The Love Witch – VIFF 2016 Review


“I’m scared,” admits Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), “I’m not used to feeling things so strongly.” Poor, clueless, not-long-for-this-world Wayne, for Elaine (Samantha Robinson, excellent), a vivacious young witch, has already seduced and worked her brand black magic on him in Anna Biller’s amazingly audacious second feature, The Love Witch.

Wayne’s not the first, nor will he be the last man to succumb to the love-starved Elaine, who’s determined to meet the man of her dreams, no matter the cost. She’s a femme fatale with too much emotional baggage, deadly means, and an absolutely smashing wardrobe.

Biller, who’s no slouch, she not only wrote and directed the film, she’s also responsible for the diligent set design, and the lavish costumes, which give it a deliberate Sirkian melodramatic vibe. This is a deliberate ruse, as much of The Love Witch pays loving tribute to the Technicolor melodramas of the 1960s, including the performances, which wonderfully ups the camp value into the stratosphere.

Part of the fun of The Love Witch, it must be said, is from finding and revelling in the other more transgressive 70s cinema antecedents that Biller pastiches. The erotic sexploitation horror of Jess Franco, and Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino’s giallo films, why I even detected some of the comic blitz of John Waters in the affected posturing on proud display.

“I’m the Love Witch, I’m your ultimate fantasy!” coos Elaine to another doomed paramour, and I admit, it’s a carnal thrill to watch her consume her quarry. There’s something in how she undoes the men she puts spells on––and I don’t mean the fine food she makes them or the sexy cajolery, though that entertains, too. There’s something in the virility of her victims, in their maleness, as her magic makes them open up emotionally, eschewing masculinity and embracing their feminine side. It’s all rather sordid and played like hysterical digs at the patriarchy and I loved it.

Biller also achieves more greatness with her soundtrack which includes a number of effectively nostalgic compositions done by her, as well as selections from Ennio Morricone and some vintage Italian films from the 60s, adding more to the mesmeric aspects of the film. Is there an homage artist as expert as Biller? The Love Witch is all astounding A game.

It’s rare that a horror film that’s this sexy, this subversive, and this stylized, is also so endlessly sly and smart. Destined for cult classic status––hell, gimme a sequel!––The Love Witch is one of the best genre films of the year.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.