Simon Sinerstari (played by Andrew Prine) opens the film by telling us that although some people call him a warlock, he's really a modern day wizard, a practitioner of some ancient rituals and a man of some power in these regards. When the picture starts, Simon lives in a drain pipe but soon enough the cops pick him up for vagrancy. While he's spending the night in jail he meets a young man named Turk (George Paulsin) who takes an unusual interest in Simon and his magic.
The pair strikes up a friendship and once they get out of jail Turk introduces Simon to some of his friends starting with a hipster named Hercules (Gerald York) who pays Simon to perform at a party he's hosting. While he's at the party, he meets a cute little number named Linda (Brenda Scott) with a penchant for dope who also happens to be the daughter of the local district attorney. As time moves on and Simon becomes a bigger and bigger part of the scene, he does a few favors for some of the players but when Simon gets screwed over on a payment owed to him he proves that his powers are no joke. He and Linda indulge in some bizarre ceremonies and soon a narcotics officer is trying to frame Simon. This doesn't go over so well and it forces Simon to cast a few spells to exact his revenge and save his own skin.
Not so much the straight up horror movie that the trailer and packaging make it out to be, Simon King Of The Witches is a trippy film whose success lies on Prine's excellent lead performance and on a few key set pieces involving occult rituals. The character development and plot aren't particularly strong but Prine is good enough that he does make for a fascinating character and the periodic doses of 'magik' give the picture enough visual flair that it is a fairly entertaining movie. Prine's Simon is much more of a beatnik/reclusive hippy than threatening black magician and he's not really the villain of the film as the marketing campaign might have you believe. There's also a strange comedic vibe running through the film involving some of Turk's sexual escapades and some of Simon's smart ass dialogue.
Highlighted by a strange scene of ritual involving naked ladies and a goat, Simon King Of The Witches is more psychedelic than frightening but it's never the less quite an enjoyable and entertaining seventies cinematic oddity. The camerawork is stylish and at times surrealist and the optical effects used in a couple of scenes are the weird icing on an already very strange cake.
Simon King Of The Witches looks good on this DVD, presented here in what looks like its original aspect ratio framed at 1.78.1 and enhanced for anamorphic sets. There is some grain and a bit of mild print damage throughout but the key word here is minor, as it isn't ever really distracting or annoying. Some mild shimmering pops up now and again but color reproduction looks good and there aren't any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono track comes with optional subtitles in English only. The quality of the track is decent and while there is a bit of background hiss present in some spots, it never comes close to overpowering the dialogue or the fantastic score from Stu Phillips (best known for Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls).
The first, and most interesting, supplement on this release is a featurette entitled Simon Says (16:52) that is essentially a sit down chat with the film's star, Andrew Prine. This is an interesting look at Prince's work on the film as he talks about how and where he got the inspiration for the way that he played the part in the film as well as what it was like working with his real life wife Brenda Scott as well as with Bruce Kessler.
After that, check out Making White Magic (11:57), an interview with the film's director Bruce Kessler (that looks like it was probably shot at the same time as his featurette on The Gay Deceivers judging by the location). The seemingly always jovial Kessler discusses the film and its history with good humor and he talks about how he came on board the project, why he wanted to make this film, and about its release history.
Rounding out the extras are the films original theatrical trailer (0:59, in anamorphic widescreen, no less), a vintage radio spot (0:58) that plays out over a slideshow of lobby cards and one sheets, some super cool animated menus and chapter selection.
Simon King Of The Witches is a wild mix of seventies psychedelics and occult quirk that makes for a truly quirky watch. Andrew Prine is great in the lead and the film might work better as a cultural artifact than an actual horror picture but regardless, it remains an interesting and well made movie and Dark Sky has done a very nice job on the DVD debut.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.