Sunday, March 23, 2014

Season of the Witch (1972)

          Following a brief detour into romantic comedy, of all things, Pittsburgh-based indie filmmaker George A. Romero—the man behind 1968’s Night of the Living Dead—returned to low-budget horror for his third movie, which has been released under several titles but is primarily known as Season of the Witch. Featuring such Romero signatures as dreamlike portrayals of violence and snarky lampooning of middle-class values, the movie generally has more attitude than it does impact, and it also takes quite a while to get going. Yet once Season of the Witch reaches cruising altitude, it presents a handful of dynamic scenes as well as a somewhat interesting portrait of the main character’s existential malaise. Headlining a no-name cast, Jan White stars as Joan Mitchell, the suburban housewife of a macho businessman who alternates between abusing her and ignoring her. Longing for meaning in her life, Joan visits a medium who turns out to be a full-fledged Wiccan, and this encounter leads to Joan’s experimentation with witchcraft. Also woven into the storyline are Joan’s adulterous affair with an obnoxious man and her fraught relationship with her teenage daughter, who considers Mom an impossible square and therefore doesn’t suspect that Mom’s up to something freaky.
          As a narrative, Season of the Witch—or, if you prefer one of the film’s earlier titles, Jack’s Wife or Hungry Wives—is something of a dud. Suffice to say, domestic drama is not Romero’s strong suit as a writer. Worse, the photography in most scenes is flat and ugly, though Romero somewhat predictably finds his cinematic groove during terror scenes. Another problem is that Joan doesn’t become fully indoctrinated into the supernatural world until about 55 minutes into the most ubiquitous version of the movie, which runs 103 minutes. (Unexpurgated prints are over two hours long, which seems like it would be an interminable running time given how much filler is present in the 103-minute version.) Despite these flaws, Season of the Witch is an interesting footnote to the career of a director closely associated with over-the-top gorefests, because Season of the Witch proves he can create disquieting effects without showing viscera. In fact, the movie’s creepiest scene is probably the vignette of Joan pleasuring herself while listening to her daughter get it on with a boyfriend in the next room. Calling Dr. Freud! The recurring trope of Joan dreaming about a masked home invader works well, too, and a shopping montage set to Donovan’s eerie ’60s song “Season of the Witch,” the inspiration for the film’s title, has some ironic bite.

Season of the Witch: FUNKY

1 comment:

Dale said...

I appreciate the fact that you didn't completely dismiss this as most have. I feel there's an interesting film in there somewhere but the circumstances of it's production derailed it. It's original title was in fact JACK'S WIFE. Hungry Wives was a distributor's sorry attempt to market the movie as soft core. The experience frustrated Romero more than a little if interviews are to be believed and he has stated he wished he had the opportunity to remake the project. To me,it's more of a time capsule of the Women's movement,alternate lifestyles (dabbling in the occult had a vogue in the late 60s/early 70s) and the downside of suburbia than a horror film and I find it intriguing,especially the frequent scenes when the main character's respectable home seems to be closing in around her and every fixture is menacing. By the way,the romantic comedy you mentioned was THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA and as far as I understand,Romero was a hired gun on that film,it wasn't his script or concept,he was shooting it for work and he'd rather forget it.
Anyhow,thanks for giving this movie a fair look.