Saturday, October 18, 2008

Too Much by Torchlight

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)
directed by Richard Blackburn
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

The decision to make this a period film renders the lecherous line of men and women - ministers, prostitutes, bus drivers - who escort Lila Lee to the vampire Lemora's gothic mansion one long (bad) joke about bumpkin Baptists. Once the girl is at the house, the children around her - dressed like pirates or in ghastly face paint like slopping on mom's makeup one afternoon alone - are frightening, touching, and sad. But the truth is, no truly delicate goodbye to childhood ("When I was your age, the things I liked best were hearing stories and having my hair brushed") leaves half as much room for licentiousness as the smuttier breed of horror director likes to believe ("You're not embarrassed to get undressed in front of another woman, are you?").

Comparisons to The Night of the Hunter forget that, as far as the kids in that film are concerned, the threat of Mitchum's preacher is most obvious to the grandmother. For the children, fear is a subconscious and even attractive inspiration to flee. Lila Lee "grows up" before Lemora is half through, and spends the rest of her time screaming. Low-budget clutter and colors (and beautiful music) do wonders for the atmosphere, but the metaphors for darkness at the edge of the yard never pare enough exploitative chaff from the terror that's an essential element of childhood's mysteries. Also, classic horror films don't - and shouldn't - depend on Christianity for content or effect.