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Simon Says (2006)

Director: William Dear
Starring: Crispin Glover, Margo Harshman, Carrie Finklea, Greg Cipes, Kelly Vitz, Bruce Glover, Blake Lively
Rated R  Running time: 86 minutes
Released by Lionsgate

For the life of me, I can't understand why people have so much hate for Simon Says. A quick internet search of reviews reveals that many critics, pro and amateur alike, really, really hate this movie. In fact, the phrase "worst movie of the year" came up almost as often as the word "turd."

It's not that bad, though I'll admit that I almost didn't make it through the first act.

A van load of horrible teen characters are en route to a campsite deep in the mountains so that they can engage in all the drinking, drugging, and fornicating that horror movie adolescents are predisposed to doing. On the way, however, they stop at a run down gas station operated by a pair of identical twins named Simon and Stanley (Crispin Glover).

Let me stop right here. It's really only one-half of the pair, since the murderous Stanley massacred his entire family, brother Simon included, years earlier. I'm not giving away any secrets here, since we see the act in black-and-white flashback early in the film. I'm giving this detail away not as a spoiler, but as a way of helping potential viewers make sense of the poorly edited, confusingly told first act.

So after pissing Stanley off good and proper, the teens settle in to their campsite. And fortunately for us, we don't have to endure much more of their shenanigans before Stanley arrives wearing a ghillie suit and commanding an arsenal of farming/mining implement-based murder machines.

It's at this point that all the horrible acting and dialogue, terrible editing, and sloppy storytelling that makes the first act so hard-to-watch can be forgotten. Simon Says transforms from a subpar direct-to-video teen horror outing into an outrageously violent, over-the-top splatter toon with Glover serving as a kind of human version of Wile E. Coyote. I enjoyed it so much, I think it makes the truly terrible first act worthwhile, though few viewers will make it through.

Director William (Bill) Dear has a pretty interesting resume, having directed HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS, TIME RIDER: THE LEGEND OF LYLE SWANN, NYMPH, and 1974's awesome NORTHVILLE CEMETARY MASSACRE. With such an experienced director on board, I can't fathom how the first part of this movie (and the finale as well) became such a hacked up, silly, and confusing mess.

 If not for the first act, I would say that SIMON SAYS is a highly recommended horror-gore-comedy. As it is, however, it's really a bad movie with a terrific second act.

The Magic Sword (1962)

The Magic Sword (1962)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Gary Lockwood, Anne Helm,
Liam Sullivan
Public Domain

A lot of people are probably familiar with THE MAGIC SWORD from its roasting on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." I like MST3K, but this was another occasion when they got it completely wrong. THE MAGIC SWORD is a 1962 fantasy/adventure aimed at kids, and is one of Bert I. Gordon's best movies. In fact, I'd rank it right up there along with FOOD OF THE GOODS in terms of sheer entertainment value.

A long time ago, in a magical kingdom far, far away, and orphaned prince named George learns that the lovely Princess Helene (Anne Helm) has been kidnapped. The culprit is Lodac (Basil Rathbone), an evil wizard with a pet dragon and a chip on his shoulder. George is determined to rescue Helene, but it won't be easy. To reach Lodac's stronghold, George will need to survive the "seven curses" which protect the wizard from harm. Luckily for George, his stepmom happens to be a good witch who gives George the fastest horse on the world, an international crew of knights bound to serve George, and the magic sword of the title.

The movie certainly has its flaws. It's very cheap and has a hokey story. Some of the acting is less than Oscar caliber, and the sets appear to be made mostly of cardboard. However, the movie's greatest strength is the wild and inventive imagination of Bert I. Gordon. While Gordon's effects straddle the line between silly and unconvincing, they are a lot of fun to look at.  For THE MAGIC SWORD, Gordon went all-out. There are giant ogres, foggy and deadly swamps, pinheaded henchmen, tiny people, dragons, and more. Maila "Vampira" Nuirmi plays a deadly hag (you won't recognize her because she is disguised in heavy makeup), and Angelo Rossitto (FREAKS) appears as one of Lodac's minions.

The film's leads, Gary Lockwood (also in Kubrick's 2001) as George and Anne Helm as Princess Helene are decent, but are consistently upstaged by a pair of legitimately great actors: Estelle Winwood and Basil Rathbone. Winwood, as the slightly daffy, but powerful, good witch Sybil gives a lighthearted comic performance that seems like it could have been an inspiration for the series "Bewitched." Rathbone, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying himself as the evil wizard andall-around bad guy Lodac. This was made during Rathbone's late career anything-for-money stage. So while it was just another paycheck for Rathbone, he still manages to turn in a memorable performance as the film's heel.

I'm a little shocked to see that this movie has a 4.0 rating at IMDB. I think the critics, like MST3K, are missing the point. THE MAGIC SWORD is a light, fun, and colorful kid's movie that isn't intended to be treated so seriously. Over fifty years after it's initial release, it still has the power to deliver goofy thrills to kids of all ages.

THE MAGIC SWORD is in the public domain, so a lot of ugly versions are circulating out there. However, if you want to see the best quality version, I highly recommend seeking out the MGM disc. It's the best looking version we'll probably ever get for this movie.