Tag Archives: Dead But Dreaming

Olalla, Part Six: In Her Eyes

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.

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Olalla is my third Amy Hesketh film.10272592_474695762659833_4244678109927385087_o 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.

AMYUKHorrorNo matter the mood or the moment, they are mesmerizing, mystifying and exotic, haunting and intoxicating, penetrating, plaintive, often filled with pain, and sometimes inexplicably shy.

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.”

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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.”

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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.

Emotional Catharsis

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Olalla, Part Four: The Flesh of Brutes

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.

10924645_10153193700991840_5293608269395833368_oLater, 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.

Do they?

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.

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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.

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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.*

jac and mila 2If there is any jealousy on Olalla’s part, we don’t see it and wouldn’t expect to. For her, Felipe’s riding crop is a source of discomfort, not the erotic fun Ofelia anticipates.

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.

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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.

young olallaThe girl looks confused, guilty, and helpless.

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.

10959611_10153193663996840_5116423304263740522_nIn 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.

Familiar Ground

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.

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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.

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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.

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But her fate will not be to suffer silently. Rather, it plays out dragging and screaming to a heinous end.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Love_Camp_7_1To spice up offerings, B-movie makers like David Freidman and Joseph Mawra resorted to rape, whippings, torture, and general mayhem to put the naked girl on the big screen.

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.

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Olalla, Part Two: Depraved Miscreants

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

Olalla is billed as a vampire film, but how do we define vampire in the context it presents? Let’s take a look.

All photos are compliments of Amy Hesketh and Vermeerworks.

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Credit to the Troupe

Robert Louis Stevenson’s original “Olalla” hints at vampirism without any real overt evidence. Keeping this in mind, Amy Hesketh borrows just the right amount from the Victorian short story to expand the narrative without misplacing its thread.

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In place of the English officer, she puts a traveler named Roberto (Cristian Del Rio) in the 1800s sequences. Nathan, the family’s guest when the narrative shifts to the present day, is a wartime photojournalist played by Luis Almanza.

Felipe is a dual figure: the younger version is played by Alejandro Loayza A and the older by Jac Avila who is superb as the family’s enforcer.

Alejandro Loayza A, Cristian Del Rio, Amy Hesketh, Rhobess Pierre

Alejandro Loayza A, Cristian Del Rio, Amy Hesketh, Rhobess Pierre

Lastly, the padre (Rhobess Pierre) serves the same function in both versions of the story.

Other characters are added. There is Olalla’s sister, Ofelia (Mila Joya), the aunt (Maria Esther Arteaga), the “twin” uncles (Beto Lopez L and Fermin Nunez), and the young Olalla and Ofelia (played by sisters Valeria and Rosario Huanca)

Finally, Erix Antoine is terrific as Bruno, the family member who tries his best to keep the house and everyone around him on the edge of normal. Pay close attention to the “muffin verses sweet cake” debate between Bruno and the uncles. The humorous innuendoes are priceless!

The family enjoys their sweets. (L to R) the uncles, Nathan, Uncle Felipe, Ofelia, the aunt, Bruno.

The family enjoys their sweets. (L to R) the uncles, Nathan, Uncle Felipe, Ofelia, the aunt, Bruno.

Of course, Olalla as mother replaces Stevenson’s character in the filmed version and has daughters who appear as youngsters. They grow up to be the modern Ofelia and Olalla when the narrative moves to the present time.

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The film expands on the family as a pack of depraved miscreants. In his story, Stevenson informs the reader that the mother sits in the sun against a pillar and other than brushing her hair, hasn’t “the least spark of energy.” Amy Hesketh’s take on the household presents an indolent aunt and uncles who are robotic without purpose, moving in unison with nowhere to go.

The updated Olalla does change one important element. In a nod to Stevenson’s tale, the mother indeed bites Roberto’s hand, but the impulsive act inflames the villagers and ushers in her death, as we will see.

The Vampire Question

As suggested in the first part of this analysis, the family members are not vampires in the popular sense, but they aren’t vampire-free either. It’s an in-between identity the padre defines as a collection of “strange customs.” Even their dancing at the party is zombie-like, stilted and ludicrous to the point of hilarity.

Party scene with a high angle shot.

Party scene with a high angle shot.

The family cannot determine their destiny because they are as refrigerated as the bags of blood that await their cocktail hour. They’re in a time warp that repeats itself just as the uncles are aimless and without purpose. How else could two little girls grow into young women and take a century to do it?

