MARCH 29, 2012
I was recently hired to edit a documentary called The 50 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen, the title of which is a damn lie because I had seen almost all of them. Of the few I hadn’t, Lemora: A Child’s Tale Of The Supernatural was most intriguing because it was the only one I had never even HEARD of before, which was a nice way to put me in the shoes of the audience members who might feel the same about the majority of the list. And I guess the movie works: the sound bites from its fans inspired me to see the movie. Hopefully I’ll finish editing it someday so the rest of you can join the fun.
Anyway, it’s a weird but mesmerizing movie, blending fairy tale plotting, vampires, and sexual desire into one tale of a young girl seeking her mobster father during the prohibition era. Her journey takes her to a strange town overrun by enemies and allies alike, and the bulk of it takes place there, with minimal visits to the outside world. Our young lass follows the standard pattern for these “main character enters a strange scary world” movies – she’s terrified, then starts to enjoy her predicament, and then sees something that scares her and makes her decide to flee.
But that familiar plotting only magnifies the film’s eccentric charms, as it’s otherwise like nothing else I’ve seen. At times it seems to be operating under nightmare logic (particularly the bits with the creepy children), and the fairy tale allusions are a wonderful touch – lots of "Hansel & Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood" here. And, I guess, "Alice In Wonderland", because of the icky way everyone leers at Lila. Lemora, the priest, the bus driver, even a random drunk outside of a bar all look at her a bit too long (or just come right out and make their intentions clear), so Lewis Carroll certainly would have felt at home. I should note that it’s a PG movie, however, and thus apart from a brief moment at the end with the priest (in which she advances on him), there’s nothing even remotely explicit about it – it’s all underplayed.
I also liked that it gives viewers a variety of scary “monsters” to enjoy. Lila’s encounter with an old crone is one of the most unnerving scenes I’ve seen in a while, as she just circles the poor girl while singing “Skin and Bones” and cackling. Then there are some creepy children, who appear to be vampires or some sort of undead given their pale/greenish skin and terrifying faces. The locals are all covered in monster makeup of various design (some are sort of Wolfman-ish), and then there’s Lemora herself, a vampiress who has an eerie gaze that unsettled me every single time she was on camera.
It also only feels like half of its 85 minute length. I was actually kind of shocked when I discovered that there was only another 20 or so minutes to go when I checked, because I thought I was barely over the half hour mark. There’s little in the way of setup – the first 15 seconds of the movie sees a couple of folks gunned down by a mobster, and Lila is on her way in the first five or so. That’s the nice thing about movies that are actually different – it’s harder to tell where you are in the runtime just by what’s going on. If I’m watching the umpteenth Texas Chainsaw Massacre wannabe, I know that we’re 40 minutes in when our heroine first notices creepy shit on the walls in whatever locale they stumbled across (at the 30 minute mark. Their car will have broken down at the 20). Even though a few beats played out as expected, it never felt as on rails as far too many of the movies that I see, and that it’s nearly forty years old and hasn’t been copied to the best of my knowledge gives it even more power.
The only red mark is the final reel, which races through a big brawl in the town as well as an unexplained bit where Lila is seen back in her church – is this a flashback? A hallucination? It puzzled me, as did the fate of a major character who re-appears claiming that they “can’t be killed” when it was never apparent that they were “killed” in the first place. I don’t know if it was edited or just never shot properly (this was a low budget affair, which should not surprise you), but this section of the film definitely feels a bit “off” compared to the fast but careful pacing of the rest.
Still, a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, and the final scene is perfectly clear/awesome, so it ends on a high note. And it looks gorgeous, the DVD (from Synapse) was given a great transfer after years of what I understand were terrible VHS versions. In fact this very much seems like the sort of movie that would be on one of my budget packs, so I’m happy that Synapse has “saved” it from the same fate that has befallen my beloved Cathy’s Curse and who knows how many others that will probably never be given a proper release. Obscure as it may be, you Lemora fans out there have been done right by these folks!
What say you?