Tag Archives: Nosferatu

Olalla, Part Three: Between Reality and Fantasy

by Rich Moreland, July 2016

In this post, we’ll consider the concept of time and how its dimension enriches Amy Hesketh’s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Olalla.

As scriptwriter and director, Amy floats her Olalla between centuries, stepping beyond the original Victorian version by incorporating time as a dominant motif.

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Olalla is marvelously complex. The casual observer who believes Amy Hesketh simply picks up the story where Robert Louis Stevenson left off is short-changing the film. She has integrated her modern tale with Stevenson’s in a cleverly scripted narrative.

More than a century separates Amy from the Victorian author, who also penned the macabre Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. That’s important because Olalla requires an understanding of time.

It can be a bit complicated, but here’s what I think is going on.

A Hundred Years

1392102_10152846713131840_9087870720375318202_nStevenson’s short story was published in 1885, but the narrative takes place in an earlier time period, the Iberian Peninsular War (1807-1814) in which the English fought the French.

Dropping hints that Olalla is a victim of her family’s past, Stevenson let’s it go without explanation. Amy picks up the thread by illustrating Olalla’s past with flashbacks set in the late Victorian Age.

As evidence of Amy’s approach, we have the period portrait over the living room hearth and the clothing of Olalla, Felipe, and the girls as a contrast to modern times. By the way, note its placement in the box cover shot above.

In other words, Amy uses Stevenson’s Victorian Era as her back story, moving the narrative forward by a century or more, depending on how we interpret her use of present time.

Here’s what I mean.

In the film’s opening scene we find the modern Olalla and her boyfriend in their apartment watching Nosferatu, the 1922 silent film widely recognized as the original vampire classic.

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The TV is a flat screen with posters of other Pachamama films, Barbazul and Dead But Dreaming, on the wall above it. Okay, its product placement but everybody does it.

Here is where things get interesting. The boyfriend mentions that due to lost prints, a reconstruction of Nosferatu was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 1985. In a nod to the original story, that is exactly a hundred years after Stevenson’s publication date.

NosferatuThere’s more. The boyfriend also remarks that Nosferatu is an example of German Expressionism, itself a lost form of film making. His comment lays the ground work for Amy to push beyond the Expressionist label. It’s a stroke of genius. Here’s why.

Dr. Mel Gordon in his book, Theater of Fear and Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, asserts that the “unexpected brutalities and overall mad feeling of the German Expressionist film had less to do with Expressionism from the German stage than the influence of the Grand Guignol.”

This insight alone elevates Amy Hesketh’s production to levels akin to the horror films of Vincent Price and Christopher Lee because she uses the realism of the Grand Guignol without over indulging the fantasy aspect of the story.

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Simply put, when it comes to fantasy, Amy Hesketh is more interested in the lessons of the Parisian horror stage. Naturalism compliments fantasy rather than the supernatural directing it. For that reason, we have the crucifixion at the end. It’s the real deal, no vampire imaginations needed.

By the way, though the vampire’s name in Nosferatu was changed to Count Orlok, as the boyfriend notes, Bram Stoker’s estate sued over the unauthorized use of the Dracula novel. Nosferatu’s prints were ordered to be burned; fortunately, some survived.

The First Rule

Amy’s screenplay employs everyday items to illustrate the atrophy of Olalla’s modern family. For example, there is an old rotary phone in the apartment Olalla uses when she reports her dastardly deed to her sister, Ofelia.

Olalla must make that phone call.

Olalla must make that phone call.

A cursory review of Olalla’s family hacienda furnishings shows us an antique radio in Ofelia’s room, and kitchen appliances–a coffee pot, tea kettle, and meat grinders–that recall an earlier time. Later, the party music comes by way of vinyl and a turntable.

This is not to suggest that these things are not still in use today, it is merely to point out their importance in understanding the story.

In other words, is the family living in a past (exactly when is not clear) that connects them within a century of Stevenson?  If so, Amy Hesketh is putting the Olalla puzzle together within the bounds of its major motif and re-establishing the first rule of good vampire tales, they cut across time. . . everyone lives simultaneously in the past and present with no vision of the future.

