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Synapse Films presents
"I know you Lila, better than you know yourself. We are one and the same, and until you realize that, you can never be happy."
DVD ReviewThirteen-year-old Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), "The Singin' Angel," is the pride and joy of her Baptist church, which took her in three years ago. Her gangster father has just killed his adulterous wife and her lover, and while on the lam is captured by the mysterious Lemora (Lesley Gilb), who presides over a mansion filled with hooded, pasty-faced followers. Lemora's captivated by a picture of Lila, and tries to lure her to the mansion with a letter claiming that her father's on his death bed and waiting for her to visit. Lila eagerly complies, but the horrors of her journey are only the beginning compared to what lies in wait for her once she comes under Lemora's spell.
Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural was released in 1973, and despite (or perhaps partially because of) its sub-B-movie origins, it quickly became a cult favorite. After its withdrawal in the early 1980s and subsequent unavailability, its fame only increased, as is typical with any film that's unavailable commercially and is remembered fondly through the haze of imperfect memory. (And the fact that it's an early starring role for exploitation queen Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith certainly increased its desirability.) Rumors circulated that the original negative was destroyed, but Synapse has worked their miracles and released it in a top-notch, uncut edition, and it's finally available for re-evaluation.
No doubt certain compromises are necessary in low-budget movie-making territory, and Lemora is no exception. The sets in the first part of the film are cheap and unconvincing, although Lemora's lair (the Bradbury Estate Chateau) is suitably baroque and effective. The acting varies from surprisingly good (Cheryl Smith) to ridiculously over the top (Hy Pyke as the bus driver) to inconsistent, especially Lesley Gilb as Lemora. The pasty-face, red-cheeked Lemora looks as if she has a bad case of rosacea, and the makeup on her followers isn't very good, but the zombies, usually glimpsed in short shots, look fairly revolting. On the plus side, the film looks quite good, with its many night scenes drenched in an eerie blue light or illuminated solely by torches. And the soundtrack, with its unearthly laughter, bizarre music and atmospheric effects, adds greatly to the film's effectiveness.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lemora is that this exploration of a child's innocence versus the corrupting influence of adults is that it's seen through the lens of sexuality, and implied or overt pedophilia. Overt, certainly, in the case of a drunken, leering man, who asks her if she's looking for a "good time," and with a bus station clerk who offers her candy. When Lila asks a man for a ride, he leeringly tells her to "git, afore I change my mind," and later describes her as "ripe and ready to go." Even the Reverend, who has taken her in, is seen in flashback fending off her kisses (implying that maybe she's not all that innocent), then entering her bedroom, and later embracing her.
With Lemora, the sexual aspect isn't so cut and dried, but her attempts at seducing and initiating Lila into the life of vampirism clearly have erotic overtones. Lemora flatters her, telling her that she has an "exciting" figure while giving her a bath, and later carries her to bed and combs her hair. And we know that the husbandless Lemora previously had a young girl as her "blood lover."
Lemora is certainly far from being a great film, and viewers unaccustomed to low-budget filmmaking may be disinclined to even give it a chance. Those with an interest in the many variations on the vampire myth, or that sub-genre of the horror film that favors the creation of a perverse and disturbing atmosphere over action, and are able to overlook the film's muddled ending, will find much to like in this creepy and twisted tale.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: For an el cheapo 1970s movie, the image looks great. Skin tones are good and colors are bright, even if they do have a slightly unnatural appearance. Much of the movie is quite dark, so shadow detail is important, and the transfer is certainly up to it. There's a lot of detail in the image, but also a bit of grain in some scenes. There are no compression artifacts or annoying edge enhancement.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound is fine, limited in fidelity, but with no harshness or distortion. The dialogue sounds a bit odd at times, but this is the result of post-synchronization and not a fault of the transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues
Music/Song Access with 0 cues
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Les Raisins de la mort, Blue Sunshine, Brain Damage
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Actor/Director/Producer/Writer Richard Blackburn, Writer/Producer Robert Fern, and Actress Lesley Gilb
Packaging: Keep Case
A voluminous still gallery with 51 on-set photos, 25 continuity pics, and two posters is included, although they are fairly small. The original 99-page shooting script is available via a DVD-ROM drive, in the form of an Acrobat Reader file. The printed insert contains a page of notes from makeup artist Byrd Holland, as well as three pages relating the film's history and influences by Richard Harland Smith and Chris Poggiali. Their comments are insightful and informative, but their excusal of some of the budget-imposed restrictions of the film as "the naïve constructs of the hungry mind of an impressionable child" is clearly wishful thinking.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsReleased in 1973, Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural is finally available in a great transfer from Synapse. It's a real treat for those with an inclination towards the perverse in their horror films, and who are willing to overlook the obvious budget limitations and muddled ending.
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