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Plot: Elaine is not your ordinary witch. She's something else...

The Love Witch isn’t just another indie film. It isn’t just another nostalgia piece either. No, it's something else. It is an affectionate love letter to the fashion, music, and cinematic conventions of the gaudy and exuberant 70s. The Love Witch is a stylistic reverie so lovingly crafted, so wonderfully executed that it feels as a conduit back into that era. Sumptuously designed, beautifully photographed, and perfectly cast The Love Witch is a treasure trove for anybody familiar with late sixties/early seventies exploitation cinema. In that respect it’s almost an arthouse production. Before anything else, The Love Witch is a two-hour throwback to the glamour and glory of 1960s Technicolor and classic Hollywood films, but with far more boiling below the surface. It’s a philosophically provocative musing on gender obstacles and a feminist manifesto wrapped in some of the most enchantingly beautiful production design this side of early Tsui Hark.

It’s framed like a Hitchcock film and unfolds like an early Tim Burton fairytale as Beetlejuice (1988) or Edward Scissorhands (1990), themselves heavily romanticized versions of 1960s romantic dramas. To its everlasting strength The Love Witch is a phantasmagoria of different moods and dabbles in a multitude of subgenres. It has the hyperstylized lighting and high-fashion of a 1970s Italian giallo from Mario Bava, Luciano Ercoli, or Dario Argento; the deep oneiric atmosphere of a French fantastique in tradition of Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971), the erotic quality and soft focus of a mid-70s Renato Polselli or Luigi Batzella gothic horror with Rita Calderoni, all while having the subtextual richness of Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) and a pronounced feminist undercurrent not unlike Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967). It’s probably what something as Pervirella (1997) or Superstarlet A.D. (2000) could have looked like had it been made by a genuinely talented filmmaker on a modest to decent budget.

Newly widowed Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) moves from San Francisco to Arcata, California to start a new life after the death of her husband Jerry (Stephen Wozniak). She takes up residence in an opulent Victorian mansion and befriends her home decorator neighbor Trish Manning (Laura Waddell). At the local teahouse Elaine meets Trish’s husband Richard (Robert Seeley). There’s an obvious attraction between the two, but Elaine ignores it. At wit’s end Elaine seeks an audience with her mentor Barbara (Jennifer Ingrum) and the head of her coven Gahan (Jared Sanford). Once back home she she brews a potion, and soon finds a lover in university literature professor Wayne Peters (Jeffrey Vincent Parise). The two have a steamy night at his cabin, and Wayne starts to obsess over her. Elaine doesn’t like that, and when she comes to wake him later, she finds him dead. She buries his remains, and sets her sights on Richard, figuring he won’t be able to obsess over her since he’s married to her friend Trish. Elaine once again does her dance of seduction and brews a him potion.

Trish suspects that Richard is having an affair since he drank himself in a stupor and is otherwise ignoring her. The sudden vanishing of Wayne attracts the attention of police investigator Griff Meadows (Gian Keys) and Elaine becomes a prime suspect. Griff, as all men are wont to do in presence of one so elegant, falls madly in love with her. At the Renaissance Faire the coven performs a mock wedding ritual for Elaine and Griff. Meanwhile Richard has killed himself obsessing over Elaine, much to the dismay of Trish. Elaine has the coven perform a love ritual for her and Griff. Meanwhile Trish has figured out that Elaine was the woman Richard was having an affair with, and goes as far to find Elaine’s altar. Intrigued she starts dressing and acting just like Elaine. When word gets out that Elaine is a witch the employees of the burlesque theater call for her to be burned. In the confusion Griff helps her escape and the two take up residence in her apartment, there Elaine concocts him a potion. Upon realizing that Griff was correct that no man can ever love her enough, Elaine stabs Griff to death. In her deepest delirium Elaine imagines that Griff proposed to her and that they are wedded.

