Friday, February 20, 2009

SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (1971)

Back in the mid-1980s, when SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES would occasionally turn up on the USA Network, the wiseass in charge of writing the descriptions for the New York Times’ television listings had nothing more to say about the movie than “Happy broomstick, Andy.” I wonder now if that was a typo and the wiseass had meant “hippy” rather than “happy,” for SIMON is a movie that could only have been produced in that 12-to-18-month window when flower power collapsed under the weight of Altamont, Kent State, My Lai and Manson. Pipe dream: “The movement sure could used a groovy cat like Simon around to cast a few spells and make the world safe for strawberry alarm clocks and peanut butter conspiracies.” Reality: “We better get this nonsense wrapped by the end of the week and out to the drive-ins or we’ll hit the vanishing point when Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle start a panic in needle park, and I don’t think Sweetback or Shaft will be too sympathetic to our cause, uh, man.”

A trippy counterculture character study masquerading as a horror movie, SIMON is very much a product of its time but benefits greatly from Andrew Prine’s energetic performance in the titular role, an egotistical warlock who believes he is the reincarnation of a great magician but lives in a storm drain and ekes out a living casting spells for the wealthy where-it’s-at crowd. With the help of young Turk (George Paulsin) and spacey Luana (Brenda Scott, Prine’s ex-wife), the pill-popping daughter of the district attorney, he intends to force is way into the domain of the gods by stepping through a magic mirror (psychedelic visuals courtesy of Cinefx). Writer Robert Phippeny and director Bruce Kessler spend the first hour getting a groovy little vibe going, only to turn the trip into a bummer with a haphazard third act involving drug pushers and crooked cops. Suddenly, whole pages of the script appear to have been torn out prior to shooting, and even the most attentive viewers will wonder if they nodded off and missed something.

The late producer Joe Solomon specialized in offbeat youth films that dealt with social misfits -- "losers,” he called them -- and this is the fourth such film Dark Sky has rescued from washed-out VHS and TV print hell. As with the others (including WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS), they’ve done a splendid job. The picture is sharp and in the proper anamorphic widescreen ratio (in this case, 1.78:1), the Dolby 2.0 sound is fine, and English subtitles are available. The current trend of skipping audio commentaries in favor of shorter featurettes continues here, with no complaints from this reviewer. “Simon Says” is an entertaining 17 minute chat with Prine, who has a great attitude about the film considering it marked his departure from third-banana roles in “A” movies to a 35-year career in schlock flicks and special guest villain appearances on episodic TV. In the 12-minute “Making White Magic” the spotlight gets turned on Kessler, who went on to a busy career in television but is always enthusiastic when discussing his handful of interesting low-budgeters (ANGELS FROM HELL, KILLERS THREE, THE GAY DECEIVERS) and has fond memories of making SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. The original trailer and radio spot, running 60 seconds each, round out this groovy package.

2 comments:

Amanda By Night said...

I've seen this movie TWICE at the revival house. It's SO good. I mean, it's frickin' fantastic, and yes, so of its time. Andrew Prine came to both screenings (still looking so fucking hot!) and was great to listen to.

I was so glad to see this movie come out on DVD and have a copy. Wow, dreams can come true!

Anonymous said...

yes it is of its time, and yet it is wholly unique. love it. "effluvium"