Keep this in mind because Amy’s handling of that part of the story is brilliant, as we will see.

Ofelia’s fetish sexuality resides in Bettie Page, whose posters she has in her room. Also, her bangs are all Bettie and she sports the dominatrix-like corset and garters the pioneering bondage model popularized. Of course, these BDSM accoutrements are favored today, but in this case it lets us know that Ofelia’s self-image is 1950s/1960s oriented, another variance within of the time motif.

For further proof of that aspect of the film, check out Bruno’s outfit. He is a fugitive of the Disco Era where clothing alters identities and fetish, queer, and camp all met at the same crossroads under the glittering mirror balls. Think 1970s/1980s.

Ready to shoot, radio in place with Bettie posters on the wall.

Ready to shoot, radio in place with Bettie Page posters on the wall.

Also, notice that the tatted Ofelia is an occultist who plays with Tarot cards and has sex with her uncle. The occultism/mysticism theme played well in the Grand Guignol whose history (1897-1962) is within Ofelia’s personal time fetish.

Seven

The family is in trouble. It is dying of old age and needs re-energizing which accounts for the arrival of Uncle Felipe and Bruno. Incidentally, if aging is an issue, then they’re not vampires in the traditional sense. Maybe it’s really only Olalla?

Like the Victorian writers, Amy is leaving some of this up to us.

On the practical side, Felipe is the judge and enforcer (there is a gavel on the wall over his shoulder in one scene). His purpose is to discipline the two young women, because without them, the family line comes to an end.

Holding the riding crop, Ofelia awaits Uncle Felipe who will use it where needed.

Holding the riding crop, Ofelia awaits Uncle Felipe who will use it where needed.

In the meantime, the slothful aunt raises the ante when she tells Ofelia she must help her little sister or the childbearing “responsibility will fall on you.”

mila and auntEveryone feels the pressure. Bruno comments that he and Olalla came to visit from the north (does he mean like the helpful Witch of the North who guides Dorothy to see the Wizard of Oz for a ticket home?). He bakes goodies for everyone’s sweet tooth and stores the blood bags in the fridge, all to keep the family in functioning mode.

However, Bruno is gay and everyone else is ancient in childbearing terms.

That leaves Ofelia, whose bondage fetish reduces sex to playtime, and the wayward Olalla as the only reproduction options. It’s not a pretty picture.

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Notice there are seven family members, the archetypal number of completion found in myth and legend. Obviously, the recalcitrant Olalla must remain within the fold, so controlling her is number one on the family bucket list.

The Hallway

10533207_523083637821045_1176408918808312946_nThe film’s physical metaphor for time is the hallway in the family’s house. It is long and narrow with a bank of grimy windows on one side that over looks a deteriorating neighborhood.

Opposite is a dreary greenish wall lined with a myriad of plants positioned to strain for the sun which struggles to shine in.

The pottings are the family’s generations, once of “princely stock,” Stevenson says, but now “degenerate,” and, Amy shows us, totally immovable and dependent.

In the original story, Stevenson’s English soldier travels a road that “began to go down into the narrow and naked chasm of a torrent” (a stream) and later the reader learns that the family home was “hemmed” in by mountains. This visual imagery is repeated with the tightly packed buildings outside the hallway windows in modern times.

Amy maintains the same image in a flashback segment in the film. Roberto walks with Olalla and her daughters down a narrow pathway that is flanked by buildings on one side in an outdoor version of the hallway.

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Earlier when we first encounter the corridor, Olalla approaches the camera from afar. The shot is elevated to emphasize the distance across time she travels from her childhood that is inexplicably a century earlier.

Using the hallway we can orient ourselves to interpret the story. By facing the windows with our back to the wall, a look to the left gives us the past, to the right, the present.

