by Rich Moreland, July 2016
For some viewers, an Amy Hesketh film shivers with a sexual chill. For others, it’s pure heat.
Either way, horror films in general are erotically perverse and Amy taps into that appeal.
As we’ve seen, however, Amy Hesketh differs from other fear and terror filmmakers because her movies focus on realism while more traditional horror is pure fantasy. The result? Amy’s torture scenes dominate the genre in ways others can only envy. The inquisition film, Maleficarum, is a classic example.
In Olalla, Amy adds another ingredient: the monster image as it resides in the human psyche. Let’s take a look.
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“Monster” is a recurring theme in the filmed version of Olalla. The family hurls the accusation Olalla’s way, though in the original short story, Stevenson never uses the word, preferring to rely on suggestion.
For example, the English officer hears wailing in the night he describes as “pitiable and hateful cries” that are “ravings worthy of hell.” But the source is never identified.
Later, when Olalla declares she will have no children, “My vow has been given; the race shall cease from off the earth,” Stevenson intimates dysfunctional idlers and strange creatures inhabit the family.
To find out, let’s investigate how the monster image drives Amy Hesketh’s screenplay.
It’s My Turn
Uncle Felipe has his way with the sisters.
In the scene in which he emotionally abuses and punishes Olalla, Ofelia helps him tie her to the bed. Afterward, Felipe forces himself on his restrained niece in an act of incest and power (he is teaching her a lesson), though within the family that’s likely their version of “normal.”
To reinforce his discipline, Uncle Felipe reminds Olalla that she is “monster” and “they kill monsters” in a reference to her mother’s death.
Later Felipe visits Ofelia who makes seductive moves in his direction. With her submissive side ready to romp, she coos, “It’s now my turn.” He closes the door behind him and we are left with an incestuous tryst that recalls the English officer’s inbreeding comment in Stevenson’s story.
On another occasion, Olalla peeks through the door of Ofelia’s bedroom. Her sister is nude except for a corset and thigh-high stockings. Uncle Felipe is smacking her bottom in a brief scene that is reminiscent of a 1960s roughie or kinkie.*
Unlike other Amy Hesketh productions, the scene is not explored further, though a brief glimpse of the sultry Mila Joya in her Bettie mode is a welcome moment.
Of course, there is irony at work here because Felipe proves that he’s just another fiend creeping around the family tree and raises the question of how long has this been going on.
Obsession Feeds the Monster
Olalla’s unnatural proclivity (compulsion? kink?) is revealed early in her life. In a telling scene, she and her sister are walking a narrow path that is a reminder of the hacienda hallway of present time. They’re followed at some distance by Roberto and their mother who have struck up a relationship Stevenson’s Englishman could only imagine.
The taller Ofelia suddenly cries to her sister, “What have you done, you animal?” Little Olalla raises her head, blood on her mouth. On the ground is a dead bird with a gash in its neck.
This moment defines Olalla’s past. Uncle Felipe and Ofelia will struggle to keep her self-destruction from putting everyone in peril, though it is the family that ironically endangers her. Olalla, who desperately wants to be normal, will be disciplined and under lock and key within the house.
In fact, Stevenson foretells Olalla’s fate. In the original story she explains to the soldier why their love will never come to be. The family “seed” was passed on, she says, but it’s “wrapped” in “the flesh of brutes” who are “inflicted with the mind of flies.” This infestation will stop with her.
In Amy’s film, the original Olalla propagates the family’s decadency and pays dearly. What does this portend for her daughters? Like the Victorians, Amy is leaving it to us to figure out.
So, we fast forward to modern times and, as mentioned above, Felipe binds a nude Olalla to her bed, hands over head and feet secured to the opposite end of the bedstead. She is wayward once again, this time with her boyfriend, and needs a forceful reminder.
Felipe uses the riding crop to raise some real welts on Olalla’s torso and thighs. It’s beautifully shot scene and once again marks (pun intended) Amy Hesketh as the darling of softcore sadomasochism.
But, there is more going on here because the film gives Amy, as both director and actor, the opportunity to present erotic punishment from two distinct psychological perspectives.
As the modern Olalla, she is not the innocent victim. Rather, she is defiant and angry, caught in her own time warp in which she cannot escape her destructive and bloody urges.
We see this when Ofelia tempts Olalla with an apple, the traditional forbidden fruit. She dangles it and pulls it away letting Olalla know that breaking the bonds of the family’s perverse garden of joy may linger as a desire, but doing it is another matter.
In her role as the 1800s’ Olalla, Amy is on familiar psychological ground: the innocent victim. Taking refuge in a church, the desperate and frightened Olalla persuades her daughters to flee with Felipe, then awaits the village mob. She prays just as her literary counterpart does at the end of Stevenson’s tale.
But her fate will not be to suffer silently. Rather, it plays out dragging and screaming to a heinous end.
The villagers finally put her away with a crucifixion and burning, but not without a good flogging first. In the fashion of Biblical retribution, the mother suffers for the familial sins she has passed to her children—Ofelia’s incestuous desires and little Olalla’s blood thirst.
Is this final act a futile attempt at redemption?
The extended scene is a reminder that as the Irish traveler in Dead But Dreaming and the tortured Mariana in Maleficarum, Amy Hesketh performs with a pathos and realism rarely found in cinema today. The Grand Guignol would be proud.
The Final Real Monster
The cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Amy Hesketh reminds her audience that the horrific vigilante murder of Olalla is the worst of human depravity: mob violence.
As the purifying fires of Christian mythology leap around Olalla, the vengeful expressions of the villagers become intermittent commentators on what they really are, a collective monster that far surpasses the degeneracy of Olalla’s family.
The flames of satisfaction intensify and the victim’s cries pierce the darkness. With the end moments away, the mob mentality suddenly recedes replaced by faces of regret and shame. Is the recognition of evil the final act of redemption?
Oh yes, there is another monster in Olalla we cannot overlook: the demon of violent death neatly packaged by its flatterers: insanity, fear, amorality, hatred, and self-righteousness.
But it never comes without society’s approbation of the real monster that infects us, the ubiquitous “they,” the source of all evil that Uncle Felipe recognizes when he chastises Olalla.
It forever haunts our consciousness and feeds our imagination . . . along with The Grand Guignol and Pogo, of course.
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* In the decade before the birth of modern adult film, movies contained nude scenes in what we know today as softcore. Eventually, audiences wanted more but male/female penetration was off limits.
These films became their own adult/horror sub-genre called roughies, kinkies, and ghoulies–largely realistic in settings that resided in society’s underbelly, such as the mad doctor’s house of pain, spy interrogation, female prisons, and human trafficking, commonly known as white slavery.
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The next post explores some of Olalla’s cinematography.