Countdown to Halloween: How Joss Whedon spoiled a lot of horror movies for me

Midway through the 1970s vampire flick Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, there’s a long nighttime chase: vamp queen Lemora (Lesley Gilb) sends her black-robed minions after Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith), the movie’s virginal blonde heroine. The chase moves through the grounds of an old Southern mansion, through an old mill and seemingly half the surrounding county. Some crazed beast-men get in on the action, too.

The whole chase sequence is reasonably well shot and staged, an exercise in primordial horror imagery. Yet my mind wandered. I found myself wondering how many reels of film have been devoted to just this sort of scene, a terrified blonde running through the night, pursued by some slavering monster or psychokiller.

Staking cliches, along with vampires.

If the movie dates from a certain era (that is, up until fairly recently in the history of the genre), you know it’s unlikely that the blonde will turn around and show some fight, or evince any ingenuity that would let her escape or best her pursuer by herself.

who loves ya, baby?

Mario Bava’s LISA AND THE DEVIL (1972).

This is why Joss Whedon has spoiled the work of, say, Mario Bava for me: Buffy the Vampire Slayer has conditioned me to want the designated victim to rise up and assert control over the narrative, and in a Bava film (to name just one master of the horror genre) that isn’t going to happen. The victim stays just that, a nubile body to be served up to a sharp implement. And no matter how chilling or stylishly photographed the chase, watching it still feels like a waste of time, and the cumulative effect numbing, if not completely alienating.

For more on Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, click here.

Dawn of the slasher film: Mario Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964).

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