Sashaying her way on to Blu Ray/VOD this week is Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch.’ Starring Samantha Robinson, this technicolor treat for the eyes follows Elaine, the titular witch, as she travels from San Francisco to small town California to start a new life and find… you guessed it. Love.
Elaine’s got a past. As the film progresses at a sometimes problematic leisurely pace, we learn that Elaine suffered mental abuse at the hands of her husband who put her down and made her feel worthless. So to counter that she did the only logical thing a woman could do and joined a coven of witches housed in a San Francisco strip joint. So what made her flee Frisco for small-town life? I won’t spoil that.
Suffice to say Elaine just wants to be loved – and what better way to find l’amour than to use love potions and cast her spell over every eligible man she can find. I use the term eligible loosely as we come to realise that Elaine is not above stealing another woman’s man. But Elaine needs all-encompassing, heart-pounding, Mills and Boons love… and we soon come to realise that most of these macho men just ain’t up to the job. A woman knows how to survive the floodgates opening and her emotions taking over – but a man? As we come to find out, fellas just can’t handle it. And the bodies start to pile up…
To say this film is camp would be an understatement. Viewers queer and otherwise are in for an indulgent delight with a film bathed in hot pinks and reds. The sets, the wardrobe, the make-up and even a used-tampon burst with colour. Much has been made of this film paying tribute to Russ Meyer and Roger Corman but for me the stylistic influences were more Suspiria than Supervixen. The witchcraft element will forever be linked to the Argento classic, but with the spells and potions aside this is a massive nod to sexploitation and eurotrash cinema.
Giallo fans will no doubt spot the soundtrack references – The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh being one of them, and it’s undeniable that Samantha Robinson comes across like the love-child of Edwige Fenech and Lana Del Rey. She disrobes plenty, but the nudity is played as a tease more than anything. And restoring the balance just a little, Anna Biller’s lens lingers on the male flesh just as much as the female. Elaine’s first seduction, Wayne, played by Mad Men and daytime soap star Jeffrey Vincent Parise, puts his pert butt on display more prominently than Elaine does in their first sex scene. And the eventual love interest and romantic hero Detective Griff (Gian Keys), has all the square-jaw, twinkly-eyed, wavy-haired matinee idol chops to make the most hardened heterosexual male admit he’s swoonsome!
Biller uses a dainty dessert fork to poke at the gender politics of the 60s and 70s. In one scene Elaine advises her best friend Trish that women should be every fantasy sex doll their man wants and needs. But no more than 20 minutes later she’s got a dead hunk on her hands because he was just too weak to be the man she needed. For good measure she then waves a bloody tampon in front of the camera to remind us that The Love Witch won’t be bringing us our morning paper and getting on her knees for Steak and BJ Wednesday any time soon.
It’s lovingly crafted, expertly so by Anna Biller who had a hand in the set design, the costumes, the paintings on the walls of Elaine’s sumptuous gothic apartment, not to mention writing and directing AND putting together the score. The Love Witch is a triumphant work of art, although I do think it could have been 20 minutes shorter. But then I think that of most films being released these days. The pace did suffer from lingering a little too much on minor details – but when they look this good you can’t really complain.
Not if you know what’s good for you…