Like Iron Maiden, old dead occultists, and theoretical physics? Great! Like bad acting, pedestrian direction, and a confusing plot? Even better. I present to you, Crowley, or as it's known by its original name "Chemical Wedding". Now, I watch more direct to DVD flicks than the Surgeon General of the United States recommends, and compared to the usual Steven Segal fights vampire terrorists voodoo priests, and Asylum Home Video knock offs of existing blockbusters, not to mention the standard Dmitry Badfilmova Bulgarian shark and giant animal travesties, and the explosion of films starring WWE characters, Crowley is absolutely average, and believe it or not that's a compliment.
We open in 1947 on the last morning that famed occultist and spiritualist Aleister Crowley lived. He's visited in his flop house (long since going broke) by two Cambridge students, Symons and Alex, one studies "the humanities" the other studies physics. Symonds is a student of Crowleys while Alex, meeting the old consumptive, is a skeptic. That morning he gets word that L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons have performed a rite to create a Moonchild.
John Crowley dies as the boy's leave but with his last words he curses Alex.
Jump ahead to, the year 2000. At Cambridge, an American, Professor Mathers (Kal Webber) has arrived to help another professor complete a special virtual reality suit – thing. His arrival, and his take on theoretical physics, draws the attention of Lia Robbinson, a reporter for the university newspaper. The VR machine he's built is meant to create and store the memories of the wearer of the suit attached to a room full of computers. The idea being that it could hold and store memories of Alzheimer's patients that could then be shared with later generations. It's a sort of standard sci-fi trope, but it's handled well enough here.
Meanwhile, Victor (Jud Charlton) has been feeding all the known occult information on hand about Aleister Crowley into the computer controlling the VR suit at the request of resident occultist Dr. Haddo (Simon Callow). Callow wants to experience meeting Crowley and experience being Crowley during some of his more unusual rituals.
Before you can say, "hey, didn't that guy just say that a song title from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?" Dr. Haddo's personality is overtaken by that of Aleister Crowley, his crazy hair is gone as is his stammer, and he's prowling Cambridge for deviant sex as he prepares for a complete rebirth following a special ritual orgy.
Mixing up science and spiritualism isn't anything new, and the setting of this film in Cambridge was nice (although I don't think it was actually filmed there) and reminded me of some of the old H. P. Lovecraft stories set at Miskatonic Unversity. The script is jumbly though and although it deals in esoteric subject matter, the progression of events is very much predictable. Crowley is the villain here and only a handful of people believe that Crowley is working through the possessed body of Dr. Haddo, that allows Simon Callow to absolutely chew up the scenery making occultist pronouncements, engaging in S&M sequences, and setting up surprisingly graphic orgies as he seeks out a red-haired woman to bear his seed – that's the "chemical wedding" of the original title.
Meanwhile, in this universe police only exist to control who can and can't enter a murder scene, no one bothers to arrest Haddo for any of his over-the-top Crowleyness that includes peeing all over the student body at a lecture, threatening the University administration, crucifying a prostitute to a massage parlor door, throwing another woman out of a window, etc…
By the time Professor Mathers is chasing around to rescue Lia, who is in turn chasing around Dr. Haddo to get a picture of him as Crowley, while Crowley tries to find Lia (I'm not kidding), the film evolves into a meditation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, chaos theory, and parallel universes.
I laughed more than grimaced and had quite a bit of fun watching Crowley. But don't come in expecting a slasher, or a straight science fiction film. Instead, think Steven Segal, or Kane, or stock footage of sharks, and that will allow you to enjoy Simon Callow's scenery chewing even more. Think of it as one of the lesser episodes of the current Dr. Who, or, contrarily, one of the better episodes of Torchwood, only with more peeing.
The DVD comes with a trailer, a commentary track featuring Bruce Dickinson, Julian Doyle, and Ben Timlett, and that's about it. But, all things being equal, if, like me, you're an Iron Maiden/Bruce Dickinson fan, it's enough to warrant two passes through.