The country is on its downward spiral to the Great Depression, and a young Southern belle has been made a ward of the state after her gangster father disappears. It seems to be for the best, as the poor child blossoms under the roof of her sanctuary, the church. Lila Lee (Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith) is a preteen bright-blonde beauty with the voice of an angel that's revered by not only her guardian, the Reverend (Richard Blackburn, also the film's director), but by the townsfolk… and the local vampire coven.
The innocent is lured away from the protection of the church by an urgent and mysterious handwritten letter from a woman named Lemora (Lesley Gilb), telling her that her father is nearby, but dying. Lila must tell no one, and travel to the nearby town of Asteroth, where Lemora will allow Lila to say her final goodbyes. After a series of frightening encounters with men up to no good, the budding adolescent finally finds her way to the address given, a dilapidated Victorian mansion, only to find horrid creatures of the night; a creepy old crone; bewitched children without any parents; and… the dark and duplicitous Lemora.
Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural is something of a cult classic, having come out in drive-ins and grind-houses in 1973, only recently finding its way restored and on DVD. At the screening I attended (The Egyptian Theater, Hollywood, CA), the director was in attendance and answered questions in an audience Q&A. He never directed another film before or since, and seems surprised to this day that his very low-budget movie is considered such a gem by hardcore fans of Southern Gothic horror. If you know the name Richard Blackburn as the writer of (another cult classic) Eating Raoul, you may find yourself wondering what dark forces might have been a work within the man here — he says he was influenced by The Brothers Grimm, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, Sheridan LeFanu, H.P. Lovecraft, as well as Carnival of Souls screenwriter John Clifford. And it shows.
Unfortunately, the film's low budget also shows. In spite of a valiant efforts with score and sound, costumes and well-cast countenances (Gilb, especially, possesses an enigmatic, doll-like look that's quite compelling), the movie just doesn't work. There is some poor acting and terrible cinematography, but worse are the scenes allowed to play out endlessly with little in the way of direction or editing. I found myself bored and frustrated with the story, which is that much more annoying when you see there was some talent at work there. It just doesn't come together. Yet, Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural does have a mysterious, unexplainable quality that sticks with you. Recommended, but with pause.