Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Simon Callow, Kal Webber, Lucy Cudden, Jud Charlton
Directed by Julian Doyle
Distributed by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment
This is one of those films that the moment I learned about it, I had to see it. It sucks that it’s taken well over a year to make that happen, but I’ve got to say it was actually kind of worth the wait. Crowley, or Chemical Wedding as it was originally called, is surely not a classic but its subject is just strange enough to warrant it a look.
For those not familiar with Aleister Crowley, he was a famed occultist who died in 1947. During his time he managed to be a mountaineer, Yogi, poet, author and, of course, occultist. He was well known for his controversial stance on sexuality and his inability to keep his mouth shut about his beliefs. History lesson over! On with the film!
Present day, and some scientists at Oxford are experimenting with a new device that I think is supposed to help preserve the wearer’s memories the same way we save data on a disc. Notice I said I think that’s what it’s supposed to do; one of the issues with Crowley is that it has a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo to convey but never really makes any effort to make sure it’s fully understood. Or even partially understood, for that matter. But really, scientific mumbo-jumbo isn’t the fun of Crolwey, it’s just a means to an end.
No, the fun of Crowley is Callow, who starts of a mild-mannered professor with a pronounced stutter but, thanks to a malfunction in the aforementioned device, he becomes the latest reincarnation of Aleister Crowley. He shaves his head, gains a swagger in his walk, and talks endlessly about sex to anyone who will listen.
His resurrection isn’t complete, however, until 12 disciples perform some sexual magick ritual that’s supposed to make his transformation absolute. The American scientist who is spearheading this memory research eventually figures out what’s going on, but will he be able to stop it in time?
As I said, Crowley is all about Callow. The guy chews up scenery like starving man, out-acting every single person who gets any screen time with him. With someone of less considerable skill, Crowley would be nothing more than a curiosity because of it’s unique subject matter; Callow elevates the proceedings to a level that you can’t look away for fear of missing what kind of outrageous, sexually explicit thing he’ll say or do next.
I have to admit, the film does make Crowley seem a bit one-dimensional, but then given the limited subject matter you can’t really expect an in-depth study of the man. The script, penned by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson and director Julian Doyle, at one point it probably had a lot more to it but had to be cut down, likely due to budget constraints. It’s still clear that Dickinson, especially, knows his way around Crowley (he’s been working on getting this film made for years) and is able to use that knowledge to paint that man as a very strange and demented character, and Callow’s performance helps you understand why so many people were willing followers of his teachings.
As for supplemental material, what sounds pretty skimpy actually isn’t. Things kick off with a great commentary with writer Bruce Dickinson, writer Ben Timlett, and director Julian Doyle that’s more than worth a listen. It was pretty damned engaging. From there we get an enjoyable yet brisk twenty-two minute long making-of featurette, nearly thirty minutes of deleted scenes, and a trailer. Aleister would be pleased.
Some editing and pacing issues managed to drag Crowley down a bit, but its overall fun nature helps it to rise above those limitations, at least enough to warrant a recommendation.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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