Anna Biller's ripe, vibrant The Love Witch is an act of reclamation -- and love. In this out-of-time extravaganza of feminist-satanist serial-killer erotica, the writer/director/producer -- plus editor and set and costume designer -- has crafted the best kind of homage or parody, the kind that honors every thrill and quirk of the original while improving on it. Catch half a scene of The Love Witch and you might think it a glistening new print of some gem of '70s parapsychological softcore. All those cultists, nude and chanting while their leader brandishes a knife; all those tight, tense zooms onto the eyes of man-killer Elaine (Samantha Robinson).
But listen: As the requisite burlesque dancer spins her tassels, the leader of the cult celebrates the awesomeness of what he calls the "sex dance." "We don't view this power as satanic or anti-feminist but as a celebration of woman as a natural creature -- an earthly body, a spiritual essence and a womb." And look: The camera regards the dancer as a performer rather than a collection of body parts, and we see how hard she works, how fluid and inventive she is in her gyrations and how proud she is.
The Love Witch isn't the exploitation film it looks like, despite its bacchanals and seductions and black-magic murders. It's a humane exploitation of exploitation itself, a celebration and a correction, from an artist who has taken everything she loves about her genre, dashed what she doesn't and then shaped what she's seized into a work of urgent, personal expression.