There are movies you can watch at home without losing much when it comes to the cinematic experience, and then there are movies that demand to be seen on the big screen. Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, filmed in 35mm and packed with dazzling Technicolor visuals, is one of the latter. In this ’60s-style horror/comedy, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a narcissistic witch obsessed with finding her happily ever after, no matter whom she has to betray or kill along the way.
Biller, who wrote, directed, and edited the movie, was also the production designer and costumer, which means her fingerprints are on everything from the occult-themed paintings on the walls of Elaine’s apartment to her vintage Gunne Sax dresses. The only clothes in the movie that aren’t vintage or hand-sewn from vintage patterns are Elaine’s panties, which naturally are brand-new.
“All the sewing I do myself,” Biller explained. “I got a little dress mannequin for [Robinson] that was exactly her size. She has kind of model proportions so it was perfect with the mannequin I bought. I didn’t have to pad it; it was perfect. I fitted all the costumes on that so she didn’t really have to do fittings. That made it kind of easy.”
Biller is a self-taught seamstress. “My mother is a fashion designer, so my whole life she was sewing. She was always designing, and she did some of her own sewing, and I just watched her. When I learned, I kind of just learned on my own, and I made some really terrible pieces before I started. I learned through using patterns, and I took a class at UCLA,” she said. (She has a B.A. in art from UCLA and an M.F.A. in art and film from CalArts.)
Although The Love Witch takes some of its cues from the school of Russ Meyer–style exploitation films, it delves into some meaty ideas in terms of love, sex, and gender. Biller’s first film, Viva, in which she also starred, has the same stylishly swinging soft-core style. “Most movies kind of present female characters in such a simple way without all the complexities. I wanted to put all those complexities in even if it might seem that it isn’t a typical Hollywood script where you have one message and one goal and it’s about one thing. It’s a little bit more complicated, more conflicted than that. It’s about more presenting all of these issues and problems and not necessarily about finding a solution.”
In the end, Biller says, Elaine has “such a horrible personality disorder. She’s really not a likable character. But you can also see how she got that way. It wasn’t her fault. The reason she got that way was because of all the sexism in the culture and the abuse that she’s endured. It’s not totally her fault that she’s that way, but she’s not really a sympathetic character.”
See the costumes — and how Biller made them — in the slideshow below. Oscilloscope Laboratories is releasing The Love Witch in New York on Friday, November 18. (It opened in Los Angeles on Friday, November 11.) For more information on screenings, check out Oscilloscope’s official site.