Aleister Crowley, occultist, philosopher and self-styled “wickedest man in the world” is the subject of this peculiar horror movie, scripted by former Iron Maiden front-man Bruce Dickinson. American scientist Professor Mathers (Kal Weber) arrives at Cambridge University where he attracts pretty student reporter Leah Robinson (Lucy Cudden), eager to get the scoop on his top secret experiment. For reasons never entirely made clear, Mathers plans to link his state-of-the-art virtual reality suit to the world’s biggest super computer.
Unknown to him, his occult obsessed co-programmer Victor Neumann (Jud Charlton) has uploaded all of the late Crowley’s black magic ceremonies into the computer in binary form, so when his stuttering accomplice Professor Haddo (Simon Callow) enters the suit, he emerges transformed into “the Beast” himself. Crowley/Haddo proceeds to run rampant with sex, murder and depravity, culminating in an occult ritual known as the Chemical Wedding, while Mathers, Leah and Professor Symons (Paul McDowell) try to send him back to hell.
The mix of occult lore and science fiction (as Victor remarks: “Quantum physics is the new alchemy”) evokes Nigel Kneale, but this is a deeply silly movie. As directed by onetime Monty Python collaborator Julian Doyle, it remains hard to discern whether this is meant to be high camp or faithfully following Crowley’s oft-quoted dictum: “Do what thou wilt.” While fantasy writers from Neil Gaiman to Alan Moore take Crowley pretty seriously, the man’s church-baiting hedonism more closely resembles modern, self-aggrandising celebrity than anything particularly satanic. Those who celebrate him as a libertarian would do well to remember he was also a racist whose bisexuality stemmed from his deep-rooted contempt for women - qualities that would make him a far scarier villain than he is here.
Bruce Dickinson seems an intelligent, well read man. His script is occasionally erudite yet dense with Crowley lore, freemasonry and quantum physics to the point of incoherence. The unfolding events are very much a rock star’s idea of satanic evil: rampant orgies, drug use and rude behaviour. Simon Callow camps it up as Haddo/Crowley deposits a steaming pile of excrement upon his desk, hypnotises a girl into stripping off, crucifies a call girl after shaving her pubic hair, and goads Victor into a threesome with a busty, “Whore of Babylon.” Most of the sex and violence occurs off-screen, which is just as well given a faintly offensive moment that implies Crowley has sodomised a crippled woman to “cure” her. However, Doyle’s haphazard storytelling coupled with Callow’s over the top bellowing renders several supporting characters impossibly vague. Why on earth do people flock to such a ridiculous character?
A trippy, Satanism meets cyberpunk finale works in Schrödinger’s cat, chaos theory and a neat twist about parallel worlds (implying ours is the one governed by Satan), but the clever concepts are swamped in a mire of inanity. With antics that range from a ridiculous pagan analysis of Hamlet (“Academics are mere boils on the Bard’s arsehole”) before dropping his pants to piss all over the students, and masturbating over a mystic parchment that he then faxes to Leah (semen and all!), this horror villain is little more than a pantomime joke. Maybe that’s the point, since the real Crowley looks more like one with each passing decade.