Women In Horror Month: The Love Witch

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Poor Jerry. I had a nervous breakdown after he left me. They say I’m cured now.

witchSo begins The Love Witch, the first of Anna Biller’s films I’ve seen. Truly she accomplishes something with it, something I found it impossible to take my eyes off of. One of my deepest cinematic regrets is that I never made it to Naro Expanded Cinema to see The Love Witch on a big screen.

It is indeed a sight to behold in all its wide-framed, Technicolor looking glory. It’s a gorgeous film to look at. But there’s so much more going on, so many references being made. It’s dizzying. No wait, not dizzying.

Spellbinding.

Yeah, I said what I said.

I’ve seen The Love Witch billed as both horror and horror-comedy. Surely the remorseless Elaine (Samantha Robinson) ranks among such classic Technicolor sociopaths as Tippi Hedron in Marnie, Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven, or Jessica Walter in Play Misty For Me.

But if I have to choose between straight-up horror versus horror-comedy, I’m inclined to go with the latter. To be sure, the comedy is fairly black fairly often. Not gallows humor black like Harold And Maude, but ironically black like Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

There’s also a high camp factor here: the Playtex Living Gloves Elaine wears while making potions (important for all the dying to come), Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) literally sweeping Elaine off her feet, her leg cross as he does so, the phallic-looking steak Elaine cooks for dinner, her Divine/Pink Flamingos-shade of blue eyeshadow, and so much more. The devil, you might say, is in the details.

Adding to the camp is the fact that almost everyone is a stereotype: the caftan-clad male coven leader, the suspicious realtor, the long-haired and goateed literature professor, the stoic cop. And with her raven hair and black dress, all Elaine is missing is the pointy hat.

On top of this, many of the principal players have similarities to people we’ve seen elsewhere. Barbara (Jennifer Ingrum) is a throwback to Barbara Steele. Trish (Laura Waddell) for a quick moment becomes Agnes Moorehead from Bewitched. Griff (Gian Keys) looks like a travel-worn Jim Carrey in Liar Liar (and sounds like William Sanderson in Blade Runner).

The world of The Love Witch is populated by lecherous, predatory, and outright slimy men which is fine. It’s worth holding them up to ridicule since there are plenty of those guys out there, but it becomes a little too generalized.

In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Biller refers to the first seduction scene as, for her, one of the funniest scenes in the movie “because it comes so easily–every dude’s fantasy, in essence.” Strange, I don’t remember ever having that fantasy, but never mind.

It is a funny enough scene with its stiff, shallow dialogue because it’s real. In other words, it’s funny because it’s true. Don’t believe me? Listen in from the barstool of your choice some time.

Biller also makes numerous gestures to the look, style, and substance of other movies dealing with witchcraft and/or sexuality. After the stunning visuals, this is my favorite aspect of the film.

Elaine herself is a cross between Morticia Addams, Elvira, and Marlo Thomas in That Girl (but with the heart of Elizabeth Báthory). The opening is Elaine driving and looking warily in the rearview mirror, an image forever owned by Janet Leigh. Her desperation for love is reminiscent of Bell Book And Candle (incidentally also Technicolor).

The tearoom scene could have been pulled right out of The Stepford Wives.

stepford tea

This is some first rate irony given what Elaine says to Trish at this point, that men are “very easy to please as long as we give them what they want.” I believe you’ll find that in Section I, Paragraph 3 of the Stepford Homeowners’ Association Bylaws.

Even the mix of domesticity, witchcraft, and literal death to male authority/control has some roots in George Romero’s criminally underappreciated Season Of The Witch.

I like The Love Witch. A lot. Maybe the best summation I’ve seen of Biller’s work comes, again, from Filmmaker Magazine: “watching her films is like undergoing hypnosis by means of feng shui, wherein the viewer is lulled into a stilted, cheeky and brilliantly manicured simulacra of golden-era Hollywood staging, blocking and delivery.”

Oh, one more thing. The night I watched The Love Witch, I had very weird dreams.

In Technicolor.

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