Screening on Thursday night at SPACE Gallery, writer-director Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch” is the sexy, strange, Technicolor cinematic pastiche you’ve been waiting for.
That is, if you, too, have fond memories of the soft-core exploitation flicks of the 1970s, where peek-a-boo nudity, stiff acting, mammoth hairdos, excessive eye makeup and an undercurrent of fluorescent red violence and supernatural transgression mash together in a murky stew of sexual politics and titillation.
That’s sort of Biller’s jam, as “The Love Witch” — like her last film, 2007’s sexploitation satire, “Viva” — is a straight-faced recreation of a thoroughly disreputable film genre. The thing is, “The Love Witch” is so straight-faced that it gradually becomes less a satire of woman-power witchcraft movies (like George Romero’s “Season Of The Witch,” to name but one) and more its own oddball entry in the genre, warts and all. (Not that the witches here have warts — in keeping with the rules, all women are exquisitely made-up and flawless at all times. Metaphorical warts.)
It’s the story of Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a practicing witch on the move after her husband died in suspiciously witch-y circumstances. Moving into a lavishly furnished apartment (complete with tarot card paintings and herb cabinet), she sets out to find true love by cooking up love potions to seduce all the men in town. Her lovers/victims include a bearded professor (Jeffrey Vincent Parise, hilariously beaming at his good fortune), her landlady’s husband and finally, the impossibly square-faced (and square) copper Griff (Gian Keys) assigned to figure out why dead guys keep turning up around town, post-coital smiles presumably still on their faces.
Watch the trailer for “The Love Witch”
From the first, deliberately obvious process shot of Elaine driving her cherry-red convertible, to the ostentatiously spooky title font, to the fact that painter Elaine is always clearly scraping dry paint brushes over her already-painted prop paintings, there’s a cheesy verisimilitude to every luxurious, eye-popping detail.
Adding to the low-budget ’70s horror throwback vibe, the dialogue is pitched to be both overheated and flat at the same time, while the editing keeps framing things just a beat too late or too early. At two hours, it’s one hell of a long feat of deadpan, the put-on always verging on “Naked Gun”-style parody without ever pulling the trigger on the joke. The effect is genuinely disorienting, like listening to the direst, yet silliest joke in the world at the same time. For 120 minutes.
But is it all a joke? “The Love Witch,” like a lot of the films it’s referencing, explores female empowerment (and the male oppression that necessitates it) even through the lens of its sexy supernatural shenanigans. Biller, a true, hands-on auteur —who’s not only the writer and director, but who also edited and scored the film and designed every visual and costume detail — seeds in plenty of provocative ideas about sexism throughout.
While Elaine is a killer (sort of), there are also glimpses of how every man in her life has demeaned her, and her idyllic frolic with Griff hears their contrasting inner monologues about the opposite sex and love while, outwardly, they seem on the same romantic page. The film posits throughout that the ingrained attitudes of men and women are so at odds when it comes to love that happy endings may just be an illusion. Even with the help of magic.
“The Love Witch” never runs out of gas, per se, but its gaudy homage to the gauzy sleaze of yesteryear requires some patience. Luckily, there’s something for the eye to delight in, in literally every loopy, delirious, lovingly crafted frame.
“The Love Witch” screens Thursday at 7 p.m. at SPACE Gallery. Tickets are $8/$6 for SPACE members and students with ID. Leave the kids at home for this one.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Railroad Square Cinema (Waterville)
Saturday-Sunday: “Speed Sisters.” Zoom up to Waterville to catch this rip-roaring documentary about the first all-woman race car driving team in the Middle East. The group of daring women braves street races against their all-male competitors in the West Bank, as if racing weren’t dangerous enough.
Starting Tuesday, Jan 31: “The Loving Story.” Kicking off Black History Month, Frontier brings in this documentary about the landmark 1958 case where an interracial couple (conveniently named Loving) were arrested for the then-crime of “miscegenation.”