SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES
U.S.A. | 1971
Directed by Robert Kessler
Starring
Andrew Prine
Brenda Scott

George Paulsin
Color
| 99 Minutes | R
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC)
Dark Sky Films
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7
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
Simon (Andrew Prine) is a practitioner of "white magic", but when things take a bad turn he resorts to witchcraft, with dire repercussions...
   
Simon, King of the Witches is an emblematic cult movie. While watching it one can't help but get the impression it was made and designed with a cult audience in mind. Certainly it's odd mixture of counterculture humor and fantasy made it a hard sell in 1971 the end result being that it failed miserably at that time. Time has been kind to it, however, and it's now possible to appreciate it as a unique piece of fantasy cinema just don't let the title fool you into thinking it's meant to be a horror movie, that's all.
    Andrew Prine (Grizzly) has a rare opportunity to carry a feature film, an assignment he clearly relished. Prine is absolutely ideal as the quirky Simon he's deadly serious about the magic arts and while he generally uses these powers for entertainment (always with a price attached, of course) or for the greater good, his vindictive side manifests itself when he seeks revenge on those who have wronged him. Prine plays the various sides of the character with subtle charm and wit, always ensuring that the audience is on his side. The supporting cast (including Prine's ex-wife, Brenda Scott) tends to be amateurish, but this adds to the film's quirky charm. The film has a nicely improvised air to it, and the rocky supporting players often seem to have taken their stoned-out characters to Method-level extremes.
    Director Bruce Kessler (The Gay Deceivers) directs with a light touch. The ultra-low budget doesn't allow for a great deal of production gloss, but Kessler makes good use of varied camera angles and movements, and he even manages to pull off the notoriously difficult "breaking the third wall" rule without coming across as obnoxious. Kessler clearly wasn't aiming for a true horror film, and it pays to approach the film with this in mind it ultimately emerges as a funny and engaging flight of fancy more than anything else. The use of quaintly outdated visual effects (including a laser light show that evokes the ending of Kubrick's monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey) adds to the film's fairy tale vibe, though some moments of nudity and sexuality give it a more adult edge. As such it is something of a one-off in its genre and is sure to appeal to fans of the offbeat.

Simon, King of the Witches makes its DVD debut courtesy of Dark Sky. As noted above, this is not a particularly glossy film it was shot in a period of days on a shoestring, and it shows. That said, Dark Sky have done a capable job of presenting the film on DVD. The 1.78/16x9 transfer looks as good as the elements will allow. The source materials show their age: there's plenty of grain, some scratches and nicks are in evidence, and the cigarette burns at the reel changes help to evoke the film's grindhouse origins. Within these limitations, the image is acceptably sharp and colorful it never looks exactly stunning, but it is likely as nice as the film has ever looked in any incarnation. The film is fully uncut. The mono English soundtrack is also acceptable dialogue is easy to understand, and English subtitles have been included for the hearing-impaired.
   
Extras include a trailer, a radio spot and two new featurettes which feature interviews with Prine and Kessler. Both men come off as likable, unpretentious sorts, and both seem pleasantly surprised that the film has finally found an audience. 8/20/08
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