Crowley DVD Review

Crowley DVD Review
If you open the box to watch this movie, does it then exist?
Updated: 02-07-2009

Bruce Dickinson's debut lead vocals with metal monsters Iron Maiden were on 1982's The Number of the Beast, an LP which finally gave the longstanding Brit band their first-ever UK #1 album and made them Top Ten hit-meisters in the U.S.

But in Reagan-era America, right-wing political pressure groups claimed Iron Maiden owed all their success to Satan and henceforth burned all the black discs of evil they could get their hands on. Robert Johnson tried to come back from the dead to say Iron Maiden stole his idea, but even he was no match for Tipper Gore (see that little Explicit Language label on your globally-warmed Lil Wayne CD? Yeah. That's because of her.)

And speaking of coming back from the dead, Dickinson's cinematic debut (as a screenwriter) is about famed occultist Aleister Crowley doing just that. He who coined the term "Do What Thou Wilt" and later had another rock star (Jimmy Page) living in his Boleskine House church/mansion, is played in Crowley by the authoritative actor Simon Callow. The casting could not be better — commanding Callow has portrayed icons such as Charles Dickens and been in period pieces like Amadeus, Shakespeare In Love, Jefferson in Paris, The Phantom of the Opera, The Body in the Library and HBO's "Rome".

Directed (and co-written) by Julien Doyle, Crowley gives off vibes from Ken Russell's Altered States, Stuart Gordon's From Beyond, Clive Barker's Hellraiser, and Douglas Trumbull's Brainstorm. It's about a scientific experiment gone awry — messing with the time/space continuum never seems to be a good idea in these movies… how come nobody ever wants to chat with Jonas Salk or Louisa May Alcott? — and which brings insane Aliester "The Beast" Crowley back to the mortal plane. He's returned to us in modern times courtesy of naughty lab assistant Victor (as in Frankenstein?), who's put a virus into a Cal-Tech virtual reality suit using the ghoulish guru's rituals as binary code.

When the movie first started (in a flashback to the late 1940s, at the time of Crowley's demise) my ears pricked up right away: it was one of the very, very few times I'd heard the self-proclaimed prophet and yogi's last name pronounced correctly! (Damn you, Ozzy Osbourne… it's supposed to rhyme with "holy".) After that, I heard a lot more… and that's about it. An extremely talky movie, its low-budget limitations impede an otherwise imaginative and witty fictional premise.

There are a few good blood, guts, sex and filth moments for fans of such things, but they're brief. For those casually interested in Satanism, The Golden Sect, possession, time travel, the concept of Schrödinger's cat, and other such intellectual ponderings, you'll get plenty. And if you're a true believer in the occult, you'll more than likely be offended — this flick is pure horror/sci-fi sensationalism (which was fine with me; I was expecting a horror movie).

Aside from the show-stealing Callow, there's some above-par acting across the board, especially for such a small production. The sets are dense and lush, and the locations pop (much of the film was shot inside a defunct boys' school, said to haunted). The music (some of it by Dickinson, some of it 40s-era ditties) is uneven, as is the (mostly) flat and uninspired cinematography and lighting. The editing is clumsy, to put it kindly.

Crowley is a mixed bag of tricks to be sure, but it's worth a look for the curio factor. (At least it's not a remake, a J-horror knock-off, or torture porn.)

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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

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