A character-driven piece like this irrevocably stands or falls by grace of its lead. As such Samantha Robinson was perfectly cast. She has the wide-eyed features of Barbara Steele, the regal demeanour of Edwige Fenech, Femi Benussi, and Rosalba Neri, and oozes sensuality much in the same way as Soledad Miranda, Nieves Navarro, and Barbara Bouchet – all while retaining an American pin-up quality like Celeste Yarnall or Mary-Louise Parker. It also doesn’t hurt that Robinson sort of looks like a young Mary-Louise Parker. Whether she’s sporting elegant evening dresses, gazing dreamily into the frame, or seductively cavorting around in lingerie in her Victorian abode, The Love Witch made a star out of miss Robinson. Her performance was bound to attract attention, and that it did. Recently Hollywood took notice of Robinson when Quentin Tarantino cast her in his award-winning 1970s epic Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019). Impressive when you think Robinson’s only remembered prior work was the indie thriller Misogynist (2013), and the functionally bland Lifetime television movie Sugar Daddies (2014). “I’m the Love Witch,” Robinson chirps in an early scene, “I’m your ultimate fantasy!” Truer words have seldom been spoken. Hedonism is, can, and should be, a virtue.

The real beauty of The Love Witch is how multi-faceted and multi-layered it is. It’s a cinematic Rorschach test of sorts. You take from it what you want, and you see in it what your tastes steer you towards. Coming to it from the angle that we do (from a cult, obscure, and weird cinema perspective) it’s a celebration of fringe cinema, and of dead genres. It’s as American as they come yet there’s something really French and Spanish about it. The setting is American, but the pastel and pink-white color palette is informed by Italian genre cinema. The Love Witch has a coven, a riff on Satanic panic, the devil cult, and the Inquisition movies of the seventies; the romantic montages play out like those of a commedia sexy all’Italiana (without the overt sexism and machismo), and the entire thing has the feel of a French drama with Muriel Catalá or Isabelle Adjani. It’s Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972) with a glorious helping of psychotronics and psychedelia straight out of All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Vampyros Lesbos (1971), or any of the LSD counterculture movies following Easy Rider (1969). It’s equal amounts Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971) as it is Suspiria (1977). Disconnected from the influences that you project onto it, The Love Witch is just very, very good.

That The Love Witch is the work of just one woman makes it all the more impressive, especially with this being an indie. The creative force behind The Love Witch is Anna Biller. Not only did Biller write, produce, and direct this two-hour feature; she also served as art director, production – and costume designer, action choreographer, props master, and composer. If that weren’t impressive enough in and of itself, The Love Witch was only her second directorial feature coming after the retro sex comedy Viva (2007) and a handful of shorts (in 2001, 1998, and 1994). She had to fight tooth and nail to realize her vision and lensed it with a hostile, mutinous crew (that saw a host of their number either leaving or actively sabotaging the production). That Biller has but two credits to her name is testament to how fully realized, lovingly crafted, and richly detailed her features are.

In her score she borrows a few stings from the Ennio Morricone soundtracks to A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and All the Colors of the Dark (1972). A good choice, definitely. Truth be told, The Love Witch is the sort of production where you’d expect a few winks and nods towards Bruno Nicolai’s work for Jess Franco, especially something dreamy as A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) or Nightmares Come At Night (1972). In the sixties Samantha Robinson would have been a Bond girl, and a decade removed from that she would have been serious competition for Eurobabes as Soledad Miranda, Edwige Fenech, Rosalba Neri, Barbara Bouchet, Luciana Paluzzi, Yutte Stensgaard, Valerie Leon, Betsabé Ruiz, and Silvia Tortosa. Any which way you slice it, The Love Witch is an exceptional piece of independent filmmaking. To say that we’re excited for whatever Anna Biller does next would be an understatement.

