Director: Bruce Kessler
Code Red Releasing

By the early 1970s, actor Andrew Prine had appeared in numerous films and television series, but 1971’s SIMON: KING OF THE WITCHES finally gave him a starring role, and he soon found himself top-billed in a string of horror and exploitation drive-in pictures. Directed by Bruce Kessler—who had just done THE GAY DECEIVERS also for Joe Solomon’s Fanfare Corporation—SIMON is not so much a horror film as its exploitative advertising implied, but rather an unusual occult piece with a very early 1970s vibe.

Simon (Andrew Prine, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) is a self-professed warlock and magician who lives in a storm drain (“When it rains most people go in, but I go out,” he explains to the camera). After being arrested for vagrancy, he befriends a young hustler type named Turk (George Paulsin, THE BAT PEOPLE) who introduces him to a number of wealthy socialites who are constantly having cocktail parties. Simon sells these phony socialites talismans and tells their fortunes, but when one of them stiffs him with a bounced check, he conjures up a hovering shiny globe which causes a heavy flower pot to fall on the guy’s head. Simon is also having a sexual relationship (involving some kinky ceremonial antics) with Linda (Brenda Scott, who was married to Prine several times but they were divorced at when this was filmed), the drug-addicted daughter of the strict DA (Norman Burton, PLANET OF THE APES, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) who tries to intervene. With a narc attempting to frame Simon, his revenge schemes go so far as to turn city officials against each other and bring on the spell of a perpetual rainstorm.

A very trippy film experience, SIMON: KING OF THE WITCHES is actually full of black humor, and although the poster and ad mats probably had theatergoers thinking this was about some Svengali-like Manson clone, the lead character is hardly malevolent, but rather a peaceful recluse hurled into a society of greedy morons who bring on his vengefulness. Bearded and often chomping on stogies, Prine carries the picture as Simon and is well cast as the modern day warlock, an aging hippie who acts like a kid on Christmas when one of his spells succeeds. Prine is also subjected to some heavy-handed, sometimes nonsensical dialogue which he seems to relish delivering.

Some of the more humorous scenes include Simon witnessing and soon mocking the satanic ceremony of a coven of mostly naked witches (presided over by Warhol factory actress Ultra Violet holding a skull atop her head), Simon using a stereotypical homosexual character for an incantation that requires him not to be turned on by the opposite sex, and when Turk lets Simon work his magic to mend his persistent erection, albeit nervously. When Simon enters his mystical mirror towards the end of the film, we are treated to some very psychedelic optical effects which illustrate his journey into another dimension. The suitable music score (at times, it’s almost Phibes-esque) is by the great Stu Phillips, who worked on “The Monkees” TV series, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and numerous biker films. The film was released through Joe Solomon’s Fanfare Corporation, and he served as executive producer.

SIMON: KING OF THE WITCHES was released on VHS in the 1980s by several video companies, most notably from Unicorn, in dark muddy transfers which were only passable in those long-gone days. Dark Sky Films released the film on DVD (with some welcomed extras) a few years ago, and now Code Red has licensed it from Westchester Films (the Shout! Factory insignia also appears on the back cover) for a spectacular-looking Blu-ray. A brand new 2K scan has been made from the original interpositive, with the film being in presented in 1080p HD in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Colors are distinct and lush, and the skin tones are realistic. Detail is strong throughout, contrasts look perfect, and filmic grain is consistent yet never heavy. The print source is in perfect condition, and this is a terrific presentation. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is very good, with perfectly adequate range. No subtitle options are offered on the disc. Like the Dark Sky DVD, this presentation of the film runs a full 99 minutes, longer than previous videotape releases.

Director Kessler is on hand for audio commentary—moderated by Damon Packard and Jeff McKay—as he mentions how he got onto this project and being given the script by Robert Phippeny (NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY), the location shootings (including Griffith Park in Los Angeles and the MGM studio lot), that it was not a favorite with critics, and that it took roughly 20 days to shoot. Kessler seems very proud of the film, complementing the technical aspects of it, but he wasn’t happy that the distributor added “King of the Witches” to the original “Simon” title (despite this, Kessler liked Solomon very much). Kesler also touches upon working on television (a great anecdote about doing the “Chopper” episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER), doing KILLER’S THREE with Dick Clark, and his second unit work on Howard Hawks’ RED LINE 7000. Kessler is also on hand for a video interview (19:00) as he mentions bringing the project to Joe Solomon (as he was under contract to Fanfare) and how he feels the film was very unusual at the time. He verifies that they removed one of his scenes, discusses the casting and the casting-call for the nude ceremony scene, and talks about some of his other 1970s projects (including the telefilms CRUISE INTO TERROR and DEATHMOON). Kessler also introduces the movie (2:35) along with Code Red’s “Banana Man” and two different trailers for the film are also included. The Blu-ray of SIMON: KING OF THE WITCHES can be ordered at the Ronin Flix Website. (George R. Reis)