Olalla comes from the past bearing her sins

The door to the past is open and waiting for its daughter of blood

The characters move back and forth along its distance, but never leave because there is no future. Confined by a physical narrowness that robs them of all options, they are in limbo, essentially a suspended time warp that imprisons their depravity and dissolution.

Think of it this way by borrowing from Bram Stoker: wherever they go the family members must return to their soil. The hallway is their version of Dracula’s coffin. It, too, has no future.

In the end after Olalla reveals she has tricked the family, she leaves the party and turns left into the hallway. She’s going back to her personal past, in this case her nasty biting habits. The family follows her and pauses, uncertain what to do. Felipe points the pistol (that did not serve its intended purpose during the party) at Olalla. A single shot to the back of the head will do the trick.

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But the family, like Olalla, is left suspended between reality and fantasy, the present and the past, unable to act in any meaningful way.

Told you Amy Hesketh is brilliant . . .

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In the fourth installment of this analysis, we’ll investigate what it means to be a monster.

 

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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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As the Night Settles In

by Rich Moreland, January 2013

Fortune came my way in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. I was there to network, pick up a story or two, and visit with industry people I have come to know. Through my connection with Evil Angel’s general manager Christian Mann, I was invited to visit the company’s suite at the Hard Rock Hotel.

It was late afternoon and twilight was fading on this unusually chilly Nevada day.

When I arrived with my photographer Bill and assistant Brandy, I found a familiar image in the suite. A gigantic poster of Bobbi Starr, who got her directorial opportunity with Evil Angel, dominated the space where the company did business during the week. Though she works out of San Francisco now, Bobbi’s presence is a reminder of Evil Angel’s influence in the world of pornography, especially owner John Stagliano’s respect for the women whose hard work helps to garner the profits.

Christian on the left, John Standing, Bobbi on the wall.Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

Christian seated, John Standing, Bobbi on the wall.
Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse

I wanted to talk adult film history with Christian who is a walking encyclopedia on everything adult and an active member of the business’s political entity, the Free Speech Coalition. Never could I have imagined that John Stagliano would join in for over an hour of conversation that covered subjects as varied as BDSM in adult film to the political ramifications of being a pornographer in the 1980s and ‘90s.

At the conclusion of our conversation I received a treasured surprise. Christian gave me a copy of Voracious, John’s award winning epic film. A mega-project shot on location in Los Angeles, Budapest, and Berlin, Voracious is divided into ten episodes. The movie is a boiling cauldron of vampirism and sex, ancient lore that first broke into film with the Dracula movies of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Of course, the sex was implied in those days. The German silent offering, Nosferatu, released in 1927 and Universal’s 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, alerted moviegoers to neck biting, but showed next to nothing other than Dracula’s hypnotic powers. In Bram Stoker’s original novel published in 1898, Dracula is a dark figure of bisexuality, preying on men and women for their blood and their souls. Every bite is a metaphor for sexual penetration that resided only in the imagination. Victorian women would have fainted in greater numbers than reported had Stoker been explicit.

Incidentally, since he had two fangs perhaps Dracula was the originator of the DP!

Nonetheless, the 1934 Hays Code, the industry’s attempt at moral self-regulation, prevented anything sexual going forward. Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the late 1960s brings the cinematic world a little closer and messier to the real thing. Lee shows up with fangs and blood, significant because it skirted a dying Hays.  Subsequent attempts to popularize the vampire film drama were never legendary; the closest modern version to achieving that level of fame is Francis Ford Coppala’s 1992 Dracula.

Now there is Voracious.  Watching the first installment, I decided a good review would have to be done in segments. My deconstruction of this intriguing film will follow in the days to come.

By the way, the tale is a love story involving a human and a vampire in waiting. The hard driving sex is a Stagliano masterpiece and for those who doubt pornography’s worth in our society, the film has more than its share of artistic merit.

Whose world will triumph in this drama that crosses reality with the undead?

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When we left the Evil Angel suite, Bill and Brandy were curious to see the film. Vampire sex does have an attraction, perhaps a trance-like one that overcomes even the bravest of us as the night and its chilliness settles in.

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