1505228_10151835599527882_1712782730_nOn the other hand, what of Olalla? Does she have a blood fetish, what might be considered clinical vampirism, or is she a killer whose sins her mother paid for in a sadomasochistic show compliments of the Grand Guignol?

According to Psychology Today (November 2012), the German physician Richard von Krafft-Ebing established over a century ago the connection between blood and sexuality. He cites a case in which a man allowed his wife to suck the blood from his arm before they had sex. It aroused her apparently.

Of note is that Krafft-Ebing reached this conclusion in the mid-1880s. Perhaps this is the source of Stevenson story, an account of compulsion, erotic energy, and the fear of monsters. If so, the film version of Olalla has its artistic place in literature while exploring human perversion as applicable to the social sciences.

Modern Vampires are Sexier

One more point is significant. If we assume Olalla is a vampire, she hovers between the Nosferatu genre of German Expressionism and Dracula.

Like “Nosferatu” (The Bird of Death), she bites, but her victims simply die and do not become vampires themselves. This is a departure from the Stoker model that Jac Avila uses in Dead But Dreaming.

On the other hand, Nosferatu’s  “Count Orlok” is linked to Dracula in one respect. nosferatu (1)He vanishes forever when caught in toxic sun light, whereas Dracula is only repelled by it. In either case, it’s a phenomenon that has no effect on Olalla.

So where does this leave us? Ofelia summarizes the film’s dilemma when she says to Bruno, “Olalla is a danger to all of us.”

Does this mean she is the only real vampire in the family? Or, is the brood afraid her habits will lead to the pitchfork crowd as happened with her mother?

One thing becomes painfully apparent as the film progresses. Olalla commits murder and will do it again.

Later when Ofelia interrupts her sister and Nathan watching Nosfertu, she furthers the vampire question with, “Modern vampires are sexier, don’t you think, Olalla?”

Nathan, Olalla, and Ofelia talk about vampires

Nathan, Olalla, and Ofelia talk about vampires

Nathan interjects that he and Olalla like the old version of the undead, whereupon Ofelia declares that those vampires always die “because they’re monsters who can’t control themselves.”

It’s a well-placed jab at her deviant sister.

There we have it. Olalla is like her family, caught in an in-between contradictory state (an “undead” purgatory, perhaps?) that is of the spirits and intangible and centers on evil rather than peace. And, in the end, we really don’t know if they are leftover Stoker sycophants, Count Orlok parasites struggling to survive, or simply blood freaks who are more than a little weird.

Or, perhaps they are a clan of murderers who will symbolically crucify Olalla on her bed to protect themselves . . .

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And that is exactly what links Amy Hesketh’s film to the classic enigma of Victorian literature and establishes its credentials for scholarly study.

Producers Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila

Amy Hesketh and Jac Avila are also Olalla’s producers.

 

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By the way, my interpretation of this film is just one point of view. Everyone should check it out for themselves and reach their own conclusions.

In the next post, we’ll examine time as a motif in this film.

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 4: Horror or History?

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

jacIn reviewing Dead But Dreaming, I have taken a limited perspective. The film, however, is rich with unexplored layers of meaning that beg for further interpretation. That’s the true measure of art and a salute to director Jac Avila’s innovative work.

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Crucifixion and Confrontation

Dead But Dreaming is a film of contrasts and parallels in a narrative driven by the ordeals of Aphrodisia and Moire.

They come from distant lands but their appearances are quite different. Moire’s fair complexion and reddish blonde hair is a counterpoint to Aphrodisia’s fiery exotic look framed by her black hair and paradoxically sad eyes.

As we’ve seen, both are sexually assaulted while bound. Aphrodisia responds with anger; whereas, a stoic Moire endures her trauma.

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On the other hand, both victims are visually eroticized when they are punished. Their differences lie in their humiliation, Moire’s being public, Aphrodisia’s the fate of a slave.

The story’s three crucifixions are also contrasting. Aphrodisia suffers a slave’s death on a cross; Moire is the victim of political persecution while Nahara faces an interrogation with a religious overtone (notice the wound in her side inflicted by a wooden crucifix).  Does vampirism feed off Christian mythology and is that what frightens the priest Ferenc so much?

