Continuing the process of cleaning out my DVR, I watched an odd little film from 1975 called Lemora. I recorded Lemora on March 25th, when it aired as a part of TCM Underground.
Lemora opens with an odd scene that appears to be set in the 1920s. A man dressed up like a stereotypical movie gangster (think Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar) guns down another man with his tommy gun and then races off in his car. After he crashes, he crawls into a dark forest where he is apparently captured by a mysterious, black-clad woman.
Suddenly, we cut to 13 year-old Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), singing in church. Lila is blonde, innocent, and has an almost heavenly singing voice. Everyone listens to her with almost worshipful attention. When the Reverend (played by the film’s director, Richard Blackburn) steps up to the pulpit, he announces that he knows what some people are saying about Lila and her father but that she is pure and innocent.
It turns out that the gangster is Lila’s father. Lila hasn’t had much contact with her father. Instead, she has been raised in the church by the Reverend. However, Lila receives a letter from her father. The letter claims that he’s dying and that he wants to see Lila and ask for forgiveness before he passes. The letter also says that her father is in the town of Astaroth.
(You would think that, having been raised in the church, Lila would know that Astaroth is also the name of a legendary demon.)
Knowing that the Reverend would never allow her to go, Lila sneaks out of the house. She stows away in the back of a couple’s car and listens as the couple gossips about her relationship with the Reverend, suggesting that the Reverend is just waiting for Lila to “turn legal.” After she gets out of the car, she takes a bus the rest of the way to Astaroth. Sitting on the dark bus, just her and the somewhat creepy driver, Lila listens as the driver tells her that the people of Astaroth have a certain look.
When she arrives at Astaroth, Lila finds herself being pursued by seemingly deformed vampires but she’s rescued by the mysterious Lemora (Lesley Gilb). Or is she? Lemora is the same woman who found Lila’s father in the forest and it soon becomes obvious that Lemora has plans for Lila as well…
Meanwhile, the Reverend discovers that Lila has run away and his reaction leads us to suspect that there may have been more than a little bit of truth to the conversation that Lila previously overheard in the car. The Reverend sets out to track down and rescue Lila but, at this point, the viewer trusts him even less than they trust Lemora.
It’s a very strange movie and a difficult one to describe. It’s a movie that creates its own unique and odd reality. Lemora expects the viewer to conform to its style as opposed to conforming to the audience’s expectations. Lemora‘s full name is Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural and it really does play out like a particularly nightmarish fairy tale. Though the film was definitely low-budget, it’s full of strikingly surreal images. The entire movie feels like a dream — everything from the almost campy, gangster-film opening to Lila’s strange journey on the dark bus to Lemora’s hypnotic stare to the sudden and shocking conclusion of the Reverend’s relationship with Lila. The film has one of those endings that forces you to reconsider everything that you previously witnessed.
Much like Messiah of Evil, Lemora is one of those surrealistic and low-budget horror films that almost defies conventional criticism. It’s a surreal dream of dark and disturbing things and one that everyone should see for themselves. You may love it, as I did. You may hate it. But you will never forget it.