There have been few horror films more delightful that THE LOVE WITCH. Ostensibly an homage/send-up of mid-century exploitation films that sold social relevance as an excuse for prurient titillation, it combines wicked visual juxtapositions, inspired bad acting, and the oddest burlesque show ever in an inordinately entertaining examination of the perils of waiting for Prince Charming.
Our title character is Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a witch who has been wronged and is looking for both true love and a new life in a small California town. It’s a place where, as she tells us in narration as she coolly places a cigarette between her ruby lips, almost no one knows her. The almost is the local coven with whom she has a complicated relationship. Her relationship with her new friend, happily married Trish (Laura Waddell), is also complicated, and having them give their diametrically opposed ideas on love over high tea ladies-only tea room awash in chintz and pastes is an introduction to the self-conscious affectation with which the film is rife.
Simultaneously deadly earnest in presentation and deliberately tongue-in-cheek, it transcends genre into something as goofy as it is oddly touching. A witch’s Sabbath featuring nude dancing and cliché doggerel gives way to a stunningly mundane party, where Elaine, having loved one boyfriend to death, complains to a friend that her current boyfriend has become too clingy and emotional. “It’s like he’s a woman, there’s no polarity.” Yes, it’s silly on many levels, including Elaine’s utter cluelessness, and so is the impromptu Ren Fair, complete with a theme song about unicorns and lucky charms. So is the way that Elaine has a red feather boa handy when seducing her latest victim.
Hot on her trail, thanks to the dead guy in the shallow grave festooned with occult paraphernalia, is a square-jawed, Ken-haired local police detective (Gian Keyes) whose hipness extends only as far as ordering a turkey sandwich with avocado. One look into Elaine’s eyes, festooned with cat’s-eye eyeliner, and all thoughts of law enforcement disappear. This will be trouble, thanks to his views on love (it’s for the weak), and the fact that a lot of people are unhappy about the dead guy in the shallow grave. His African-American partner (Randy Evans) fulfills the role of ethnic best friend and voice of reason leading to the de rigeur confrontation. It’s hilarious.
Robinson is a delicious enigma. Only an actress of skill can deliver a performance so perfectly on point as a simulacrum of the awkward emoting from those ci-mention films from long ago. When she bats those false eyelashes while sprawling, in fetching lingerie, on a pentagram while begging the Goddess for someone to love her, she catches an unexpected note of sincerity that reinforces the idiom and also stands it on its head.
Weirdly wonderful and deadpan droll, THE LOVE WITCH is strikingly original in its bold use of hackneyed conventions. And artfully placed candles.