Thursday, March 23, 2017

#2,325. Simon, King of the Witches (1971)

Directed By: Bruce Kessler

Starring: Andrew Prine, Brenda Scott, George Paulsin

Tag line: "The Evil Spirit Must Choose Evil!"

Trivia: Some of the female extras in the black mass sequence were actual practicing witches

My name is Simon. I live in a storm drain. When it rains, most people go in. But I go out. Some people call me a warlock, but I really am one of the few true magicians”.

This is our introduction to Simon (Andrew Prine), a most unique individual. See, Simon claims to be an honest-to-goodness magician, with power over good and evil. While out and about one evening he’s picked up by the cops and arrested for vagrancy, and during his time in jail he meets fellow prisoner Turk (George Paulsin), a young man who will eventually become Simon’s closest friend. Shortly after the two are released, Turk introduces Simon to Hercules (Gerald York), a well-respected socialite; and Linda (Brenda Scott), the pretty daughter of the city’s District Attorney (Norman Burton).

At one of Hercules’ patented soirees, Simon wows the crowd with a series of parlor tricks. But when Colin (Angus Duncan) stiffs him by writing a bad check, Simon demonstrates to a skeptical Hercules just how deep his powers run, putting a curse on Colin that takes effect rather quickly. The truth of the matter is that Simon really does control the dark forces, and believes himself a God. To leave his earthly existence behind, Simon has been trying (for several lifetimes, according to him) to open a portal through which he will cross into another realm, taking his place among the immortals. 

Alas, the law and some corrupt politicians, including Linda’s father, are conspiring to put Simon in jail for good. Bringing these powerful people to their knees would be a challenge for any other man. But for Simon, it should be a piece of cake!

Andrew Prine is one of those actors you may not know by name, but have probably seen in a number of movies and TV shows (I thought he was strong in 1974's The Centerfold Girls, and he’s appeared on television in everything from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color to Freddy’s Nightmares). As the lead in Simon, King of the Witches, he shows us just how talented he truly is, creating a character who is so utterly fascinating that, much like his buddy Turk, we immediately want to know more about him. Prine is both funny and charming in the party sequence, where Simon reads tarot cards and tries to sell some of his trinkets, but it’s the various scenes in which he is performing hexes and spells that the actor really struts his stuff; the curse he puts on Colin is incredibly potent, as is the love spell he casts for Turk, who longs to romance a married woman. Best of all, though, is a later scene in which Simon and Turk visit a witches coven, where the Queen (Ultra Violet) is in the midst of conducting a ceremony (Simon thinks the whole thing is nonsense, and his reaction to it all leads to one of the film’s funnier moments).

The script was written by Robert Phippeny, who was himself a practicing Warlock, and his insight into this strange and mystical world helped the movie immeasurably. That said, I would categorize Simon, King of the Witches as “horror light” (in an interview Prine himself said neither he nor director Bruce Kessler set out to make a horror film). There are moments that definitely cross the line into the macabre; after each incantation, Simon is hounded by a malevolent spirit in the form of a floating orb, and there’s a freaky psychedelic sequence towards the end that looks as if it was lifted straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Simon, King of the Witches is not the kind of movie that will scare the pants off of you. Instead, it’s a clever, engaging, and sometimes hilarious motion picture about the black arts, and I for one enjoyed it.

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