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Though Moire is resigned to her fate, Aphrodisia and Nahara are angry. Nahara pulls at the chains securing her to a box-like metal frame in an underground cavern compliments of Ferenc’s mission to stamp out evil.

Speaking of the priest, he and Nahara trade confrontational stares throughout the film in a reminder of Dr. Van Helsing’s pursuit of Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel. In effect, they are mythological parallels in contrasting poses.

Who is Varna?

Varna, dressed in civilian clothes, meets Moire on the street with a less than astonished,  “You’re dead.” Moire’s now eternal state does not appear to surprise the former nun-in-training because she can no longer dismiss the supernatural.

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Moire is concerned for Varna.

When I was dead but dreaming, Moire says, “I heard you,” referring to Varna’s promise to carry on her mission, and “I don’t want you to take my place.”

 Varna is warned. Stay out of the revolution because the whipping post awaits, and seek the church as a shield from Nahara, who has a talent for turning those who pray into prey.

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Wasted words because Varna is the independent woman celebrated by feminism. She makes her own decisions but will be forever hounded just as feminists have always suffered society’s condemnation.

As the film winds down, Varna  is seduced by Aphrodisia and ends up in the lair where earlier the vampires feasted on a local woman.

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Rather than taste Varna’s virginity, Asa releases her in a nod to the next installment of Dead But Dreaming.

“She will lead us to Nahara,” he says to Aphrodisia.

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Unexpectedly, Varna shows up at the stable and wants to join Moire, who was anticipating Nahara’s arrival. The viewer learns that the Lamia was killed by Ferenc. But she cannot die, Moire says matter-of-factly, and we know what that means . . .

As they ride away, the Irish traveler warns Varna, “She will find us someday.” It’s a cat and mouse game playing out in vampire land.

So who is Varna?

 Throughout the film, this novice nun cannot look away, cannot confine herself to the safety of her cultural box because she sees perspectives beyond her own personal vision. She is the observer.

Simply put, Varna is us.

Budgets

Finally, Dead has endearing touches that make the film a pleasure.

Director Jac Avila cautions us to not go too far in willfully suspending our disbelief. Granted we are dealing with an indie film that suffers expected budgetary constraints that limit retakes. The upside of that inadvertently breaks the theatrical “fourth wall” by letting the viewer in on the game.

Here are a few really cool examples.

Though the sacrificial virgin in beginning (10,000 years ago) keeps her mouth closed, her metal braces are still visible. A close-up Moire’s feet at the whipping post reveals her pedicure. And in a vampire attack on a La Paz street, Aphrodisia loses one of her fake nails.

I love this stuff because nobody can waste a dollar in the indie business. If anything, it’s an artistic challenge Hollywood cannot appreciate.

Blue

I’m left with only one question. Why do the vampires have blue eyes?

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Is blue a dreaming state because it is peaceful? Or, is “vampire blue” sad and depressing?

I’ve got a theory. In the Bram Stoker tradition, vampires are condemned to come out at night and, of course, can never again inhale the light of day. So the undead must carry the blue sky in their eyes as a cruel joke; their dilated black pupils push aside the ever present, but forbidden, daytime to see at night.

Another take on the color suggests the “eternal light” of Church doctrine must always be vigilant. Hence the blue crucifix hanging on the church wall and the street scenes shot in a blue hue.

Vampire blue ready to feast

That First Bloody Bite

In closing, my congratulations to the entire production team of Dead. The cinematography is impressive and captures costumes and settings that are authentic representations of La Paz in 1805.

Dead’s pace is lively and the intercutting supremely done to bring the story together. Only once did I think the movie strained itself. The extended scene between Demetrius and Chrysis in Antioch tended to drag with a somewhat flat dialogue delivery. But in the overall scheme of things, that’s minor.

The Irish traveler descends the path with Nahara not far behind

The Irish traveler descends the path with Nahara not far behind

Incidentally, the opening credits offer a clever  indication that this film has a tale to tell. The motif is about travelers who are descending into something we do not yet know. Moire rides her horse down a path and is followed by the mysterious Nahara. When the scene shifts to Asa’s first appearance, he is going down a hill.

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Set up the viewer with a suggestion and Dead But Dreaming readies the audience for that first deliciously irresistible bloody bite into a terrific story.

Horror or History?

