The Film: Simon, King of the Witches
The Principles: Written by Robert Phippeny Directed by Bruce Kessler Acted by Andrew Prine, Gerald York, George Paulsin and Brenda Scott.
The Premise: Simon, a vagrant who lives in a storm drain, may in fact be an honest-to-Azathoth warlock. One night while in jail, Simon makes friends with a young man named Turk, who introduces him to a bunch of wealthy dudes who like to flirt with the counter culture. Simon performs a few spells for money, but when one of his customers gets him in trouble with the law, he uses his witchcraft in increasingly fucked up ways. Meanwhile, Simon falls for the daughter of the local district attorney and together they try to open a portal into another dimension.
Is It Good?: This is like watching the greatest dungeon master of all-time smoke a spliff before starting the next leg of your campaign, then proceeding to ramble in dizzying detail about the most arcane spells and creatures he can draw from memory. It’s impressive, confusing and ultimately really entertaining. That’s mostly down to star Andrew Prine, who was a major revelation in this role. He has the confident swagger and authoritative baritone of Orson Wells (who might have played an older, flabbier Simon if someone had offered him enough money, it should be said). And maybe this is weird to say, but I like his face. It’s unusual for a lead to look as weary as Prine does while still projecting the kind of magnetism required to carry a film (which he does, as he’s in almost every frame), but the dark circles under his eyes lend the performance an above-it-all feeling that betrays the actor’s engagement with the material. Ultimately, Simon comes off like a Nick Charles-type; someone who buries their deep bench of knowledge and skill beneath a feigned apathy (or alcoholism) to more stealthily accomplish his goals.
This was released two years after Easy Rider, and like a lot of slasher films that came out in the wake of Halloween and Friday the 13th, the wave of counter culture films that followed were a mixed bag, with some more effectively representing the genre than others. Ultimately, this is a decent, if not simplified and goofy representation of the sub-culture. The gay characters and stoners are all pretty broadly drawn, which makes sense in a film landscape that wouldn’t get either right for many years (or decades) to come. And as far as psychedelia goes, they save it for the finale, which makes overt stabs at 2001: A Space Odyssey on what I’m guessing was a slim fraction of that film’s budget. Up until that point, Simon’s magic is usually represented as a pulsating red circle that Prine threatens with a dagger, once again selling a ridiculous moment with total commitment.
Random Anecdotes: The actor who plays Turk bears a striking resemblance to Jessie Plemons (aka Todd from Breaking Bad). Although, in the best picture I could find of him, he looks a lot more like Matt Damon from Behind The Candelabra. Post-opp, Matt Damon.
The scene where Turk and Simon crash the home of a witch who lives in the Hollywood Hills is probably full of satirical jabs that are mostly lost on me. There are, however, a lot of boobs (young and old). And we get the iffiest scene in the movie, when Turk tries to sneak a peak at a meditating woman’s vagina as she lies comatose on a slab holding skulls in both hands. Oh, Turk!
Is It Worth A Look?: If your knowledge of 60s and 70s cinema begins and ends with the classics in the “New Hollywood” canon, you may have a hard time with this one, but I’d recommend it nonetheless. There are probably better films of this budget-type, but few are going to be as entertaining as this. And you can watch the whole thing on Amazon Prime or YouTube RIGHT NOW!
Cinematic Soulmates: Martin, Evilspeak, The Party.