This review is by Appellate Judge Tom Becker, Prince of Piranhas.
All I touch, I corrupt.
Another psychedelic relic from the early '70s, Simon, King of Witches gives us Andrew Prine (The Miracle Worker) as the titular character, an occulty type who lives in a storm drain. One rainy night, Simon ventures out of the storm drain and is promptly tossed in jail for vagrancy.
In the hoosegow, Simon meets dumb-as-dirt pretty-boy hustler Turk (locked up for "loitering," tee-hee) who's impressed with the mangy magus and introduces Simon to his fey and fashionable friends. Soon, Simon is a magician-for-hire at chic parties where drugged-out hippies rub shoulders with corrupt public servants and wealthy dilettantes. Aside from the occasional tarot card reading, it's not clear what magic Simon does; mostly, he makes long, incoherent, yet pretentious speeches and stares intently at a pretty stoner chick who happens to be the daughter of the local district attorney.
When a snotty, preppy drug dealer stiffs Simon on a tarot reading, Simon puts a curse on him. When the dealer scoffs at this, Simon sends an animated red dot after him. The dot first mesmerizes the pudgy purveyor, then pushes a big flowerpot on him, crushing his head in full view of some other stoners. Now, everyone knows that Simon is a warlock not to be crossed.
Unfortunately, Simon is more a Wiccan witch rather than a wicked witch. In the grand scheme of the universe, this is a good thing, since Wiccans, as a group, are not bloodthirsty, human-sacrificing, devil-worshipping loons. Unfortunately, when the film is called Simon, King of Witches, and the poster features a guy with a pentangle on his head, a dagger in his hand, and a scantily clad woman laid out on an altar holding a skull, with the tagline, "The evil spirit must choose evil," the relatively gentle business about gods, goddesses, past lives, and the forces of nature just aren't that compelling. Simon, King of Witches sets us up for a creepy ride through the dark side, but it ends up a trippy, dippy mess.
Most of the fault here is with the script. Screenwriter Robert Phippeny actually was a practicing warlock and did not want his story to denigrate into cheap horror thrills. I can't vouch for the authenticity of any of this, but I can say that the occult aspects are not played for shocks.
Oddly enough, however, we do get a fair amount of sex, and most of it isn't pretty. Simon actually does perform some ridiculous ritual involving a naked girl and a dagger, but when it doesn't work out, he tosses the dagger aside and settles for good, old-fashioned fornicating. Later, he attends a ceremony where naked women of assorted ages and body types dance around, while one-time Warhol pal Ultra Violet worships a goat. This scene—which features Turk dressing up and pretending to be Simon's chauffeur—comes out of nowhere and does nothing to advance the plot, but in fairness, at this point there's no plot to advance. After around the 37-minute mark, there is no story. We do get some late-in-the-game business about police corruption and a few crudely rendered hallucino effects, but these just add confusion.
What's most interesting about Simon, King of Witches is the '70-ishness of it all. Colorful clothing and man-scarves were apparently all the rage in the Nixon years, and everyone dressed up like fops. While there's a definite homoerotic undercurrent in the relationship between Simon and Turk, the film goes to great pains to assure us that both are red-blooded, skirt-chasin' he-men, especially Turk, the hustler. Turk goes so far as to ask Simon to put a curse on a "faggot" who's trying to pick him up at a party. For some strange reason, said "faggot" sees Turk, at a party hosted by his sugar daddy, tricked out as Simon's chauffeur and assumes the boy's for sale. Go figure. (Apparently, homophobia was big amongst non-traditional religion practitioners; see Judge Bill Gibron's review of Satan's Children, listed in the sidebar.)
For a pretty obscure film, Dark Sky turns out a pretty nice disc. The transfer looks good, though not great, but somehow a pristine, digitally remastered print would feel out of place here. This is a film that's earned its occasional speckles and near-intrusive reel-change markers. The audio is a solid 2.0 stereo track.
Generally, films like this end up with a bare-bones release, but Dark Sky has put together a fun package. We get two recent interviews, one with Andrew Prine and the other with Director Bruce Kessler, who both have fond memories of Simon. Kessler notes how difficult it was for the studio to market this, since they were trying to promote it as a witchcraft/horror film. This is obvious in a radio spot (over a neat poster and stills gallery) and the original trailer, both of which tried to play up elements that just weren't in the film.
Simon, King of Witches gives us everything we could expect from an early '70s "subculture" movie, except a cohesive story. It's a shame that with all the ideas kicking about and the quirky characters, no one could find something to do with them.
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