As I mentioned in the first post on this movie, I am venturing into new territory with this analysis. After repeated viewings, I’m reluctant to call Dead a horror film. It is more of a historical drama armed with a political message wrapped in a supernatural fantasy. Though I agree with Eric Antione who characterizes the movie as a “gothic adventure story,” I think it goes deeper than that. Much like Maleficarum, another Amy Hesketh film about victimization, Dead condemns a society that condemns women.

MV5BMTk5MDQyNzM4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzk2ODUxNw@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Speaking of  Maleficarum, two young women are tortured under the sadistic auspices of the Church because they don’t fit in. Amy and Mila Joy are innocent victims whipped, racked, and bloodied in realistic scenes. Yet, Maleficarum is not gratuitous violence. The film depicts the abuses society brings on those who drift away from the norm. Watch it with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in mind because Jac Avila’s script and Miller’s story are based on real accounts.

The dungeons of Maleficarum offer Amy and Mila with their nudity and their punishments as treats for the sadomasochistic crowd. Dead dances around the edges of that arena with the same erotic S/M theme that permeates Maleficarum. Does that position both films in a special genre of horror, history, and softcore porn? Perhaps, but that may be a stretch (no rack pun intended), so check out both films and decide for yourself.

What I do believe is what Dead But Dreaming does so well, replay the female oppression theme of Maleficarum with a more forceful feminist message.

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AmyHeskethI hope to review another Amy Hesketh production. She is a breath of fresh air unknown to many film fans.

For my tastes, any performer who comments on her nudity with, “My body is my instrument so I’m going to use it,” is quietly telling us she is more than attractively packaged female flesh.

Amy Hesketh is smart, talented, and lusts after each scene she shoots.

Congrats on a great movie and here’s betting that there’s a Dead II in the works.

 

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 3: Ordeal

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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Public Humiliation

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.

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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.

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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.

Real marks and a salute to Amy Hesketh's courage in the pursuit of her art.

Real marks and a salute to Amy Hesketh’s courage in the pursuit of her art.

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.

Moire notices Varna and in the crowd.

Moire looks painfully at Varna and Ferenc in the crowd.

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.DBD00564600

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.

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Inside You

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.

nahara and the guardCaressing 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.

Moire licks Nahara's blood from her hands as the feeding ritual is completed.

Moire licks Nahara’s blood from her fingers as the feeding ritual is completed.

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.

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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, deadbutdreaming-amyof 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.

Say Good-bye

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.

DBDTeaseVidCaps03161312“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.

Aphrodisia once a little sister herself

Asa gently touches Aphrodisia, once a little sister herself

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?

A reminder for those who willfully suspend their disbelief in this intense moment, it's just a movie and a good one at that!

A reminder for those who are swept up in the realism of Moire’s fate, it’s a movie of course, and that requires several days and many takes, as we see here.

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For more reviews of Dead But Dreaming and to learn more about Amy Hesketh, visit her website and her blog.

 

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 2: Lamia

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

Joining Amy Hesketh in Dead But Dreaming is Bolivian Veronica Paintoux who began her career with Pachamama Films in the early 1990s and La Paz native Mila Joya is who has shot for the studio since 2010. She stars with Amy in Maleficarum, a film directed by Jac Avila.

These three provocative women, along with Claudia Moscoso as Varna, infuse feminism into the vampire landscape, giving Dead But Dreaming an empowered pro-woman statement.

Claudio Moscoso

Claudio Moscoso

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Throughout recorded history, women have been captured, fought over, enslaved, and seduced for reproductive purposes. The result? Sexual commodification has always been at the core of being female.

Patriarchal attitudes have dominated all cultures with the Church in the Middle Ages western civilization’s strongest example. But women have fought back and in modern times this struggle has given rise to feminism.

In Dead But Dreaming, writer/director Jac Avila explores the feminist image as it is shaped through the recalcitrant female. She may appear submissive and trapped by her circumstances, but she is of her own mind.

Womanly Condition

Until the viewer meets Varna, the feminist tone of the narrative floats along under the radar. There are hints, of course, but the novice nun brings the issue front and center. Her uncle, Ferenc, is the local priest and when they meet in the church courtyard he mentions his suspicions.

There is a female vampire, a lamia, loose in the community. “The demon takes a beautiful shape to seduce young men,” he says.

