Anchor Bay // 2008 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 13th, 2009
From the mind of the lead singer of Iron Maiden comes a movie about a devil coming back in to the world. Run to the hills! Run for your life!
I often wonder what would happen if Hammer Horror Studios had never closed its doors, and kept on cranking out B pictures to give us shivers and thrills. They may have actually taken a risk on producing something like Crowley where Satanism, nudity, and gore carry on the grand tradition of European shock horror in a schlocky way. Instead this flick was written and produced by heavy metal legend Bruce Dickinson who is best known as the singer from Iron Maiden who made them big deals in the '80s. Funny, after Rob Zombie it seems the headbangers are all aspiring to hit the silver screen with their vision, and who better to carry the torch for the devil and the teachings of Aleister Crowley? Certainly the teachings of "the Wickedest Man on Earth" informed the art of hard rock, and so it makes sense to pay homage to him from a heavy metal hero.
The film starts with a couple of students visiting the real Crowley in 1947 just as he collapses and shuffles off this mortal coil. We then flash forward to Cambridge University right at the millennium. There is a sketchy project involving a virtual reality suit that is never explained all that well. The ironically named Professor Oliver Haddo (Simon Callow,Four Weddings and a Funeral) gets tricked in to trying it out, and having the infernal machine plug in everything known about Aleister Crowley thanks to a devoted follower. So now the nutty professor is possessed by a black magician, and he's out of control. He pees on an audience at a lecture, and you know from there we're in for an "all hell's breaking loose" horror story. This conjures up images of Hammer high camp, and the film works only in the sense it is so off the rails and over the top. Simon Callow goes for broke, which includes looking like he is enjoying being caned enough to get off to it. Callow is having a blast, and he makes the spook tale work better than it has a right to given the circumstances. There's tons of things to make it all theatrical. Windows fly open when he walks in a room, it's all very much what you would expect from something like this. It's bad, but it has a certain glee about being so awful. The director is Monty Python veteran Julian Doyle, so you're never sure if it's intentionally funny or not. The film plays out like a high concept rock CD, veering one direction for five or six minutes and then another turn altogether for the next block of time.
Anchor Bay brings this one to the colonies, and it should play about the same here as across the pond. Crowley is the name of the U.S. DVD release, although in the U.K. this film is known as Chemical Wedding. The original name is slightly confusing since The Chemical Wedding was a name for a solo album by Dickinson released in 1998. That recording was about William Blake, and the title track appears here. The transfer is solid enough even though the film itself is rather dark. There's a nice five channel mix as well for the soundtrack which features music from Dickinson and Iron Maiden. Where the disc really takes off is in the extras. Deleted scenes run for a generous half hour giving us almost a whole reel of material. There's a fun and lively commentary from director Julian Doyle and writer Bruce Dickinson. Finally there's a pretty good 20-minute featurette on making the film which traces a lot of the genesis of the project to execution. If you're looking for explanations the DVD provides them.
It's silly heavy metal horror, a campy exercise in over-the-top Satanism. Crowley is a mess of a film that is hard to make heads or tails of, but it features a great performance from Simon Callow. Anchor Bay certainly gives the devil his due with a nice transfer and tons of extras.
This isn't the kind of thing to take too seriously, and should be fun if you like your horror spiked with excess. There are plenty of body fluids on display, and the wickedest man on earth comes off as a pervert of the highest order.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes