REVIEW: ALEISTER CROWLEY – LEGEND OF THE BEAST / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: DOM LENOIR / SCREENPLAY: DOM LENOIR / STARRING: HENRY AMPHLETT, ELLE BLACK, CLAIRE BOWEN / RELEASE DATE: TBC
If there was ever a subject crying out for the biopic treatment, then surely it's 'The Great Beast', Aleister Crowley. Dubbed 'The Wickedest Man in the World' by the British press, our most famous occultist was a visionary, outsider, poet and occasional horror novelist, accomplished mountaineer, posthumous counterculture icon, and all-round rum bugger. There has been the odd attempt to turn his life into a movie in the past, but none have been really of note and certainly in no way definitive. Is Legend of the Beast what we've all been waiting for?
Sadly this amateurish micro-budget production doesn't even come close. From his deathbed, a fairly healthy-looking 'old Crowley' relates the story of his life in monotonous tones that sound as though they're being read from cue cards. Eventually the clumsily handled, over-explainy opening leads into what seem like Crimewatch re-enactments of episodes in his earlier life, where 'Young Crowley' is played by a gentleman (Amphlett) who looks or sounds not even remotely like him. Surely the fact that Crowley went to Cambridge in the late nineteenth century should offer up at least some clues as to the man's accent and general demeanour.
Similarly, even given the obvious budgetary constraints, one should surely expect some effort to keep this stuff true to its period. Your local am dram group could make a better fist of this, or at least ensure that all their male characters don't wear shirts and trousers that look as if they come from Top Shop. Each anecdote is handled in a terminally boring fashion, with huge swathes of dialogue that one can't imagine ever being issued forth in a real conversation. And what makes this worse is the fact that what they are saying is on the whole intrinsically interesting – or would be, if presented in the right way.
The makers have at least attempted to give this shot-on-video film a cinematic look, enlivened slightly by some location work, and post-syncing has avoided the usually horrible acoustics that mar these things, although some of the female characters' voices are frankly hilarious. On the whole, what we are left with is a film that would no doubt garner a respectable mark on a university film production course, but is several light years shy of being fit for commercial release.
If you're intrigued by the life and times of one of the most interesting figures of western esotericism, just read a book about him instead. Because Crowley himself would be the first to tell you that life really is too short for this. We guarantee the movie in your head will be better.