Tag Archives: Maleficarum

Jac Avila, Part Two: That Fantastic Thing

by Rich Moreland, August 2016

In this post, we’ll find out about Jac Avila’s background and his view on the female characters he creates.

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Jac Avila as actor.

Jac Avila as actor.

Jac Avila is of international stock. His father was from Holland and his mother, Bolivia, giving him a heritage that is Dutch, Spanish, Basque, and French.

Born in Bolivia, Jac grew up in a Catholic society, a culture that takes on its own identity and values which many Americans don’t grasp. We tend to compartmentalize religion, often limiting it to merely attending church, and don’t see it as a larger social/cultural ingredient in our lives.

On the other hand, a Catholic society is overarching, emphasizing spiritual issues without negating worldly values. For example, it insists that learning take center stage in a child’s life.

“I was educated in the most exclusive Jesuit school in La Paz,” Jac points out with pride. “The education was secular with a big emphasis on science. No conflict there. As a matter of fact, Jesuit priests were very much ahead in everything. The religious aspects of our education was a mixture of ethics, morals, mysticism and the understanding that a great part of the Bible is rather symbolic and mythological.”

Sadly, his mother passed away before Jac entered his teenage years. His father moved Jac and his brothers to New York City where the future actor/director/producer studied movie making, art, and photography.

The Blue Buick

“After graduation I started working at CBS and later at a photo studio specializing in advertising. I quit my job in 1979 to become an independent filmmaker. By 1982 I was making my first film in Haiti and Cuba by way of New York and Miami,” Jac explains.

The film premiered at Cannes in 1988.

“It took me that long to make it,” he confesses, not surprising under the circumstances.

krikKrakPosterFacing expenses that can easily derail projects, Jac spent most of his time doing what indie filmmakers learn is part of the game: meeting the right people and raising money.

The film was Krik? Krak! Tales of a Nightmare which Jac co-produced and directed with Vanyoske Gee. Jac characterizes the production as “a surreal/expressionist docu-nightmare” about the brutal regime of Haiti’s Papa Doc Duvalier that includes the spiritual aspects of Haitian culture.

The work, though difficult, answered “a more political, radical call” for him, Jac declares, and was definitely a “challenge.”

And rewarding . . . the critics received it favorably.

“Le Cahiers Du Cinema, foremost film magazine in France described it as a great horror film in the tradition of Witchcraft Through the Ages,” Jac remembers.

From there he made a television mini-series and a handful of documentaries before shooting a “‘performance'” video, an inexpensive “project that started something unexpected that built everything” he is currently doing.

Jac explains how it happened.

When he was visiting Cuba, he developed a script about a young woman during the island’s colonial days who “has fantasies about being a martyr,” a practice common in “the traditional holy week procession.”

Carmen Paintoux had the lead role in Jac’s mini-series at the time and they discussed staging the girl’s fantasy for video. “During that process, she created Camille who is the central character in Martyr,” Jac says.

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The short film was born and the budding filmmaker’s career took on a new direction.

A remarkable journey for a little boy who saw his first movie at age four. Its violence left an impression. The Film? Walt Disney’s Bambi.

“I don’t remember anything before the movie. I remember everything after the movie, even the song that was playing on the radio when my uncle drove us back home in his blue Buick.

“From that moment on all I wanted in life was to know about that fantastic thing I experienced that day.

Magic to Art

Considering what he’s told me, I ask Jac if he designs his films to be political and religious commentaries.

“Not necessarily,” he begins. “Art is beyond those limiting systems. While religion tries and fails to interpret the unknown and the mysterious, politics often try, earnestly, to fit a square into a triangle, with fatal results.”

Having said that, Jac admits his explanation may sound  “a bit simplistic, since both religion and politics are mechanisms humanity uses to organize itself into something manageable.”

“In a way, mankind created gods to control itself,” he believes. But in time, more practical attitudes took shape and the overarching role of the gods receded in favor of elected leaders in civilizations like Classical Greece, for example.

Nevertheless, there is a magic to art, Jac insists.

“Art interprets what we see and turns everything on its head, art can also imagine a million futures and a million pasts. We don’t mock religion or politics [in our films], it’s just our artistic view of humanity.

“I honestly hope that our audience enjoys our movies for what they are and take from them what they feel like taking. I don’t really mind if they hate our movies. I love it if they love them. I hate it if they are indifferent.”

The Heroines

Fair enough. Now what can we say about women as they are presented in a Pachamama film? Are they captives of their own compulsions, unable to forge their own destinies, as might seem at first glance?

Jac gives us his view, beginning with Ollala.

“Olalla and Ofelia (Olalla’s sister) are not weak because women are not weak. This nonsense of the weaker sex is just that, nonsense. Patriarchy is a response to that strength. At one point men felt the compulsive need to control women first and other men second.”

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With a moment’s pause, he adds, “Religion and politics are attempts to control, to make everything fit a pattern that can be controlled. That’s a very primitive view of life.”

It just so happens that when it comes to Church and society, the simpler, the better.

“There’s nothing more scary than women taking over, like in Olalla when she sucks the blood out of her boyfriend. It scares even women, so they have to burn Olalla’s mother,” Jac says.

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What about the other films we’ve mentioned?

Jac has his thoughts.

“The female vampires in Dead But Dreaming survive cruel torment, the accused witches overcome their death sentences in Maleficarum.

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“Is Varna [in Dead But Dreaming] taking the route Moira took? Will Justine go on after her ordeal is over?”

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Jac states that women in his films are his main focus, and I might add, his source of strength.

“The principal characters in all my movies, including Krik? Krak! are, for some reason, women. They are the heroines in all my stories. Men take second place either as aggressors or victims.

“Even in the miniseries El Hombre de la Luna, where I play the central character, an attorney/painter investigating the death of a young woman, the women in the story solve the problem and rescue the attorney from certain death.”

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But Jac’s women do suffer and it seems to have a sexual theme. So how does pain work into the art he and his filming partner Amy Hesketh create?

We’ll look at that next.

 

 

 

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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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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 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.

*          *          *

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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