Plot: timid gamer must find Chile’s most feared hitwoman

Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (released domestically as Tráiganme la Cabeza de la Mujer Metralleta) is one of those rare cases where a movie delivers exactly what the poster promises, but somehow still manages to not fully capitalize on that very same potential. What we hoped would be a Chilean Naked Killer (1992) is often bogged down by that other thing for which it’s famous. Ernesto Díaz Espinoza is good enough to mask budgetary constraints and limitations, but for an alleged exploitation film tribute Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is not nearly gritty, and exploitative enough when push comes to shove. Much to our dismay it dances around the hot sauce exactly the way the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse double-feature Planet Terror and Death Proof (2007) did. What exactly is the point of making an indie when you’re going to play by Hollywood rules, anyway? Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival (AFF) in Texas in 2012 and was released in Chile in 2013.

Since debuting in 2006 with Killtro director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has helmed another 8 features, with Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman probably his only to gain any kind of international following. The Machine Gun Woman of Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is as much his creation as it is that of Fernanda Urrejola. It never quite goes the Ginger (1971) or Stacey! (1973) route, and is far more faithful to being that long-overdue Grand Theft Auto video game adaptation the world still hasn’t gotten at this point. In fact at critical points the entire GTA thing gets in the way of the 1970s exploitation actioner that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is somewhere deep down inside. We’re convinced that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman had been better served as two seperate stand-alone features: a 1970s exploitation actioner with Fernanda Urrejola as la Mujer Metralleta, and a Grand Theft Auto crime-comedy with Matías Oviedo. Taken for what it is Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman gets as much right as it gets wrong.

Santiago Fernández (Matías Oviedo) is a video game-obsessed layabout who lives with his mother (Francisca Castillo) in Santiago de Chile. He’s a bit naïve and too passive to have any kind of upward social mobility to improve his lot in life. Santiago works as a DJ in the Tango Club with his friend Israelito (Nicolás Ibieta). One day word reaches Argentinian crimelord Che Longana (Jorge Alís, as Jorge Alis) that the infamous bounty hunter la Mujer Metralleta (or The Machine Gun Woman) (Fernanda Urrejola) is out to collect the prize on his head. He offers a staggering amount of money to anyone who can, “tráiganme la cabeza de la Mujer Metralleta.” So much money in fact that would instantly rid him and his mother of their financial woes. Suddenly a fire erupts within Santiago.

What Che doesn’t know is that mild mannered Santiago has overheard his conversation, and when he does his right-hand man Bracoli (Jaime Omeñaca), with some help from Siberiano, threatens Santiago with bodily harm. The youth fast-talks his way out of the situation and vows to Che that he will kill the Machine Gun Woman. Duly impressed by the DJ don Longana gives Santiago exactly 24 hours to bring in The Machine Gun Woman. If he fails he and his mother will be killed instead. Unbeknownst to Santiago he’s being followed by Che’s gang of sicario (or hitmen) with intention to kill both him and la Mujer Metralleta. The Machine Gun Woman saves Santiago from harm several times, and there’s some obvious mutual attraction. The two gun up and confront Che Longana and in the explosive finale Santiago chases la Mujer Metralleta after they share a kiss, only to be flagged down by a group of patrolling police cars observing the mayhem.

It’s a given that not every indie film can be a pastiche/tribute as well-honed, lovingly detailed, and on-point as Ben Combes’ Commando Ninja (2018). Ernesto Díaz Espinoza’s Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman borrows the central conceit, and part of its title, from Sam Pekinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and frequently riffs on Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994). That is when it’s not paying tribute to Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi (1992), gritty 1970s exploitation from Russ Meyer and Don Schain, and Quentin Tarantino. Espinoza acknowledges the importance of Pekinpah’s seminal film when he has Santiago hand Israelito hand a fake PlayStation 2 game called Bring Me the Head Of Rene Garcia. What sets Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman apart is that the entire premise is overlaid with a well-developed Grand Theft Auto framing device that has Matías Oviedo as the player avatar, complete with mission titles, cash rewards, and sepia-toned plot-driving cutscenes. It’s sort of the GTA: Latin America that the world never got. Or a 70-minute Delinquent Habits music video/short film with Fernanda Urrejola sporting her oversized guns (both literal and figurative) and a stripper/dominatrix combo sure to get the pulse of any and every red-blooded male racing.

