In 1947, noted Satanist Aleister Crowley dies. In Cambridge, 43 years later, with the help of a computer, Crowley's spirit takes over the body of Haddo, a mild-mannered, stuttering don. Over four days, as Crowley prepares for an occult extravaganza, bodies pile up, Crowley's elect engage in rites of passage, and Lia, a red-headed campus reporter, sniffs out a story that puts her in grave danger. Mathers, a scientist recently arrived from Cal Tech, may hold the key to her destiny. Written by
When the girl with the (acoustic) violin draws her bow across the strings, the sound that comes out is more like that of an electric violin, or an acoustic violin fitted with a pickup, processed through an effects pedal. There is no evidence of a patch cord plugged into the violin, let alone a pickup attached to it - and in any event, the girl's hand movements over the fingerboard do not match the notes that we hear. See more »
Why do you not take my laws seriously?
"Do what thou wilt. Love is the law, love under will."
Who is it you think you are?
Victor, who is it you think I am?
You are Oliver Haddo. H-A-D-D-O, Haddo.
Oh, Victor, would you deny me thrice before the cock grows?
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Aleister Crowley and Lafayette Ron Hubbard. Now there are two names to conjure with: the notorious occultist and the demonised father of Scientology. Both pioneers in their way, both fully aware of the other, sharing an initiate in the shape of controversial 1940s American rocket scientist Jack Parsons.
A film featuring Crowley and L Ron arguing the theological toss would be a fascinating prospect, but although the association is alluded to, and quietly dropped, that's not what we get here.
Instead Chemical Wedding is a campy horror farce with sci-fi trappings (think Prince Of Darkness meets The Lawnmower Man) from the Iron Maiden man. To paraphrase fellow metal-head David St Hubbins, "Bruce Dickinson: he wrote this." Clearly, Dickinson is a man possessed. Not content with holding a commercial airline pilot's license, being a champion fencer and papering remainder bookshops the nation over with 'The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace', he's now turned his saber glove to screen writing. Some might call that gilding the lily.
The plot: dashing American scientist Dr Joshua Mathers (Weber) brings his astounding virtual reality suit to Crowley's real-life alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge, to be linked up to supercomputer Z93. Unbeknown to Mathers, Z93 has been trojaned with black magick rituals (don't ask) by Crowleyite assistant Dr Victor Neuman, who plans to resurrect the "forgotten man of magick". Stammering classics lecturer Dr Oliver Haddo (Callow) is coerced into the suit. And emerges with a newly-shorn head, and a predilection for wild orgies (complete with naked violinists), the whole world domination jag - and sacrificial scarlet women, with whom to facilitate the ultimate occult ceremony, the eponymous 'Wedding'.
This being a Dickinson script, Aleister is soon roaming the city hypnotizing young women into taking all their clothes off: inquisitive red-headed 'Varsity' reporter Lia (Cuddon) had better watch her back and front. Dr Victor receives his win-bonus; he's fellated by the Whore of Babylon. Truly, these are the end times, when a university fax machine starts leaking seminal fluid. And lest anyone be in doubt this is the real Crowley brought back from the dead, he unbuttons his flaccidness mid-lecture and soaks the front row; a possible self-tribute to Dickinson's expulsion from school for peeing in the headmaster's dinner. He also leaves a calling card: a turd on his desk. Poo where thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
Given his eventful life and legacy, Aleister Crowley ought to be a screenwriter's dream (great location shots in Egypt; fevered rites at the Abbey of Thelema; walk-on parts for everyone from Anton LeVay to Sgt Pepper). The self-proclaimed Beast 666 was practically a one-man PR machine in any case and Kenneth Anger's experimental shorts aside, it is genuinely surprising that there has been such a dearth of biopics or related features about him.
As evidenced by the studious press notes, Dickinson and director Julian Doyle are obviously in thrall to their subject - few self-respecting metallers aren't - and have done some homework, with character names, for example, taken from real-life Crowley associates. And the film suggests it's about to mine some interesting, if well-trodden, territory: the mystical implications of quantum physics; Schroedinger's cat; virtual reality as an ersatz astral plane. As Doyle puts it, "The expression of the new spiritualism that derives from discoveries in science... hidden in what we hope is a popularist film".
Perhaps too well hidden. As if frightened off by the complexities of the material, it all too quickly curdles into Gouda. The look and feel of Chemical Wedding is evidently an homage to Hammer and early 1970s Brit horror-fantasy in general: that is to say, cheap. And though aiming to titillate, the execution is so corny it might as well be renamed 'Confessions Of A Cabbalist'.
Scenes and dialogue often trail away to nothing, and with the exception of veterans John Schrapnel and Simon Callow, both hamming it up a treat as the lascivious, tongue-waggling visionary, the performances are decidedly of the student film variety. Doyle is an accomplished editor (Terry Gilliam's Brazil and most of the Monty Python movies), but perhaps editors aren't the right people to tease the best out of actors.
Let's call it what it is: a vanity project, one naturally slathered with Iron Maiden hits, unsubtly crow-barred into the action. "Your time will come!" says a prophet of doom at one point, immediately followed by 'Maiden's 'Wicker Man' lyric: "Your time will come, your time will come!" If Jimmy Page managed to alchemise his Crowley fixation into gold, lesser rockers, it seems, can produce only handfuls of tin.
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