderstood. Lemora continues to frighten me and the movie is unsettling. It's a horror fairy tale that explores the boundaries between good and evil with monsters that prey on children. What could be more terrifying?