Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is a vampire film that’s been on my watch list for a while. I’ve seen it praised for its theme and tone, but due to the film’s cast and how relatively unknown the director was – and it’s limited DVD release – never really bumped it up my list. Why do a little known vampire film from a director known more for co-writing Eating Raoul than anything else, and starring an actress known for myriad sexploitation films over, say, a film by Amicus? On a whim, I bumped this to the top of my DVD Netflix Queue and gave it a try – and it wasn’t exactly worth the wait.
Lemora follows Lila Lee, a thirteen-year-old girl played by eighteen-year-old Cheryl Smith, who is a saint of a choir singer but whose father is quite the sinner – a hitman for the mob who is currently on the run from the law. Lila receives a mysterious letter from a woman named Lemora who tells her that her father is waiting for her in the town of Astaroth. Her father is on his deathbed, so Lila should leave as soon as possible and tell no one where she’s going – and she complies. The reverend of her church, played by writer and director Richard Blackburn, eventually figures out what Lila has done and chases after.
On arriving in Astaroth, she discovers the town is surrounded by feral vampires, and Lemora is, herself, the queen of the vampires. Lemora saves Lila, basically seduces her, and during a fight scene between the “Cultured” vampires like Lemora and the feral vampires, Lila is turned to vampirism.
I bring all this up because, well, the film really likes to leer at Lila – on her way to Astaroth, effectively every male character talks about wanting to have sex with her or how other male characters (particularly the reverend) want to have sex with her. On arriving in Astaroth, Lila and Lemora have some very heavy lesbian tension, complete with Lemora drawing a bath for Lila and having her undress in front of her. We don’t see Cheryl fully nude as Lila (we do see her from behind), but it very much a definite attempt to sexualize a character who is written as underage.
This leads to probably my biggest headscratcher about the movie the setting of the film and how it intersects with the character of Lila. The film is set in the 1920s, as a way to explain some of the limitations in communication (Astaroth has no electricity and no phones). Lila is written as 13 to justify her sexual inexperience to a 1970s audience.
Except, the thing is that you can absolutely write a character in a story in the 1920s with a protagonist who is a girl, is 18, and who is not sexually knowledgable. Had they done that, they would have not then sexualized a character who is written, costumed, and styled to be 13. Seriously, her hair is made up in pigtails, and her costume is designed to hide her curves so they can be teased in the bathing scene later.
Other then that, the film does some interesting stuff when it comes to laying out the homosexual tension between Lemora and Lila. Lemora, while trying to turn Lila into a vampire – and as Lila initially rejects her, has a fantastic speech. Lemora describes going through her life feeling like an outsider in society and looking for a place to belong until she finally ended up in Astaroth. It’s not hard to take that speech, and change it from being about becoming a vampire, to being about being LGBT and similarly searching for a place to belong. However, I can’t be confident in saying if that intent was deliberate.
The film’s okay, and was worth renting on disk from Netflix, but I didn’t feel this movie enough to recommend picking up a copy. If you feel otherwise, it is available on DVD from Amazon.com – buying anything through that link helps support the site.
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