Uncle and niece

Uncle and niece

The attempted sacrifice of a young virgin centuries ago visually intercuts their conversation because it reflects Varna’s circumstances. She is a modern sacrifice because her “womanly condition” demands that she choose between being a bride of Christ or man. To her, they are “sad choices.” The doubting nun-in-waiting wants a third option, to pursue her studies and write.

Ferenc admits with some pride that Varna has a “talent for deep thought,” not something the sexist church attitude concedes lightly. He does, however, want her to know about the tale of Lilith. This is the root of the female vampire and a lesson in obedience for all women.

Later when Varna meets the Irish traveler, another element is added to the feminist theme: rebellion against authority, something that Church and society believes should never clutter the female mind.

The replacement sacrifice

The replacement sacrifice

Time Portal

The scene shifts back to the virgin sacrifice. Suddenly her place is taken by a mysterious woman who materializes out of a stone portal.

After a stake is driven through the victim’s heart, the chieftain (Jac Avila) drinks her blood. When he extracts the stake, the fiend rises and returns the favor. Thus the tribal leader is reborn as Asa who will become part of the vampire family feud that infuses the narrative.

The undead victim, now known as Nahara, flees to the time portal only to find there is no escape. Once clad in white, the seminude and bloodied Nahara has gone from purity to evil. Like Eve driven from the Garden, she must wander.

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To underscore the pre-Christian birth of vampires, Nahara later appears before Ferenc standing in front of a stone cross. It has no adverse effect on her, Bram Stoker notwithstanding. In Dead But Dreaming, vampires sweep away the oppressive church dogma.  Through asserting the female voice, today’s modern feminists do likewise in a male-dominated world that still minimizes women.

Breaking the Rules too Easily

Another scene shift takes the viewer to La Paz and Asa’s underground lair.

He stays away from the sun (a concession to Stoker) and carries a staff with a large tooth-like object on its end.

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The back story of this segment moves to Antioch in 57 BC where the slave Aphrodisia is blamed for a lost mirror. In the presence of a congenial group of her mistress’s friends, she is flogged and then crucified.

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As mentioned  previously, Asa is present and turns her into a vampire as she dies on the cross.

In his lair, Asa suggests to Aphrodisia (who is now his personal aphrodisiac) that she still holds a grudge from centuries ago. She retorts that no one helped her, but the vampire lord is disinterested in her complaining. Traveling is on his agenda, he says, which means she’ll have to be put to sleep.

467198_332799253445452_1618416711_oAhprodisia pleads, “I don’t want to be dead but dreaming so long again.”

It’s an angry comment on the condition of women through the ages. Asa’s patriarchal response is unsympathetic. It’s time for a lesson in obedience.

Pushing her away with his staff, Asa chains Aphrodisia to the wall and flogs her in a scene that BDSMers will love. She breaks the rules too easily, he shouts. Aphrodisia writhes; her raging eyes glare at him with desire. Quick sharp breaths intensify her lust, underscoring that sadomasochism ignites vampire love.

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When Asa plunges his pointed staff into the flesh above both of her breasts, their sexual playtime begins. Burning with fury, Aphrodisia’s eyes turn red and bleed as a woman might under those circumstances.

The scene is female rage at oppression and parallels Moire’s jail cell rape we’ll discuss in the next post.

To Be on Top, at least Once

Asa releases Aphrodisia and lays her on the floor then moves on top of her to suck the blood from the piercings he made. In an act of rebellion, Aphrodisia suddenly reverses positions and straddles him by sitting on his chest.

This is one of Dead’s pivotal moments because it was Lilith who demanded to be on top in an assertion of her feminism. Aphrodisia’s statement of sexual control yields a concession. Asa will not put her to sleep and mute her again.

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Next we’ll look at the sad fate of Moire and another of the film’s defining moments, her scourging, execution, and rebirth.

Amy Hesketh in a calm moment before Moire's public humiliation

Still dressed, Amy Hesketh is calm and collected as the set is ready for Moire’s public humiliation. It will be Amy at her most intense in a moving performance.

 

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Dead But Dreaming, Part 1: Blood and Desire

by Rich Moreland, May 2016

This is my first attempt to deconstruct a film outside the adult genre. I happened across producer/director/actress Amy Hesketh’s work and decided to give one of her recent films, Dead But Dreaming, a go.

Amy is a ground breaker, portraying the archetypal innocent victim with an honest, understated talent for eroticizing her peril.

