The Love Witch follows the tale of Elaine, a beautiful young woman who wants more than anything to find a man that will love her with all the passion she would love them. After an experience in the past that almost broke her, she has adopted the ways of the witch, and decides to use the power of spells and potions to support her campaign of ruthless seduction and sexual liaison. However, it seems her magical tactics are proving to be a little too effective, and their nasty habit of leaving death in their wake, will have the path to her true heart’s desire twinned with one of potential desperation and madness?! So, I know what you are thinking…it’s that tried and tested tale of true love. And witches. And drugs. And death…okay, so maybe you weren’t thinking that, and it’s this sheer wealth of campy fun and personality that helps set The Love Witch apart as a hilarious, witty and biting work of female driven cinema.

Anne Biller crafts a pitch perfect 60s tone, crafted through delightfully pronounced sense of cheesy excess in both the aesthetic and the performance style. It appears to take inspiration from the cheap and swift exploitation flicks of Jack Hill and Russ Meyer, as well as mockingly touch upon campy domestic fantasy TV hits of that same era, particularly Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. In the infusion of these styles, Biller establishes a texture to the world that is not only intoxicating for its charm, but exists as the perfect space to playfully insert the exploration of gender relationships that define the film’s fabulously astute and reflexive comedy.  Crucially, the film so lovingly captures this reality through both the visual and narrative construction that it delicately walks the tightrope between pastiche and homage. It oozes the deceptively innocent sensibility of classic sexploitation, a sort of sweetly sleazy charm that plays on the way those rough edged titillation pieces of the past often confused with vulgarity and sexuality.

However, more than just nostalgic homage, Biller uses this sexploitation form as a subversive layer; rather than present Elaine as passive, she is actively and aggressively sexually dominant in her seduction of the males who succumb through their weaknesses, ones that manifest once their sexual trysts conclude, leaving Elaine unsatisfied constantly and the men the ones who are exposed, which inevitably foreshadows their very literal demise. On one level, this plays as a wonderful piece of gender comedy, centring on the impossibility of men to truly tap female pleasure, but furthermore and far more interestingly; this reveals Biller’s subversive foregrounding of female power within a sub-genre classically associated with the literal exploitation of the female body, and the subjugation of female pleasure to male desire. Here, Biller presents a woman whose all-encompassing desire absolutely consumes her male quarry, reduced to quivering wrecks by the reality of their own facile desire in the face of Elaine’s domination.

While the visual style and narrative awareness establish a distinct tone and environment, the importance of Samantha Robinson’s performance as Elaine cannot be underestimated. She fills a character that potentially could have been inaccessible in her aloof and single minded mentality with charm, awareness and most importantly, a blend of innocence and sensuality that captivates as well as creating to some wonderfully sharp and teasing beats of humour; playing innuendo and critique at just the right pitch with delicacy and an obvious sense of fun that is absolutely infectious. She is a joy to watch, and combined with Biller’s knowing soft focus and repeated use of close up frame her face, turns Elaine into not just an image of female beauty, but an encapsulation of the intricate relationship between power and fragility that rests at the heart of most interesting explorations of female identity in contemporary culture.

The Love Witch is an absolute riot of retro delights, filled with a kitschy charm that only serves to sharpen the wickedly pointed sexual politics that rest at its heart. Biller’s absolute vision and Samantha Robinson’s exquisitely self-aware performance crystallise into a unique and satirical depiction of female power through the lens of exploitation cinema; such gleefully subversive quality is exactly why The Love Witch seems destined to become something of a cult classic.

Horror Channel Frightfest review: The Love Witch
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk