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Friday, November 5, 2010

Review: Simon, King Of The Witches (1971)

There's a war goin’ on in the streets, man, it's a heavy scene!  Can a mangy mystic named Simon protect his dope-pushing devotees from the Gestapo in blue and manipulate the forces of nature to become one with the Gods?  Well if the path to divinity involves the perfect alignment of pretentious jargon, special mirrors and sacramental sex magic - then the answer here is a resounding yes.

This strange, quirky little picture was released in 1971 and bears trace of it in every scene.  Originally advertised as a film about occultism and black magic, in truth the film is more awash in the groovy Technicolor scene of the Love Generation and its quest for personal freedom.

"My name is Simon, I live in a storm drain" proclaims our groovy subject as he's hauled swiftly to the clink in the opening scene.  Simon believes himself to be a reincarnated white witch who will perform “no wonder for free”.  Upon release our warlock of Woodstock befriends an urban cowboy type by the name of Turk, who introduces him to some chicks who are “in a weird trip”, as he puts it.  Indeed.  Things go well with the group until a posh drug dealer stiffs Simon on a tarot reading and the wannabe wizard puts a curse on him.  A red ball of light goes after the scoffing dope dispenser and puts him into a trance, then pushes a flowerpot onto him, crushing his head.  Everyone now realizes that Simon is not so simple and obviously not one to be crossed.

He's then introduced to Sarah, Queen of the Witches (Andy Warhol alumni Ultra-Violet, exposing ample cleavage) whose initiates are quick to remind flirtatious Simon and Turk of their virtuous magical intent.  “Don’t touch me, I’m a religious object”, explains one member. 

The magus of mischief eventually tries to perform some magic of his own with an au naturel alumnus, but when things don't go as planned, it quickly dissolves into some by-the-numbers nookie.  Later, our solicitant sorcerer attends a ceremony that includes naked women of assorted ages (and figures) and things begin to really take a whirl toward the weird.  Insert your mandatory psychedelic orgy augmented by bespectacled grandmothers and a live goat!  Simon viciously derides the group and mocks their proceedings before quickly making a getaway.

Turk and his blithesome band of burnouts soon convince Simon to help them overthrow the corrupt police by magical means. However, when things falter and the magician begins to fall for the DA’s daughter, our free-lovin’ freeloaders start to doubt his powers  resulting in the film’s ambiguous climax.

Tucked into Simon's irresistible bag of tricks is a pound of philosophy and a half-ounce of esoterism.  Earnestly delivered dialogue such as “I see what I WILL to see” and “I'm a magician, not a psychic!" pepper the proceedings as frequently as friskings do at a Grateful Dead concert.  The loose script leaves much room for poking fun at genre cliché, while strangely still trying to maintain an air of authenticity during its more wondrous whims.  Admittedly, by the end the whole thing becomes too muddled to make any deep impressions, but Simon, King Of The Witches still manages to conjure up some endearment.

This probably won’t be making any favorite lists, but as a satirical reflection of the times it's very enjoyable.  Laced with glowing mysterious orbs, topless 'magnetic charging', enlightened speeches, brooding deadpan delivery by our star David Prine and enough hippie paraphernalia to stock an entire headshop, this little nug of campy celluloid blurs the line between horror and mysticism.  If you appreciate quirky little trips into the twilight zone, then you might want to kick off your go-go boots and give Simon a spin.  “A once in a lifetime cosmic event has occurred!”  Directed cheaply and on the fly by David Kessler.

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