A friend of mine who likes more bizarre horror [and who lives in L.A., which has a theater that shows such bizarre gems] recommended this as maybe a little unfocused toward the end, but strange and wonderful on the way there, which is precisely how it turned out.
We open with a man and woman in bed, and soon learn that the woman is married, but her husband is away. In this case “away” means right outside the door, with a shotgun, which he employs to deliver some harsh justice to the adulterous couple. Turns out this guy is a known gangster, who escapes in a car, hitting the odd old woman on the way.
We now cut to his 14-year-old daughter Lila, a pure, innocent blond beauty first seen singing hymns in a church. The priest makes a speech to the crowd that he knows they gossip about Lila, who is the church’s little goody-two-shoes star, but that the sins of her father shouldn’t be held against her.
Lila gets a call that night that her father is on his deathbed, and wants to see her once more before leaving this world. Lila decides to leave right away, in the dead of night, stealing away in the backseat of the car of a sleazy man on a date. The couple talk about Lila, not knowing she’s in the back seat, the woman calling her “Miss Priss” and the guy saying that despite her being 14, she’s “ripe and ready to go.” She disembarks in a sleazy town where she sees a prostitute and various sleazy men. She endures the appraisal and come-ons of the creepy bus station attendant, then the appraisal and creepy come-ons of the creepy bus driver. The bus takes her through this stinking swamp marsh kind of place, where zombie-types come out of the darkness and attempt to get in, eventually killing the bus driver. This leaves Lila all alone on the abandoned bus in the stinking swamp with the feral zombies, making you wonder why she couldn’t have caught the mid-afternoon express, and how she must really, REALLY want to get to her father’s bedside immediately. The resourceful girl puts the bus in neutral and coasts toward her destination [tires squealing loudly despite being on a dirt road], and finally reaches her stop, where the creepy old witch [notice how pretty much everything is “creepy”] comes out of the darkness and kills an attacking zombie just in time. Well, safe and sound then!
SPOILERS > > >
The old witch takes her into her room—where some similar little girl has been held before her—and circles her menacingly as she sings a long and well, CREEPY song, that sends with a surprising coda. They then lock her in, and by the next afternoon it becomes apparent that Lila is a prisoner. That night she escapes, runs up to the big old house and hides underneath. It was in here that it finally hit me that this is all supposed to be taking place in the 30s or early 40s. Upstairs a creepy woman is talking to a man who seems to be suffering from some health problems, who I think is supposed to be Lila’s father. It’s hard to know, since we barely saw him at the beginning and he is totally altered by his illness now. Lila is discovered, and is taken in by the creepy woman, who is super-pale and speaks in a slow, sing-songy voice. This is Lemora, who tells her that they had to lock her in the nasty, drafty old farmhouse until her room was ready. Can you imagine? Like you’re checking into the Plaza and your room isn’t ready, so they offer to check your luggage and lock you in the drafty old shed? Lila is taken to her room, where a little midnight snack has been laid out for her—a plate a bloody raw meat. No cookies on the pillow here. She samples some and thinks “Hey, this bloody raw meat is pretty good!”
Things continue in the bizarre vein when we discover that Lemora has no reflection in a mirror, is all clingy and bizarre and emotionally manipulative, plays mom to a gaggle of children who laugh demonically, hosts twisted tea parties in which everyone drinks blood [and tells Lemora it’s VERY rude not to drink what’s served to her], and spins Lila around and around and around until she’s all dizzy. You’ll notice the one thing they DON’T do is go see Lila’s father, ostensibly the whole point for Lila coming. But there’s more fun to be had as Lemora wants to give Lila a nice long hot bath! Which requires Lila to get naked right in front of her. Then she sucks Lila’s blood.
Okay, I’m sure that this sounded like a tight-as-a-drum narrative up til now, but here’s where it really starts getting looser and looser until it makes no sense. This is only compounded that I watched this over a month ago and now my NOTES on it make no sense to me… for example, the next things I have written down are: “Mary Jo… 1892… Finds Lemora’s diary… Lila sneaks out… sees Lemora drinking child’s blood.” I think what that’s all supposed to mean is that Lila realizes that Lemora is a vampire who has been around since 1892. Turns out this is where all the zombies in the woods come from, too, by the way, those are all Lemora’s victims. Anyway, Lila realizes that maybe this isn’t the best place to stay and hides in the nearest coffin-bearing truck. It drives off to a different town where—a bunch of vampires takes out the coffin and make to munch on the little morsel inside! This leads to the longest, least coherent chase you may have seen in some time, through the old ruins of this ghost town as Lila is pursued both by Lemora and by various zombies? Well, near as I can tell. Then Lila pulls back the curtain and—she’s back in church, singing before the crowd? And the preacher is once again saying they shouldn’t judge her by what her father did? And then she sees the whole crowd as a mob of zombies? And then they attack each other? And then Lila kills her own father as a zombie? Then Lemora comes out and tells her SHE is the killer? Then the preacher comes out to the house [we’re back at the house?] looking for Lila? But she bites him, because she’s now a vampire? Then she’s back singing in church again? This is starting to make Carnival of Souls look as simple and straightforward as a See Spot Run book.
< < < SPOILERS END
The first hour is quite good and unsettling. You have all this bizarre sexual content with all these adult men coming on to the poor 14yo girl, all the townspeople thinking she must have some of her father’s evil in her, and the very bizarre journey from her home to Lemora’s house. The witch circling her while singing the creepy song was one of the most disturbing things ever, and then you have Lemora herself and her whole sing-songy way. It is very loose and creepy, yet it comes off with unusual confidence, especially for a first time-director, Richard Blackburn. This is, by the way, his first and only film. He also co-wrote it [and co-wrote Eating Raoul, btw], and plays the preacher in the film. The one who is the only one who believes in Lila’s non-sexual purity, and who definitely seems to be protesting a bit too much in favor of her absolute, spotless purity.
Then the whole thing goes wonky, but still remains, well, MOSTLY interesting. Ultimately it comes off as a sort of exploration of all the kinky dirty thoughts a young girl, pure as snow to the outside world, might have going on in her pretty little head. There’s a lot of stuff about her father, avowed dirty gangster criminal, and her mother, known adulteress shot by her father, it all seems to be a twisted up meditation on that. Which was written by men, by the way. I think one always has to be aware when adult men are speculating on all the kinky dirty thoughts a young girl may—or may NOT—be having. Anyway, if you like it weird and kinky and creepy [did I mention that certain elements of it are “creepy?”], and don’t need it all to make sense, then make a date with Lemora.
If you like it creepy and psychosexual and don’t mind if it doesn’t all get tied up with a little bow and a sprig of baby’s breath.