Meet Will, played by The Black Crystal’s writer/director/producer/editor/composer Mike Conway. Will’s a practical guy; the type who tucks in his Izod shirt before he gets behind the wheel of his yellow Trans Am. But he’s also got a wild side. Specifically, he likes to have picnics with witches.
Will pilots his banana-hued dream machine down a lonely stretch of desert highway. He pulls over to pick up a hitchhiker, and the two men are instantly attacked by a bevy of kickboxing rednecks. The thugs lethally gouge the drifter’s eyes out as Will narrowly speeds off to take refuge at his brother’s remote cabin.
A raven-haired, undernourished woman named Daphne lives in the nearby woods, cloaked in black half-shirts and darker secrets. A silent bond is formed when Will hands her a triangular crystal left behind by the murdered hitchhiker. The locals insist she’s a witch, but Will is resolute in his affections, and invites her on a picnic. He’s unfazed that he’s chomping on roast beef subs with a black arts sorceress, but he’s totally overwhelmed by the appearance of a couple chipmunks: “LOOK AT THOSE CRITTERS!”
Daphne reveals that the crystal is a Power Channeler, used to nefarious ends by backwoods cultists led by eye-gouging maniac Daniel. She departs and Will is beaten unconscious by hillbillies. When he revives, he’s surrounded by their corpses, the human shrapnel of extreme witchery. Daphne is now Will’s supernatural protector, and though her eventual slaughter of his brother temporarily complicates their relationship, love does bloom. The romance begins with the tongue-iest kiss ever captured on video, like two engorged red slugs wrestling at gunpoint.
When not engaging in anti-hygienic slamdowns, the couple continues their quest to keep the black crystal beyond the clutches of Daniel and his toadies. These middle-aged, blue-collar cultists have traded in their black robes for beer bellies, flannels and prescription sunglasses; more “dad” than “druid” but relentlessly evil regardless. The group’s rituals and beliefs remain vague but we do eventually visit their sanctum, a.k.a. a plywood toolshed smeared with K-mart Halloween blood.
Daniel looks like a cocaine-scented version of Dave Thomas from SCTV, and his occult powers make him indestructible. He’s shot multiple times and run over by a truck, but Satan’s support keeps him pumpin’ as he embarks on a lethal game of cat-and-mouse with our heroes. His desire goes beyond the crystal, as he revealingly admonishes Daphne: “It really pains me to see you fooling around with a mortal!”
Unlike every other movie ever made, The Black Crystal was filmed entirely in and around Tucson, Arizona. The environmental lifelessness contributes heavily to the movie’s aesthetic (like Ray Dennis Steckler’s Chooper), as does the surprisingly effective synth score from the director. But the movie’s most impressive feature is its unique take on human interaction. Adult siblings behave as if they’ve just met, while married couples antagonize each other like 5-year-olds on a playground. Here’s an exchange between two men pushed to the edge:
“Get your lazy ass over here.”
The Black Crystal was shot in 16mm over 15 days in 1989. Trans Ams were smeared with ketchup. Balding gym coaches were paid $50 a day to feign arcane darkness. Tucson was transformed forever. No one noticed. Recommended.