Chemical Wedding

Chemical Wedding


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

‘The Wickedest Man In The World’; ‘The Great Beast of Black Magic’; Aleister Crowley was a fascinating character – equal parts Blakeian visionary, carnival showman and certifiable fruitloop. I’ve always thought he would one day inspire a great film.

And perhaps one day he will. Meanwhile, all we have is this gormless, cheapjack, almost heroically inept attempt to combine sci-fi , fantasy, horror and sixth-form-levels of musing on like, evil and stuff that could have been a nicely dark and twisted British curio but instead is – literally – an unholy mess.

Copy picture

It opens in 1947 with two young acolytes visiting the man himself - John Shrapnel in an unrestrained, eye-rolling performance that’s an ideal taster for the feast of ham to come. Unfortunately, Crowley pops his clogs almost immediately, but not before entrusting certain dark secrets and powerful relics to the demonic duo.

Half a century on, they’re both Cambridge academics – and one of their colleagues is Professor Haddo (Simon Callow), a harmless eccentric with the hair of Boris Johnson and the stutter of K-K-Ken from A Fish Called Wanda. Elsewhere on campus, a visiting American professor, Mathers (Kal Weber) is using his scientific genius to help in the development of a ‘virtual reality suit’ which can create visual images of a person’s consciousness and potentially recreate the imagination of someone long-dead.

Through coincidences too bizarre (and ludicrous) to relate, Haddo takes a trip in the suit and is possessed by the spirit of Crowley. His stutter vanishes, along with his hair and his inhibitions; soon he’s delivering Hamlet’s soliloquy with extra rude words to his astonished students, working his way through the Cambridge sex worker industry and plotting to use the aforementioned dark secrets and hidden relics to perform the Chemical Wedding of the title – an ancient rite so evil and powerful that if it takes place, well, all sorts of bad stuff will probably happen (like a lot of this film, it’s never properly explained).

As these things so often do, the rite seems to involve getting as many goth/hippy chicks together as possible and encouraging them to go butt-naked and have an orgy. Meanwhile, Mathers and plucky college rag reporter Lia (Lucy Cudden) try to stop him, with the help of the ageing acolytes. Despite the short running time, this seems to take ages and the climax is as disjointed and confusing as the rest of the film.

Perhaps in the hands of someone like Robin (The Wicker Man) Hardy or Michael (Witchfinder General) Reeves this could have been something truly disturbing and unsettling. But instead we have Bruce (Iron Maiden) Dickinson and Julian Doyle, editor of Life Of Brian and Time Bandits. Dickinson has said he wanted to make a ‘rollicking good story’ and with a bit more emphasis on the things that make a story work – believable characters, a semblance of coherence, dialogue that actually sounds like spoken English - and a touch of the magic Doyle’s undoubtedly brought to some of his earlier efforts, it could have been just that.

As it is, the effect is a bit like being forced to read the dustjackets of several dozen cheap black magic/pseudo science conspiracy theory paperbacks while the more lurid examples of heavy metal album cover art are fed directly into your brain. Maybe I’m getting prudish, but the fact that most of the women in the film either get naked or get murdered nastily (or both!), while undoubtedly reflecting the kind of guy Crowley was, left a pretty nasty taste in my mouth.

But it gets one star for the odd arresting image (Haddo illuminated by lightning in a church as he prepares for the final ritual, the incongruous ordinariness of Crowley’s Hastings abode in the opening scenes), a soundtrack that’s not afraid to mix Mozart, heavy metal and George Formby - and of course Simon Callow’s performance. Even by his ‘never knowingly understated’ standards this is the promised feast of ham, at its most overripe.

His incarnation of Crowley has the suit of James Brown, the haircut of a Right Said Fred tribute act and a voice that can surely only be achieved through being force-fed plum cake. His "please remove your restrictive knickers" ranks alongside "information – is that dangerous?" as the most ludicrous line in a film teeming with them. If the money from this helps him finance another Dickens one-man show or research another Orson Welles biography, it will at least have done some good. And his performance almost puts Chemical Wedding in the ‘enjoyably bad’ category – note the ‘almost’.

One of the key plot developments in the film is a process by which you can reverse time and live a day all over again, sadly an option not available to filmgoers (or reviewers) yet. So you won’t get this hour-and-a-half of your time back - and unless you have a real taste for the flavour of turkey, don’t waste it in the first place.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2008
Share this with others on...
Chemical Wedding packshot
A mild-mannered academic takes part in a virtual reality experiment and is possessed by the spirit of notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley.
Amazon link

Director: Julian Doyle

Writer: Julian Doyle, Bruce Dickinson

Starring: Simon Callow, John Shrapnel, Kal Weber, Lucy Cudden

Year: 2008

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Sci-Fi 2008

Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Wicker Man