Entertainment reflects our communal and individual fear and desires. Supernatural horror has long served as a repository of our deepest nightmares. Symbolizing that which we dread and secretly welcome, occult cinema explores aspects of the human condition that other artistic forms lack both the desire and archetypal images to study. Allowing us to come to grasps with mortality and what, if anything, comes after death, horror movies encourage us to explore the unknown properties of our minds. Dark fantasy serves as an aesthetic and philosophical bridge between reality and the unknown, questioning the nature of existence while entertaining us on a surface level. This was no secret to the first storytellers, nor has it been ignored by the millions of modern savages who visit move theaters hungry for dark miracles. And while many nay-sayers have predicted the end of supernatural storytelling, claiming that it is outdated, those of us aware of whispers in the dark know better. The occult has lost none of its penchant for challenging and entertaining us, as pertinent now as in the days of Nordic revenant myths. What HAS changed somewhat is the manner in which the supernatural element in an otherwise naturalistic film is treated. Whereas the earliest Gothic novels/British ghost stories and classic monster movies often distanced audiences from occult menaces by placing them in foreign locales and in the past, the 1970s saw a rise of spectral realism in both mainstream novels and films. At the same time that author Richard Matheson was transplanting the supernatural from European country sides to the house next door, filmmakers were doing likewise, finding horror at the breakfast table instead of the bone yard. The consequence? Horror in a realistic social context -- and with a psychologically valid approach -- became more believable. Which brings us to Dark Sky's latest chiller. Simon: King of the Witches is no Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist. It neither seeks or manages to evoke the profoundly disquieting 'quiet' terror of truly superb supernatural terror. Neither does it possess the dramatic focus or thematic scope of these pictures. Yet it achieves a sense of awe and believability within a context that manages to feel both realistic and fantastical. Funky, freaky, and frightening, this surrealistic mind-jack is a hybrid of expressionism and experimentation -- and fun as hell.

Surprisingly serious in its approach -- even when one gets the feeling that there is a sense of dark humor and absurdism in the characterization and plot -- the script is intelligent in its treatment of both the uncanny and characters which we're made to care about. One of the greatest achievements is director Bruce Kesler's ability to evoke the supernatural and echoes of magic from the very midst of the seemingly everyday. This lends the movie emotional credibility while it challenges us to wonder if there isn't more to our world than what we immediately see, hear, taste, smell or touch. Similar to the 'visionary' horror literature of such mystically inclined authors as Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, Simon adheres to the dictate that occult secrets lurk just beyond/within the fabric of our otherwise mundane world. The story, merging empathetic characters with impressively researched (if not always convincingly conveyed) ritualistic magic, focuses on Simon (Andrew Prine), a 'real' magician struggling to unearth forbidden secrets and achieve the power of the gods. One evening rain forces him up from his storm drain home and after being arrested for vagrancy, he is befriended by Turk, a likeable if na�ve male prostitute. Attending a party with Turk, Simon tells a business man's fortune for some quick cash. When he discovers that the check is worthless, Simon (provoked by people doubting his powers) casts a death spell on the fellow, with the understanding that his bad karma will be shared with the man who tempted him. Meanwhile, he indulges in sexual magic with the wistful Linda, the drug-addled daughter of the local DA. When this leads to the police trying to set Simon up, the Warlock surrenders to rage and evokes a dark magic that spells doom for those around him.

Simon, King of the Magicians is remarkable as a successful hybrid of various genres, approaching magic and the occult in a folksy, home-spun manner that comes across as charming, suspenseful, and comedic - without falling into self parody or over indulgence. This isn't so much a horror film as a mature examination of human relationships and the uncanny -- a disturbing yet strangely tender portrait of ritualistic and ceremonial magic lent force and color by the convincing performances of characters who live and breath and 'convince' us of the unseen. The magic of the film is effective because it is viewed through the window of a realistic context. Most impressive are the relationships and their enigmatic shadings, with both people and the occult forces at work respected. The bizarre and the aforementioned humor provide balance to the darker aspects. If the author and director spent time crafting their characters into believable personas, someone here also did more than a little research into the theory and practice of various occult sects, myth, and magic. While not faithful to occult tradition down the line, several of the general principles of magic in general are authentic, reminiscent of Alister Crowley and "The Order of the Golden Dawn" and other classical texts/beliefs. This gives some of the otherwise far-fetched concepts a lining of believability that, along with Simon's character, is simply engrossing. No, the film isn't without faults: the mysticism is occasionally played too thick and the FX are laughably outdated, but there is enough passion and novelty to keep the plot afloat. While horror fans with strict ideas of what constitutes a genre film may wonder what they've stumbled into, and gore-mets are sure to be disappointed by the film's brew of fantasy and social satire, audiences looking for a thoughtful story about magic will be glad they visited Simon's mystical world.

Simon is presented by Dark Sky Films in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print sports some grain here and there, but for the most part the film looks wonderful. Colors are rich and vibrant, skin tones realistic. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is clean and doesn't suffer from any distortion or background interference.

Extras are thoughtful and colorful, exploring the film's creators and publicity in a spirit both investigative and celebratory. "Simon Says" is the most significant feature, an interview with Prine wherein he discusses his role as Simon, how he earned it, and the working ethic of Kessler. Most interesting is his mention of Robert Phippeny, an actual magician. This sense of investigation continues in "Making White Magic," focusing on Kessler. The director discusses why he wanted to make the film and how he handled the material, particularly the occult themes. Promotional extras include a Radio Spot and Theatrical Trailer.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Dark Sky Films
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review