Chemical Wedding Review
Now that the British horror movie is once again being taken seriously, by both audiences and critics, it should hardly come as a surprise to find that something altogether sillier has made it past the development stages. Whilst 28 Days Later and Dog Soldiers tackled, respectively, zombies and werewolves, and Creep did an admirable job of tipping its hat to Gary Sherman’s 1972 cult chiller Death Line, Chemical Wedding has its sights on less revered models. Concerning itself with Aleister Crowley and reincarnation, this is a film more a kind to mid-period Hammer and the slew of cash-ins made in the early seventies. Of course, Satanism inspired the studio’s terrific The Devil Rides Out, but here it’s the lesser Dracula entries and likes of Vengeance of She which spring to mind. Likewise, the lashings of nudity and rubbery gore recall those quaint efforts that attempted to compete with the more successful US models or the more salacious Euro horrors, that is the ones only a true nostalgist could love. Whether or not such associations were a conscious move on the filmmakers’ part is difficult to pin down, though it seems unlikely. Chemical Wedding may have been co-written by Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, but comparisons to that other heavy metal musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie would be misplaced. Whatever the end results, Zombie clearly had a fan’s knowledge of ins-and-outs of cult horror. Dickinson, on this evidence, lacks any such awareness.
That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t take himself very seriously. Set in Cambridge in the year 2000 (why exactly is never properly ascertained, though it does cue a feeble sight gag in the final scenes), Chemical Wedding sees Crowley reincarnated into the body of a bumbling lecturer and soon intent on performing an occult ritual that will see him becoming a major force in the 21st century. Cue sex, drugs and generally outrageous behaviour, but mainly dialogue that seems designed solely to show of Dickinson’s knowledge on the subject. That the lecturer is named Oliver Haddo after the character from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel The Magician (based on Crowley) is one of the more subtle touches – for the most part we’re faced with great unwieldy chunks of expositions in which concepts such as the uncertainty principle, the moonchild and the titular chemical wedding are explained and re-explained. At times it feels as though the script was created simply by throwing together passages from Wikipedia, and the effect on the narrative is predictably clumsy.
Yet on the other hand Chemical Wedding can also seem hideously underdone. Clashing with this over-exposition we have a “will this do” attitude to scientific matters – the reincarnation comes courtesy of a steam-punk virtual reality suit – and a recourse to basic stereotypes that is, at times, shockingly simplistic. Recalling the quota quickies from the thirties onwards we also find an American thrown into the mix for no good reason, whilst Simon Callow, who really should know much, much better, goes so over the top he makes Brian Blessed look like a Method actor. His transformation from stuttering figure of fun to over-enunciating, swaggering sex god recalls nothing so much as Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor - except that was a comedy and the parody was intentional. Indeed, speaking of parody, there’s enough here to fuel an entire second series of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
And yet, despite all this, I must confess to a certain begrudging admiration to anyone foolhardy enough to actually go out there and make this. The clichés are unashamed – windows opening ominously before Crowley enters a room – and it’s hard not to warm to the cheaply rendered rubber FX. Some of its may be calculated for gross-out effect – the syringe in the eyeball, the scene involving a photocopier and ejaculate that words simply won’t do justice to – but then it also raises a smile. Certainly the style is televisual and clearly low-budget (only the soundtrack, which blares out with every shock, is remotely cinematic) though it never stops director Julian Doyle, editor on various Python-related flicks from The Life of Brian to Brazil as well as the man behind the promo for Maiden’s ‘Can I Play With Madness’, from chucking in such irreverences as an iris shot in the shape of a pentangle.
So basically Chemical Wedding is rubbish, but rubbish that in the right environment (i.e. post-pub) could win over a few fans. It’s certainly a different prospect from most British horror offerings of the past decade and may even secure a cult following, however remote. Just don’t take it too seriously and, please, don’t come with any expectations.
As you’d expect from such a recent production, Chemical Wedding comes across well on this Region 2 release. Extras are plentiful and the presentation is generally pleasing. Both print and soundtrack are sourced from crisp materials (the latter available in both DD2.0 and DD5.1), though the image doesn’t always look flawless. This may simply be down the budget as opposed to the disc’s mastering, but either way there’s nothing to distract from the film in hand. Needless to say, the original aspect ratio is retained and anamorphically enhanced.
The extras effectively cover the major categories: commentary, ‘making of’ featurette, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and notes on the film’s subjects. The first brings together Doyle and Dickinson plus Ben Timlett, one of the many producers. It’s an amiable listen, with all three not taking proceedings too seriously, though once again Dickinson has to keep hammering home just how much he knows, which soon becomes irritating. Interestingly, the cinematic elements are rarely discussed, unless it’s to point out the errors or just how bad Dickinson is in his two cameos.
The featurette, a 21-minute piece entitled Revelations, seems to speak to everyone involved in the film except for Callow. Despite such statements telling how much Chemical Wedding “had to be made”, it too shares the irreverence of the commentary: Dickinson giggling over the drug taking and orgies is perhaps the most telling moment. As for the deleted scenes, 30-minutes worth under the title Wasted Years, combines excised scenes, outtakes and the like. Interestingly, they’re accompanied by various titles, in lieu of a commentary, explaining why they were cut or jokier instances: “Bet David Lynch doesn’t have this problem.” The final two are more self-explanatory. The theatrical trailer is just that, whilst the notes over info on Crowley, Hitler, and more besides.