Now here was a movie I was itching to see when I first heard about it, especially as at the time I was entering Sci-Fi London’s 48 Hour Film Challenge, with the winning entry being screened before it. You might wonder where my enthusiasm came from so quickly, and the answer is an unswerving love for Iron Maiden and their mighty front man Bruce Dickinson, who co-wrote Chemical Wedding with director Julian Doyle. Add to that the theme of the film, about the resurrection of deviant occultist Aleister Crowley. This absolutely appealed to the former angry teenager in me, who spent rather a lot of energy looking into such anti-religious views and all things satanic back in the day, so I approached the film with exactly the same mindset and I wasn’t disappointed.
Chemical Wedding is a fantastic amount of depraved fun; it comes across like a twisted episode of Doctor Who with naked female flesh, urination and ejaculation complete with slightly ropey but functional special effects. To save some time for those of you who wonder if this film is for you, I can describe one scene which will make or break your decision. If the sight of Simon Callow masturbating, while being flogged by a man and shouting “Cum!” repeatedly, until he does indeed hit the jackpot (so to speak) all over some scripture in graphic detail – makes you want to howl with laughter at how one film could be so incredibly over the top and gleeful in its portrayal of the occult, then this is for you. If not I suggest you’re best off avoiding the film for your own sake.
The whole plot of the film is insane too – that Aleister Crowley’s spirit has come back from the dead to possess the body of a stuttering professor, through the power of a virtual reality suit which can replicate human experiences (think Strange Days) in order to summon a Moonchild (all is explained in the film and the notes in the special features) through a virgin birth. Yet throughout I couldn’t stop enjoying it, like some form of satanic B-movie whose sense of fun was so infectious, that if the performances slipped, the effects looked ropey or Simon Callow’s lack of restraint hit all time highs, it only added to the charm.
That isn’t to say the film isn’t without its controversial historical or biblical facts. The writers are obviously well researched in the history of Crowley and have their own unique delivery of quotes and theoretical takes on the bible which are bound to upset more than a few people. But then I’ve never objected to the odd poke at religion and am always fascinated to hear quotes from ‘The Book’ as I’ve still yet to read it. Interestingly, the film also makes mention of Crowley’s link to L. Ron Hubbard, but by the filmmaker’s own admission (in both the commentary and deleted scenes) it was underplayed due to fear of a massive lawsuit from the (hmm I’m now stuck as I want to avoid ranting, but I will behave) ‘Church’ of Scientology. It’s always slightly alarming that they have more of a hold over peoples artistic expression than the Catholic church, but I digress.
I should also mention for Iron Maiden fans that it’s quite enlightening and entertaining to hear where so much of their lyrical content and inspiration comes from. There are also a couple of actual Maiden songs cameoing in the film including ‘Can I Play With Madness’, which, as Julian Doyle informs us on the commentary, is the track that got him and Bruce together in the first place for the video. On top of this Bruce Dickinson appears in two cameos, though there was to be a third, but it only appears in the deleted scenes.
So if you fancy an insane, low budget, British, sci-fi/horror film with sexual magic as a theme and all the lyrical references an Iron Maiden fan could want, then this is for you. For anyone else it might prove a novel distraction, but I imagine you’ll hate it. I can’t quite give it four stars despite all the bias and reasons mentioned above, so three will have suffice. Deduct at least one if you’ve never listened to any heavy metal, hold firm strong religious views of any kind, or if there’s no chance of tapping back to your teen years).
DVD FeaturesI’ve made reference to the commentary and deleted scenes in the review and they are both fantastic. The deleted scenes deserve special mention as they are presented with director’s subtitles over the top, which I haven’t seen before. It’san ingenious choice as it enables you to see and hear the scenes without having to do it twice, as you would with a voiceover. The scenes run for 29:18 and are made especially funny with subtitles drawing attention to Bruce’s various levels of performance from ham, to massively understated.
The commentary proves as enlightening as it is funny. The banter between Bruce Dickinson, Julian Doyle and producer Ben Timlett is great from the start, though the fact they have similar regional accents can get a little confusing at times.There is also a making of (21:07), which again proves the sense of mischievous fun that ran through the cast, crew and film as they all start playing up the fact that the film is cursed in a seeming spoof of movies such as The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist.
There is also a trailer and notes on all the various characters and factual occult references, which makes for an interesting read and again proves how well researched the film was.