I’m just back from the late-night regional premiere of the new Crowley-based film, Chemical Wedding, here in England. Much anticipated, this film is the brainchild (or should that be Moonchild?) of Bruce Dickinson. He is apparently a long-time Crowley fan, and will be better known as the screaming front man of perennial stadium heavy-metallers Iron Maiden. Apart from a few peripheral references in recent mainstream film (one of the Hellraisers, Razorblade Smile, etc.), Crowley hasn’t really been touched on for decades – you have to go back to the often appalling sixties’ Hammer Horror stuff, based on Dennis Wheatley’s books, or the 1950s classic Night of the Demon.
The prospects here looked good, with a prominent Shakespearian/Dickensian actor (Simon Callow) in the lead role instead of some unknown no-hoper. The plot encompassed some science fiction angles (the film Weird Science from the 80s immediately sprang to mind) and it is set in a modern-day Cambridge University, with a chaos-mathematics/quantum physics slant on to proceedings. Crowley is essentially called back to life via virtual reality technology, and possesses the body of an elderly and befuddled professor, who suddenly becomes the Beast renewed (in a rather natty purple velvet suit). Sounded like a great premise, and the online trailer, released ages ago, was simply fabulous.
Well, now I’ve seen the film…
The occult historian in me (hell, I’ve written two books about AC and presented academic papers about him, so I reckon I know a little…) wants to find Bruce Dickinson and repeatedly punch him hard on the arm until he apologizes for the travesty which is his first film. The director and co-writer Julian Doyle has been in the film industry for over thirty years so has no such excuses.
As a catalogue of factual errors and plain nonsense this is supreme…a blizzard of (in some cases fabricated) sensational newspaper headlines used as a montage under the opening titles disgorged some of the usual lazy journalists’ clichés about Crowley killing babies, and the flashback opening sequence to 1947 when Crowley died (a scene with the first of two cameos by Dickinson) shows a shirtsleeve-wearing summer’s day with leaves on the trees. But Aleister’s death occurred in a bleak December.
The auto-erotic sex magick ritual depicted used runes, which Crowley scarcely knew anything about. The relative ages thing in the plot-line is a major problem, for example where Crowley at death in the film looks much more like the heavily-built 50-year old AC of the 1920s, and not the wizened 70-plus year old mage he was when he passed on, plus there too many mathematical/date errors to list here. Those are just a few of the myriad examples of factual errors. Sure, the film is a sci-fi based on a ‘hey, what if we had the technology to actually do this?’ angle, but for Christ’s, if not Crowley’s, sake there are dozens of people who could have been consulted, and that done easily, to get some of the basic factual details right, which would have made it a better film for all concerned.
Having sat through the hour and forty minutes of this nonsense, the occultist in me just feels dirty.
Disregarding the attachment to the subject matter, it is not even a good film. Some of the editing is just clumsy, the plot is hackneyed, parts of the acting so hammy as to choke even the most hardened B-movie gastronomes of that particular kind of meat. It’s very much a paint-by-numbers sci-fi/horror film, which just happens to use and abuse Mr C. There is also a pretty silly and unsatisfactory ending with some cop-out regarding alternative universes, the nature of time and Al Gore being US President.
Even after sleeping on it, I’m trying hard to find some positives. There were a few interesting one-liners, and as a companion said, “at least the orgy scene was entertaining” – and hey, yes it was…all twenty seconds of it. But that’s about all. Considering that a professional musician of nearly 30 years’ standing put the film together, the soundtrack was damned poor too.
For anyone who regards Crowley in a positive light, this is going to be excruciating, and possibly infuriating. For anyone who regards him in a negative light, this appalling falsehood of a film is going to reinforce existing prejudices and add some new ones in people who assume the film is based on something accurate as to Crowley’s behaviour. (What, for example, was all the ‘hypodermic needle in the eye and injecting people with blood’ stuff about?)
There was also a ‘golden showers’ element that was pointless and inaccurate (although vaguely amusing), something unexplained about shaving off female pubic hair, protracted nonsense about female mystical figures having to be redheads, lots of nudity, and a murder and violence aspect that was simply wrong. It is almost as if Dickinson was ticking off potentially offensive stuff on a list, looking to make this as controversial a film as possible… maybe in the hope that it will be banned somewhere, or attract the furore of fundamentalist Christians for the blasphemic elements herein (raise your hands USA). This would perhaps make it sell more to ‘outsiders’, and-or gain him some ticket-shifting notoriety in advance of the next Iron Maiden world tour (or am I just being cynical?)
There was actually no need to stick all of that in, as Crowley’s antics in real life were extreme enough to easily fill a production of this length with mere fact, and this film has some of it, including prostitution, oral sex, forced sodomy, Masonic intrigue, a side swipe at Scientology and plenty of drug use. And to think I had felt sorry for the few guys coming out of the Sex in the City movie with their girlfriends, as I was going in the door of the multiplex cinema where I saw this apology for a film.
On several other screens at the same facility there was being shown an account of a renegade and explorer in mystical areas (like Crowley); the new Indiana Jones mega-movie has attracted some similarly bad reviews on how it is not true to the spirit of Dr Jones. This rather indicates that even the big names and experienced like Lucas and Spielberg can still get it wrong, however it is not even like Chemical Wedding is a knowing, witty, intelligent parody of Crowley, it is just a bad film. You need to know a certain amount about Crowley to get where the film is coming from, but if you know that much you also get why it is so off-beam and will probably leave with a bad taste in your mouth. If you don’t know much about him (maybe step forward a lot of Iron Maiden fans who watch the thing out of fan-loyalty to Bruce?) this film is not going to inform (quite the opposite), and it may not even entertain much, so what is the purpose?
See it by all means, but for God’s sake (whichever Gods are yours) don’t pay to watch it at the cinema like I just did, as that might encourage a sequel! Buy it only if you are a completest collector of all things Crowley, otherwise see a copy of this nonsense when it comes out as a DVD; which will be very soon, given the minuscule likelihood of a lengthy cinema run.
Rating: 0.666 out of ten, but likely to become a cult film for all kinds of reasons…
Originally published on Plutonica.net 31 March 2008.