I don’t use a rating system for the films I review, but if I did this movie would be a five-star winner. It’s that good.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’d rather not know what happens in this film, stop now and go play on twitter!

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Succubi

Dead But Dreaming is a vampire tale. It has a feminist underpinning that slashes religious and political conservatism while skewering the belief that a woman’s place is under the male thumb.

The back story begins with Lilith, Adam’s first wife. A priest named Ferenc explains to his niece, convent novice Varna, that Lilith refused to submit to Adam and was replaced by the more docile Eve.

The Priest

Jorge Ortiz as The Priest

Actually, the Lilith myth originated in pre-Christian Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) and entered Hebrew text in the sixth century BCE.

In Greek mythology, Lilith becomes the Lamia, eater of children and concubine of Zeus. Later she appears in European folklore as the succubi, the seducer of men. Thus we see female vampires in nineteenth century La Paz feasting on the city’s young lads which is Ferenc’s explanation for the mysterious murders that have come to town.

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Incidentally, Bram Stoker’s 1898 novel Dracula weaves into vampire lore the blood, sex, and death theme we see in Dead. The Irish author’s Victorian rendition establishes the vampire tropes we’ve grown accustomed to, such as recoiling from daylight and crucifixes. For its part, Dead gives a subtle nod to Stoker Moire, who is also Irish.

Considering that the Lamia pre-date Christianity, director Jac Avila scraps some of the typical expectations. For example, Nahara can flit around in sunlight and travel as she pleases. What’s more, the vampires of Dead skirt any retribution from Christianity, though Ferenc does manage to impale Nahara with a crucifix to slow her down.

By the way, producer Amy Hesketh pays tribute to Stoker with “blood is about life force and desire.” Her words underscore the erotic theme of Dead played out magnificently with nudity and sadism. Best of all, the film is a collective love affair for the viewer. Actresses Veronica Paintoux, Mila Joya, and especially Amy Hesketh, are irresistible. As simultaneous victims and empowered women, they exude a delicious sexuality that becomes the narrative.

Veronica Paintoux as Nahara

Veronica Paintoux as Nahara

Faraway Lands

Writer/director Jac Avila wraps Dead around the mystical archetype of three. There are a trio of female vampires: Nahara (Paintoux), Aphrodisia (Joya), and Moire (Hesketh) and three historical settings to weave the story.

Each time period is a part of the puzzle the viewer assembles along the way.

The tribal chieftain (Jac Avila) embraces Nahara

The tribal chieftain (Jac Avila) embraces Nahara

The first deals with the tribal “birth” of Nahara, a visitor from a “faraway land” who finds passage through a time portal. Moire will metaphorically do the same in 1805, the far off land being Catholic Ireland.

The second is Antioch in 57 BCE. The characters in this setting are Greek, though the power of the coming Roman Empire is on their doorstep. The second vampire, Aphrodisia, is born out of the Roman tradition of slave crucifixion.

In Antioch

The slave Aphrodisia offers fruit to visitors

When we arrive at the film’s present time, La Paz is a part of Upper Peru. The Bolivian War of Independence is a few years away but the rebels are organizing. The Irish traveler, Moire O’Higgins, who plans to help the freedom fighters build their arsenal, will suffer a scourging and death that links her to Aphrodisia’s Roman punishment.

Amy Hesketh is the Irish Traveler

Amy Hesketh is the Irish Traveler

Speaking of crucifixion, there are three, one for each female vampire.

Finally, the central male vampire, Asa (played by Avila) encompasses three distinct roles. He is the tribal leader in prehistoric times and the visitor who will suck the blood of the slave Aphrodisia while she is on the cross.

Waiting for Asa

Waiting for Asa

Most important, however, is 1805 La Paz where Asa is a vampire lord in pursuit of, and being pursued by, Nahara in what looks like a family feud. Their maneuverings become the central theme of the story.

Finally, as referenced above, the past and present in Dead are interspersed with scenes from the various time periods. As the film moves forward, the intercutting can appear befuddling, but with close attention the sub-narratives skillfully come together.

Mila Joya as Aphrodisia

Mila Joya as Aphrodisia

The next post explores the film’s feminism theme.

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Dead But Dreaming is an indie production from Pachamama Films and distributed through Vermeerworks. It is available for online streaming or DVD purchase.

Producer Amy Hesketh with script in hand

Producer Amy Hesketh with script in hand and cast member close by

 

 

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