Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is a 1973 American horror feature film directed by Richard Blackburn, who also stars. Lesley Gilb and Cheryl Smith co-headline. The screenplay was co-written by Blackburn (co-writer of Eating Raoul ) and Robert Fern. Also released as Lemora: The Lady Dracula and The Legendary Curse of Lemora
Lemora opens with an odd scene during the Prohibition era. A man dressed as 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 thirteen-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.
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. The full title 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.
Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
” …a solid horror flick, with decent performances (especially Lesley Gilb’s turn as the title character), ominous set pieces, and a well-paced, engaging story. My only advice to the parents out there is that you take its PG rating with a grain of salt; there’s a good chance Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural will prove a little more than your youngsters can handle.” 2,500 Movies Challenge
“Although the scenes with Lemora’s forest-dwelling zombies are fairly gruesome, the film is, above all, a work of oneiric suggestion and (incidentally) considerable eroticism…” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“Blackburn – who has made no other films – has spoken of Lemora as a cross between art and exploitation. Happily, art took precedence; the care taken with the direction, the music, the sets, the costumes, and everything else helps to make Lemora a unique horror experience.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“The horror setup is complicated and not very well explained, which often leaves the movie in an oddly desirable state of confused delirium. The ghouls are the victims of vampires, devolved humans “liberated” by vampires and reverting to their inner evil selves.” DVD Talk
“This film completely transcends its backyard production pedigree and manages to project a lush, unrelentingly sinister atmosphere. Thick with shabby Victorian moodiness, Lemora is simply an amazing feat of shoestring art direction by Sterling Franck, who infuses the film with a waking dream quality that ultimately gives the film its power to spellbind viewers.” DVD Verdict
“A surreal terror that boasts some inspired creativity, Lemora is a unique effort worth the viewer’s time thanks to its lush color palette, Smith’s spirited performance, a beautiful score and the overall moody vibe right out of a Grimm’s Fairy tale.” The Terror Trap.
“Despite crude production values, the film creates a frightening, hallucinatory mood. It also skirts the exploitation elements so common in the genre (note the subtitle)and deserves its strong cult following.” Mike Mayo, Videohound’s Horror Show
“Surrealistic vampire flick with arty overtones – some scenes pretentious as hell, others traditionally imitative of Dracula. A young girl’s odyssey through a nightmarish landscape is filled with grotesque people and maintains curiosity if you don’t take it literally.” John Stanley, Creature Features
“Lemora is on the low end of low budget (as the production quality reflects), but enchants viewers with its fairy-tale atmosphere and spooky, dreamlike story.” Adam Lukeman, Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen
“This extraordinary dark fairytale of innocence, sexuality, vampires, gangsters and beast men is sadly, the only feature film made by triple-threat Richard Blackburn […] A true low-budget wonder, for all its rough edges this film enraptures with a richly evocative, dreamy ambience and weaves a captivating spell.” The Spinning Image
“Lemora has elements of the fright of the innocent found in Night of the Hunter: in addition to children as possible victims, a singsong chant — a homage to that film’s spooky song motif — is heard about halfway through. Or so it seems since one loses track of time.” The New York Times
Cast and characters:
Lesley Taplin … Lemora (as Lesley Gilb)
Cheryl Smith … Lila Lee – Parasite; Laserblast; The Incredible Melting Man; Massacre at Central High; Phantom of the Paradise
William Whitton … Alvin Lee – The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals
Hy Pyke … The Bus Driver – Vamp; Hack-O-Lantern; Slithis
Maxine Ballantyne … The Old Woman
Steve Johnson … The Ticket Seller
Parker West … The Young Man
Richard Blackburn … The Reverend
80 minutes | 113 minutes (uncut) | 85 minutes (DVD)
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1