by Rich Moreland, May 2016
The iconic scenes in Dead But Dreaming focus on the ordeal of the Irish traveler.
Kudos are extended to Amy Hesketh for her expression of Moire’s suffering.
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The Irish traveler is arrested and sentenced, though we see no trial. She will be scourged and garrotted, the Spanish practice of death by strangulation.
Before her punishment, Moire is brutally raped by the guards in an intense scene played beautifully by Amy Hesketh.
To intensify her humiliation, Moire will be chained to a whipping post in a pre-death ritual carried out on a public stage. The scene is political, of course, Moire is sentenced for crimes against the state and the authorities are present. More important, however, is the sadomasochism that reinforces the prevailing vampirism of the film.
Moire is brought out in flimsy white cloth that is stripped away once she is secured to the post. During the punishment, the executioner takes a break for water and offers some to the prisoner, a show of compassion in a macabre setting. It’s a precursor for her next drink after nightfall.
Incidentally, BDSMers will love the real marks on the victim’s body. In fact, the fake blood is unnecessary.
Among the onlookers are Ferenc and Varna, who weeps at the scene. Nahara in her familiar cloak and hood, drifts about, setting her sights on another vampire lover once the state’s duties are completed.
The Irish traveler is left suspended at the post until dusk, reminding the viewer of Aphrodisia’s abandonment when the onlookers at her punishment drift away.
During the course of the narrative, both women are similarly brutalized, establishing parallels that are vital to the story.
Most importantly, each lives on in an alternative universe, telling Varna that superstition is its own reality.
Slipping by the guard after dark, Nahara visits Moire in her cell. She is there to help but not in the way the Irish traveler expects.
Caressing a beaten and weak Moire, Nahara persuades her to relax whereupon she bites Moire’s shoulder just behind her neck. Apologizing, the vampire says, “I need your blood.”
As a parallel to Moire, Aphrodisia also provides nourishment for Asa after his staff gouges the holes in her chest. These vampires consume the sexual power of their kin.
Nahara explains she can’t stop the execution and in a moment of dark humor a smiling Moire thanks Nahara for keeping her company, “even if I was only your dinner . . . Or, am I breakfast?”
Nahara keeps the wit going with, “You have an odd sense of humor.”
She’s Irish, Moire jokes, and wants to know if Nahara is French, a clever reference to 1803 when the Irish planned to assist the French against the English during the Napoleonic Wars.
Enough of the smiles, it’s back to work.
Encouraging Moire to feed, Nahara rips open her own wrist with her teeth. “Drink as much as you can,” Nahara says.
Moire’s first drink of the day was a brief glimpse at survival that gets her to this moment. Now her second drink begins the transformation. Reborn a vampire, Moire can now face death without fear.
“You have me inside you,” Nahara assures her.
This line is steeped in meaning. Will there be a sadomasochistic sexual relationship between Moire and Nahara like Asa’s has with Aphrodisia? Does the statement imply that all vampires are bisexual?
Does it mean that Nahara now controls Moire?
Or, is it a satirical reference to the Christian belief in the living God?
Crimes Against the State
The next day the crowd returns and a naked Moire is paraded out once again. Her arms are extended and tied to posts on the raised platform where she was punished the day before. Her ankles are chained together to create a visual crucifixion.
The death sentence is read. The Viceroy of Peru has sanctioned the execution.
The executioner puts the noose around Moire’s throat and slowly ends her life with one brutal twist following another. In a nice touch, blood spurts from Moire’s mouth. Vampire’s morning after, anyone?
In this emotionally draining scene, Ferenc consoles his niece. His words are futile, of course, because Varna will take up Moire’s struggle, just as the next feminist generation replaces the former. However, she will fall under suspicion. Once a woman leaves the convent and acts on her own, she is marked. Varna has yet to suffer the lash’s retribution, but the feeling is she will someday.
Later Varna visits her uncle who is studying a book about vampires. He asks about Moire’s execution because he has no memory of it which he blames on the presence of a Lamia.
His niece relates that Nahara came up to her while she prayed before Moire’s corpse, still bound in its death climax.
“I have a pact with your friend,” Nahara says. “Now say good-bye and go.”
Ferenc suspects Nahara is a Lamia and translates her name into “light.” It’s Christianity turned on its head.
Varna dismisses his superstitions.
A scene shift to Asa’s lair informs the viewer the battle over Moire is underway. Nahara made the Irish traveler into “one of us . . . a little sister,” Asa tells Aphrodisia. “It will be easy to make her come to us.” A new pawn in a vampire world of adversaries is ready for use.
In a quick shift back to the execution site, Varna informs Nahara she is leaving because she knows Moire can’t hear her.
In a pivotal moment, Nahara drops her guard. Preparing Varna for what may become her own fate, the Lamia whispers, Moire “can hear you.”
The Irish traveler is “dead but dreaming,” suspended in a vampire purgatory.
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The scourging and execution segments of Dead But Dreaming may be over-the-top for some viewers, but this is Amy Hesketh’s artistic style, her performance art.
We may want to turn away, but when Amy offers herself as the vicitm of a sexualized brutality, we can’t deny our urge to look. Gazing into our own soul, we are forced to revisit our personal perspectives on good and evil. Is that not what film is about?
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For more reviews of Dead But Dreaming and to learn more about Amy Hesketh, visit her website and her blog.