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Based on an idea by part time pilot, ex-Olympic fencer and Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson, Chemical Wedding is a fictional sci-fi/horror tale based around a very real man named Alistair Crowley, dubbed the wickedest man in the world. Crowley was renowned as a poet and writer, but was notorious for his practice of the occult, particularly his studies of sexual magick, which he apparently pursued until his death in 1947.

Bearing the title of a Bruce Dickinson concept album from the mid-nineties (in name only—the album was based on the writings of William Blake), this is the story of a mild mannered but odd college professor (Simon Callow), who with the aid of a vaguely explained virtual reality suit, accidentally channels the spirit of Crowley, and proceeds to practice the occult again, with the rituals quickly devolving into murders.

Chemical Wedding
Chemical Wedding is an oddity, a curate's egg of a film that will undoubtedly baffle most who see it. It's almost impossible to look at its finer parts without having it's weighty negatives cancel them out wholesale. I think it's safe to say British viewers with a taste of home-grown genre material from the 60s and 70s, particularly fans of the Amicus production company will get the most of this film. There are many nods to those films; the casting of a classically trained actor in the lead, the leaning toward the horror and sci-fi genres and the wholly English setting of cobbled streets and universities. There is also an air of decadence in the film that brings to mind some of the more horror based works of filmmakers such as Ken Russell, although not nearly as confrontational, with ritualistic orgy scenes and a general air of taboo.

Chemical Wedding
In a strange way Chemical Wedding also feels like those old Amicus anthology films, which often contained three or four fairly similar stories in one film, much like Cat's Eye or Creepshow for instance. Unfortunately, Chemical Wedding only tells one story. The plot is incredibly fractured, with scenes drifting along and occasionally bouncing into another with little narrative consequence. I think it's fair to say the storytelling is simply broken.

The blame for the poor flow of the film can partly be laid at the door of writer Dickinson. Although undoubtedly a talented lyricist with a gift for song based storytelling, Dickinson has unwittingly written the story like a concept album, and it reads like it; the story is told in five or six minute segments, that section finishes and moves on to the next 'track', which shares the same theme but is nonetheless unrelated to what came before. One minute Callow is lecturing whilst urinating on his class, the next scene he's seeing the sights and sounds of the town, then he's attempting to send a semen soaked magic parchment by fax (surprisingly, it actually sends - my faxes don't send if a corner of the paper has a crease), and the next he's in a bedroom shaving some woman (yes, down there). It just doesn't hang together. Either that, or I have ADD.

Chemical Wedding
The film is also hamstrung by its own budget. Although evocatively lit and with some decent set design, everything appears to have been shot on the move, with public scenes very flat and obviously shot by the cameraman with one eye on the viewfinder and the other on his wristwatch. Having said that, the fantasy and dream sequences are shot with a definite sense of style, although the interdimensional fistfight on a piece of tiled flooring left a lot to be desired (although it does gain points for reminding me of Knightmare on kids’ TV in the 80s). All the project seems to have needed were time and a little more money, and the film would have improved twofold.

Chemical Wedding
There is a saving grace in Chemical Wedding, and that is the bravura turn by Simon Callow. This really is a tour de force performance. Outrageously theatrical but never campy, and yet terribly creepy at times, Callow provides the heart and (dark) soul of the film. It's a tough role, and quite a brave one to tackle, but he really attacks the part. There is a sense that the man's really relishing letting go with the character, and he plays Crowley's decadence with just the right amount of light and dark. Chemical Wedding really is almost worth seeing just for Simon Callow.

Chemical Wedding
It's a shame that the film doesn't hold together better, because there are the seeds of a great story buried away inside this muddled ball of a movie. Everything is just so obtuse, and ultimately frustrating to watch. If it wasn't so damned vague, I'd accept its other shortfalls (by the way, if anybody could explain how the VR suit actually caused all this, drop me a line here). The main performance from Callow does take the film away from being a total miss, and he almost makes it a mild recommendation, but to be honest there's not enough else to keep Chemical Wedding afloat.

Chemical Wedding
Video
Despite the film being less than stellar in the visual department, there is not much wrong with the DVD transfer at all. The picture is pristine, with surprising detail, with well balanced colour and no noticeable digital noise or any other defects are noticeable. All in all, a very solid transfer.

Audio
Although not a particularly effects laden soundtrack, the 5.1 track is pretty effective. Despite the occasional bump and scuff of bad on set noise, the track is nice and clean for the most part. Music is well balanced within the film, the fantasy sections impress, with the surrounds working overtime. Bass is fairly weighty too, and overall the track does serve the film well. However, the 2.0 surround is flat by comparison, with everything coming across as having little balance, and fairly tinny. A rather weak track, but then again the 5.1 is so good, this track is not an option.

Chemical Wedding
Extras
The commentary by director Julian Doyle and Bruce Dickinson is pretty good here. The contributors are lively and informative, both when talking about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, and when they move outside the project and discuss the finer points of Crowley's life, quantum physics and black magic in general. Although entertaining as a chat track, the commentary works as a companion piece to the film itself, and fleshes out the wrinkles in the story well.

The making of feature is the typical EPK, and not terribly interesting to be honest. Anything of worth was covered far better in the commentary, and the fact there is no input from Simon Callow whatsoever doesn't help at all.

The deleted scenes are quite substantial and run for a good half an hour, and are of a generally decent quality. A lot of plot holes are filled by the scenes and one wonders why they were cut, but having seen this additional content, the film is still rather incoherent.

The disc is rounded out by fairly informative background detail of Crowley's connections and the influence he left behind in his life and writings. Again, rather informative, and a type of extra we don't see often these days.

Chemical Wedding
Overall
Aside from Iron Maiden completists, it's incredibly difficult to see who Chemical Wedding is actually made for. Although it is intriguing on several levels, the structure is so off that the film becomes impenetrable and uninvolving, and feels like a series of vignettes rather than a fully rounded film. If there is one thing that makes this film worth a glance, it is the performance of Callow as Alistair Crowley. The performance is so game it elevates the whole film from a poor three to a cautious five, and makes this a movie to take a very wary glance at. Worth a curious rent if you're feeling brave, but nothing more.


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