by Rich Moreland, July 2016
Here is the final post on Olalla.
I added this segment as a tribute to the talent and artistry of Amy Hesketh.
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Amy Hesketh’s eroticism is unique in her roles. Consider Maleficarum’s Mariana and Dead But Dreaming’s Irish traveler to appreciate how Amy puts her body out there in a way that elevates sensuality beyond whatever passes for the commonplace and predictable in our culture.
Rarely can an actor pull off suffering in such a way that it becomes a visual spectacle that gives us pause. Amy’s performance in Olalla’s burning scene, for example, honors her as a true Grand Guignol artist.
Olalla is my third Amy Hesketh film. Her penchant for the abused victim and her courage to explore what anguish means in a psychological, spiritual, and physical context defines her work. Were she in Paris in the years before and after the Second World War, Amy would have been welcomed at the Theater of Horror.
Yet there is something else about Amy’s performance art that is irresistible, lures the viewer into her soul, and makes the story come alive.
It’s her eyes.
In Olalla Amy may have murderer’s blood splashed about, but her eyes remain the enigma, perplexed, almost befuddled by her deeds, yet driven with lust. In the end, they scream of “the body in pain” in all its agony.
Connecting with Amy
When we first meet Olalla in the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson reaches across time in a way he could never have imagined. It’s as if his vision of Olalla speaks to him directly through Amy Hesketh’s presence.
The unnamed English officer is quickly smitten when he finally encounters the mysterious senorita. Stevenson tells us why. God had “lighted the torches of the soul” in her eyes and “looked out” from them “and conquered mine,” the soldier says.
“In Olalla all that I desired and had not dared to imagine was united.”
In the film version of the story, Nathan tells Olalla her beauty is enticing beyond what we consider normal.
Indeed it is. But there is more. Amy Hesketh blends into Olalla so seamlessly that we sometimes forget there is a separation between actress and character. We willfully suspend our disbelief with ease, the mark of fine storytelling, because Amy is bold, sensitive, and seductive.
Stevenson is not finished, however. As if Amy is standing before him, the Victorian author declares through the officer, “In her eyes I could read depth beyond depth of passion and sadness, light of poetry and hope, blackness of despair.”
Amy Hesketh’s on-screen presence animates Stevenson’s words. Her eyes, in all their kaleidoscopic beauty and mystery, convince even the most casual viewer that her talent and her emotion are a provocative venture into film.
Stevenson sets the bar; Amy’s Olalla rises above it.
As we have seen, Amy Hesketh is the woman in pain, a victim who is misunderstood and condemned to the most awful of miseries from which, like the endearing Maxa of the Grand Guignol, she rarely survives.
Her torments, often inflicted by the bigotry of the righteous, defines Amy’s self-imposed artistic fate. In reality, it’s a personal psychosocial journey that explores woman as prey, scapegoat, and sacrifice, powerless to avoid the anguish that persecutors turn into sadomasochist pleasure.
But the victim scenario is not quite that simple because there a silenced anger shouting from within.
In Olalla, the deck is stacked against the younger sister. Her blood feast compulsions throttles whatever happiness she might realize. The notion that if freed from its familial shackles, Olalla’s determination would prevail. But we never see it, though Amy lets us know it’s there.
Highlighting all of her roles is a desire to explore the “body in pain” that infuses Amy’s art.
In Maleficarum, lesbian lovers Mariana and Francisca (Mila Joya) are sadistically tortured by the Church. In Dead But Dreaming it’s the whipping post for Moire’s political crimes then a vampire feast at the hands of the fiendish Nara (Veronica Paintoux).
And, of course, there is Olalla who is beaten on the cross to satisfy superstitious villagers who believe monsters are Satan’s work.
These films present an emotional catharsis that releases Amy Hesketh to inhabit her characters in a way that few, if any, female performers can deliver in the erotic horror genre.
It’s intoxicating. We look away, but like the English soldier, can’t resist looking back.
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By way of Mel Gordon’s Theatre of Fear and Horror, I’ll let the Grand Guignol playwright Andre de Lorde close out this analysis of Olalla.
“At all times . . . horror shows have drawn large audiences. If the Inquisition had made public its interrogations conducted on the rack, they would have had to turn people away.”
Here’s a toast to you, Amy Hesketh. You know this all too well.
We love to watch.