As good as Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is, there’s an obvious disconnect between the grimy 1970s exploitation aesthetic (the grains, dirt, and scratches on the “print”, over/under exposed lighting, etc), the cooler-than-you Quentin Tarantino dialogue, and the Grand Theft Auto bits. It has the production value and kenetic energy of Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi (1992) and the Grand Theft Auto framing device (complete with corresponding font and music) is original to say the least. The unfortunate thing is that the Santiago and la Mujer Metralleta plots often appear to be at odds with each other. The la Mujer Metralleta is an interesting enough character to base an entire stand-alone feature around, and the GTA framing device, while interesting and integrated good enough, doesn’t really offer any additional value. Fernanda Urrejola is la mujer of the title but even though this is clearly supposed to be an exploitation film she’s never seen sin ropas. The brief (1975-1983 ) Cine de Destape Español (Cine S) in Spain, the pornochanchada from Brazil, and the maple syrup porn from Canada, all soft erotica, were more explicit than this. Not that a production like this stands or falls by the amount of female nudity featured, but it’s hardly exploitative as such. There was clearly some degree of sanitizing involved to make this one accessible for a general audience.

The reason to see Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is, of course, the titular woman herself, Fernanda Urrejola. These days Urrejola is known for Narcos: Mexico (2018) but prior to Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman she was a regular on television with Mujeres de Lujo (2010), and Diario secreto de una profesional (2012), or Chilean variants of The Client List (2012-2013) and Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-2011), respectively. Urrejola plays the Machine Gun Woman as a hypersexual(ized) gunwielding stripper-soldier and the character is something between what the late Russ Meyer and Andy Sidaris would dream up. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to think that Jing Wong's Naked Soldier (2012) with Jennifer Tse Ting-Ting (謝婷婷) took after la Mujer Metralleta.

Beneath her overt sexuality lies hidden enough conflicted pathos and melancholy that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman simply has no time, or interest, in exploring. That look the Machine Gun Woman has in her eye when she corners Santiago at gunpoint after he managed to lure her out into the open just begs for a backstory. A backstory that Ernesto Díaz Espinoza never even alludes to, nor cares to explore. At its strongest this is a gender-swapped El Mariachi (1992) set in rural Chile instead of México. The Machine Gun Woman is both a feminist empowerment - and a male wish fulfillment fantasy at once. More puzzling and damning perhaps is that la Mujer Metralleta is something of a glorified side character in a production bearing her name. That it never spawned a sequel in tradition of Naked Killer (1992) is a question for the ages.

Who wouldn’t love to see a Chilean Hardboiled (1992) with la Mujer Metralleta as the lead? Naked Killer (1992) after all was nothing more than Hardboiled (1992) by way of Vampyros Lesbos (1971) with enough explosive setpieces, stiletto heels, stockings, pastel-colored dresses, and a penchant for getting Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching out of her clothes whenever possible. If anything, we sincerely hope that Ernesto Díaz Espinoza and Fernanda Urrejola eventually bring back la Mujer Metralleta for a second round, be it in a direct sequel or in a stand-alone feature with her as the centerpiece. Imagine what a sequel to Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman could be if Urrejola got to duke it out with voluptuous Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala? It remains somewhat baffling that a character this poignant isn’t wider known, or that the usual suspects (Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Eli Roth) haven’t remade it yet for the American market and the English-speaking world. Not that we want to give anybody any ideas. We’re somewhat baffled that the Machine Gun Woman apparently is hardly known outside of Latin America… and that’s a shame. Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman may not be cinematic art, but it’s damn entertaining…