Anyone with even a passing interest in the occult or the supernatural knows that Aleister Crowley was a British occultist who, once he grew up, eschewed his strict Christian upbringing to soon become one of the most important figures in the fields of mysticism, magic and alchemy. Calling himself 'The Beast' and proudly living a life that many would condemn as ridiculously sinful or pagan in nature, Crowley would become a man of some influence and importance in the Britain of the late 1800s through to his death in 1947 from respiratory failure at the age of seventy-two. While he was an obvious drug fiend, a sexist, and a racist, Crowley did leave behind a substantial body of work that remains of interest to many to this day... and one of those people with an interest in his work is none other than Iron Maiden's second front man, Bruce Dickinson. Co-writing the script with director (and former Monty Python alumni) Julian Doyle, Dickinson has managed to take a lot of what makes Crowley an interesting historical figure and subsequently turn him into a modern day super villain.
After an introductory scene (in which Dickinson makes a fun cameo) showing us Crowley's last moments of life, we cut to the present day where an American professor named Mathers is approached by a foxy redheaded student named Lia (Lucy Cudden) who wants to interview him for the Varsity Press. He agrees and they hit it off, but Mathers has more work to do here than simply slipping it to foxy young redheads - he has to help out with the Z93 project, involving a massive super computer that can record memories. Mathers and a few other professors tinker with the machine and once it's kinda-sorta ready, a stuttering English professor named Oliver Haddos (Simon Callow) gets to try it out. Of course, once he comes out of the virtual reality world, he's not quite the same.
Haddos shows up late to a lecture he's to deliver on Hamlet, his head freshly shaven and his stutter gone. He speaks about Shakespeare's work briefly, and then ties it in to the writings of Aleister Crowley, who he refers to as England's greatest living poet before dropping his pants and pissing on the students unfortunate enough to sit in the front row. This obviously irks the faculty who call him in for a meeting where he reveals that he is in fact Crowley reincarnate. From here he goes about bringing back his own style of magick, casting spells, holding orgies, and generally doing fairly wicked things which Mathers hopes to put a stop to.
While the script for Crowley (released in the UK under the less obvious title Chemical Wedding) does an interesting job of tying in all manner of real life Crowley-isms such as his ties to Jack Parsons and L. Ron Hubbard, his writings, his origins and his real life interests this movie is pretty hard to take seriously. The logic behind the super computer which plays such a huge part in the storyline is nil, and the film simply a loosely connected series of horror movie clichés that will seem very familiar to fans of Hammer's brief stint with similarly themed films in the seventies (To The Devil A Daughter, The Devil Rides Out, etc.)... only without the charm that those films have. The film is absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds, with Haddos transformation into the devious Crowley - something that should be a huge concern to the staff of the school - seeming merely an annoyance. No cops are called, no doctors asked to help, it's simply left to the random American visitor and an aged professor with a tenuous link to Crowley's past to deal with, while the life of the foxy redhead hangs in the balance.
With that said, Simon Callow throws himself so completely into this goofy role that the film is at least an entertaining one, even if it isn't a very good one. Callow chews through the scenery with glee, seeming to have a good time with the more decadent aspects of the part and going completely over the top throughout the film. While some could see this as overdoing it, in the ridiculous context of this film, it definitely works and it's Callow's performance that makes this film watchable, even fun. Dumb fun, mind you, but fun none the less.
Crowley looks pretty decent in this progressive scan 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors are a little muted in the opening scene to give it a sort of 'period' feel but once we find ourselves in the modern day that's no longer an issue. Black levels are fairly strong though some fine detail does go missing the darker scenes - thankfully this is the exception and note the rule, however. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there are no problems with edge enhancement, although eagle eyed viewers might spot the occasional instance of mpeg compression. Overall, however, the flaws are minor and the movie looks quite good on DVD.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track comes with optional English closed captioning but no other dubs or subtitles. As it was with the video, the audio quality on this disc is also pretty good. The surrounds are used nicely during a few of the more chaotic scenes, though generally most of the mix is directed from the front of the sound stage. The score is spread out nicely and bass response is alright - not great, but alright. Overall, however, there's little to complain about as the levels are all balanced nicely (though for some reason the dialogue in the opening scene sounds a little low) and everything comes through clearly enough.
First up is a commentary track that features co-writer Bruce Dickinson, co-writer/director Julian Doyle and producer Ben Timlett. The participants go back and forth about their motivations for making the film, stating that they wanted to introduce Crowley to people and tell them about his work - if that's the case, nice job vilifying him and turning him into a goofy horror movie antagonist rather than presenting his story with any sense towards realism or seriousness. Regardless, the three participants mutter amongst themselves about the movie that they've made and tell a few stories about different ideas that were and were not used. They don't seem to be taking things too seriously, which means we probably shouldn't be either, and they seem to be having fun revisiting the film, but periodically lapse into silence making this track a pretty uneven listen.
Also included on the disc is The Making Of Crowley, a twenty-one minute featurette that begins by talking about the odd history of Bushy Campus where a few students were killed, after which some of Crowley's books were found in their rooms. It was here that the crew decided to shoot the movie. From there, we hear from two of the film's producers (who are hanging out in bed), Dickinson (looking sporty in a baseball cap), and pretty much everybody involved in the movie except Simon Callow for some reason (he appears in much of the behind the scenes footage but not in any interview clips). This is a moderately interesting segment as we do get some interesting footage mixed in with pertinent interview clips and sound bites, but more background on the real life Crowley and his work would have made things considerably more interesting.
Aside from that, look out for a half an hour's worth of inconsequential deleted scenes, the film's original theatrical trailer, some animated menus and a chapter selection option. There are trailers for a few other Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD releases that play before you can get to the main menu and start the feature.
A hokey film made tolerable by an impressive lead performance from Simon Callow, Crowley is pretty goofy stuff. Callow is good enough in the film to make it worth a watch for those with an interest in his real life counterpart or for the Dickinson devotee but this isn't likely a film you'll return to time and again, even if Anchor Bay has done a pretty respectable job on the DVD release. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.