Simon, King of Witches DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Dark Sky Films
My name is Simon. I live in a storm drain. – Simon
Directed by Bruce Kessler
Written by Robert Phippeny
1971, Region 1, 99 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on June 24th, 2008
Andrew Prine as Simon
Brenda Scott as Linda
George Paulsin as Turk
Norman Burton as Rackum
Gerald York as Hercules
Ultra Violet as Sarah
If you think about it, witches have gotten the shaft in horror movies. Zombie movies are a dime a dozen. Same with vampire, ghost and possession flicks. And while they are much deserving of more, the lovable werewolf has a small piece of the horror pie. But witches and warlocks? Not so much.
Within the witch genre, the warlock (a male witch) has been completely underrepresented in movies. Sure, you have the female empowering Witches of Eastwick and the eye candy jar, The Craft, but, let's face it, not a lot of fear placed in those. What's even worse is, with the exception of Warlock (with Julian Sands and Lori Singer), I can't think of any enjoyable warlock themed movies. Hell, I don't even know if that has held up in the ten years since I've seen it last. So when Simon, King of Witches showed up at my door, I felt some justification in the air. Could there finally be some representation of my gender from sexist Hollywood? Could men finally break the hungry zombie or sexy vampire stereotype? Can our glass ceiling finally be broken?
The answer, sadly, is no.
Simon, King of Witches was released in 1971. Did I really think it was going to start a revolution now, if it barely made a hiccup back then?
Witches biggest problem, hands down, is its script. Apparently, it was written by someone with a heavy case of ADD, amped on speed after a three day coke bender. This script is all over the place. It's not necessarily bad, but structurally it is very uneven. There are some scenes that just do not make any sense, as they do nothing to either add to or further the plot.
The basic premise is more than interesting. Simon is a warlock who, for whatever reason, lives in a storm drain. One rainy evening, Simon is picked up and locked down for vagrancy. It is in the cell where he meets the young Turk (George Paulsin), who quickly becomes enamored with Simon and suggests he come to a party hosted by the legendary Hercules (Gerald York). An invitation Simon seemingly reluctantly accepts.
At the shindig, Simon meets — and becomes quite attracted to — Linda (Brenda Scott), who is not only one big stoner, but also the District Attorney's daughter. The two start a (more implied than shown) relationship, much to Linda's father's dismay.
Soon enough, Simon is quite the regular on the party scene, popular for the trinkets he pimps, as well as his various party tricks. One of Hercules party guests thought it would be funny to give Simon a rubber check for a reading. His reasoning being if Simon was truly a mind reader, he would know the check was bogus. After Simon is almost arrested for using the bad check as deposit on some new digs, his true power is finally displayed as he goes looking for what's deservedly his, and in the end, the whole city pays.
Where Simon, King of Witches fails is there are entirely too many ingredients in this witch's brew. Two drug dealing punks that are key to the movie's ending are only briefly introduced, and never fully developed. Simon's relationship with Linda, which is also key to the movie's finale, is also loosely explored. There are also scenes that go on entirely too long, and quite obviously are filler (although, with the exception of grandma, the coven of naked witches was quite nice — even if the scene had nothing to do with anything).
But where Simon, King of Witches succeeds, and succeeds big time, is in Andrew Prine's performance as the title character, Simon. It's not just his acting that elevates the film to something better than it could never possibly be without him, it's also his charisma that radiates. It would be quite easy to see him be the center of attention at any party, and the man wouldn't have to do anything more than just walk through the door. Prine, who has starred in such drive-in favorites such as Grizzly and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, brings seriousness to an otherwise campy movie.
And camp is fine, wonderful even, and if you read enough of my reviews, you'll find I'm a fan of it. Even with its lackadaisical script and some of its stereotypical trippy late '60s early '70s scenes, Witches is enjoyable. It's well directed, as director Bruce Kessler (The Gay Deceivers) keeps everything tongue-in-cheek throughout. Even when things become a little dark or "out there," there is something goofy to bring a smile or chuckle to your face. Honestly, how seriously can you take a man, Simon, walking down the street in skin tight jeans with a twelve inch dagger shoved in his pants up to the hilt. I don't care how menacing his look is, you have to giggle. Kessler has little bits like that throughout the movie, so even when things become almost too over-the-top, he's there to reel it back in enough to keep you interested. That skill, coupled with Prine's performance, is a perfect example of when talent can overcome a questionable script.
Simon, King of Witches isn't groundbreaking, is pretty damn dated in its effects and has its share of flaws. But there's something charming about it and, to some slight degree, even a little compelling. Well worth a rental, if only to watch Andrew Prine's kick ass performance.
Video and Audio:
Presented in anamorphic 1.78:1, has visible print damage, as well as grain throughout the movie and the picture ranges from a tad soft to "dang, that looks pretty good." But it's really hard for me to criticize Dark Sky for the picture as, overall, the print looks fantastic for a forgotten film from almost 40 years ago.
On a few occasions, the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack peaked a little high during the dialogue, but it's probably clearer than it has been since its release and could very well be the best presentation available.
English subtitles are available.
- "Simon Says" Featurette with Actor Andrew Prine
- "Making White Magic" Featurette with Director Bruce Kessler
- Radio Spot
In "Simon Says" Andrew Prine shows he is as likeable in real life as he is in the movie. The featurette is a pretty enjoyable and informative, interview considering it's only about 17 minutes. It's well worth a watch and may leave you, like me, wanting for more.
"Making White Magic" is a 12 minute interview with Bruce Kessler, and packs a good amount of information in its short running time. One of the more poignant parts of the interview is when Kessler discusses the reasoning he stopped making films and went to TV.
I have to credit Dark Sky for even bothering to offer these great interviews for a film that is virtually unknown. Plus, they brought in Red Shirt Pictures to do them. Red Shirt is the company behind the special features on such discs as The Evil Dead – Book of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead – Ultimate Edition and Near Dark: 2 Disc Special Edition. Bravo to both Dark Sky for bringing them in and Red Shirt Pictures and making it worth their while.
(Equipment includes a Mitsubishi WS-48613 48” HDTV, OPPO DV-970HD DVD player and Onkyo HTS-770 Home Theater System and, in some cases, a Sony 27” WEGA TV and a Sony DVP-NS50P DVD player.)
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