screen gems

Queer occultist Aleister Crowley terrified the world. Was his magick all about kink?

A Dark Song

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The It’s Gayer Than You Think: A Dark Song

Bisexual occultist Aleister Crowley shocked the world with his self-professed powers of black magick and with his knack for blending kinky sex with his creepy rituals. Though he died diseased, drug-addicted and broke in 1947–which suggests his powers had their limitations–his influence continues to reverberate in religion and pop culture today.

That brings us to this below-the-radar screen gem, which borrows heavily from Crowley’s teachings…and his love of kink. 2016’s A Dark Song follows the story of Sophia (Catherine Walker), an Irish woman mourning the death of her young son. In her desperation, she turns to Joseph (Steve Oram), a crass and slovenly self-proclaimed sorcerer for help. Sophia wants Joseph to perform a Crowleyist ritual that will summon her Holy Guardian Angel, a supernatural being that can allow her to speak to her dead son. The catch: said ritual will take a full six months to complete, and will require Sophia & Joseph to live alone together engaging in drug use, torturous physical acts, and sex rites.

For much of its runtime, A Dark Song plays coy about the intentions of its characters. Do Sophia and Joseph really believe they’re summoning supernatural beings? Or is the whole ritual just an excuse for some wild kink?

Kink remains a taboo subject in popular culture, especially among heterosexual people. In the queer community, where sex acts as both a binding trait and something to be celebrated, we talk about it a bit more, though obviously, not everyone is comfortable doing so. Liam Gavin, the writer/director of A Dark Song, knows as much, and uses the shame and awkwardness around the subject to create an atmosphere of menace. Watching Sohpia ritualistically shaving Joseph’s body, or Joseph drawing symbols on her skin, has a severe sexual charge to it–one either horrifying or insanely erotic depending on the taste of the viewer. Furthermore, as the rite drags on and Sophia begins to push back at Joseph’s control, the psychological struggle between the two feels as intense as any power exchange found in an S&M dungeon. It also recalled our own sexual awakening, as we learned to cast off the stigma against gay sex and embrace its true beauty.

A Dark Song doesn’t feature any overt gay sex or queer characters. It does, however, derive its horror from the teachings of a bisexual magician who knew how to use gay sex and kink to intrigue, mystify and intimidate straight followers. Much as Clive Barker did in the original Hellraiser, A Dark Song uses that blend of mystique, shame, and curiosity to create a story of deep psychological horror…or wild eroticism, depending on your taste. For our part, we found the movie a riveting, creepy story of descent into madness, a sexual awakening, or possibly the supernatural. We’re still not quite sure.

We have a feeling you won’t be either, dear readers–and that’s part of the fun. Give the movie a watch and weigh in. Horror rarely gets this dark, or this sexually charged.

Streams on Amazon, VUDU & YouTube.