Thursday, 5 August 2010

Season of the Witch (1972)

Country: USA

Jack's Wife
Hungry Wives

In the wake of Night of the Living Dead (1968) George A. Romero found his career as a filmmaker stalling. It would be three years before his second film - the bland and indifferent drama There’s Always Vanilla (1971) saw the light of day. This has rightfully become a forgotten obscurity and the same fate befell his third film Season of the Witch (1972). It seems Romero was intent at this point in his career in distancing himself from the horror genre in an attempt to maker serious films with a ‘message’ for an artier audience. Unfortunately the results are boring and tedious. Although he uses the generic device of witchcraft for his third film one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is a horror film. It is in fact a very tepid domestic drama that lacks the vitality and energy of his landmark debut film. It does improve on Night of the Living Dead in one key area though - this is a far more professional production. The editing is intriguing and interesting and the sound design is less clunky. The acting is also far superior, but these aspects add mere decoration to a slow moving and rather preachy stab on Romero’s part to make some kind of half assed feminist statement.

Romero’s narrative strategy is a little more daring here and relies to a far greater degree on the subjective realm of dreams. One such dream sequence opens the film as our protagonist Jan White (Joan Mitchell) has an increasingly surreal vision of her entrapment in a loveless marriage and the dominance of her husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst). Romero’s fractured editing gives this opening a jarring and unsettling quality and the barren and skeletal woodlands the characters walk through bespeaks of desolation and alienation. In films such as these the protagonist usually escapes from the stultifying conformity of real life into a rarefied, liberating and exciting dreamscape. Romero bravely subverts this and offers a particularly bleak and depressing existence for Jan in which her dreams are a contributory factor to her dissatisfaction. The suburban milieu Jan finds herself in is presented as tacky, facile, and empty. This is a tasteless and self satisfied world of material gain in which sexually deprived and frustrated women impotently rage at the excesses and pleasures of the younger generation. Jan’s sexual repression is also rooted in her Catholic background, and her boredom reaches an apex when she visit’s Marion Hamilton (Virginia Greenwald) a woman who claims to be a witch and who subsequently seems very happy with her lot.

Perhaps it is Marion’s assured confidence that attracts Jan to explore the subject of witchcraft further. Marion has a sense of placement, a satisfaction brought about by her faith in the dark arts, and Jan would appear to be desperate for the same kind of freedom. Unfortunately this layer to the film which allies the carnivalesque qualities of witchcraft to female subjectivity and liberation is hijacked by Romero’s interest in hippy era philosophy. The hip college lecturer and the spaced out daughter playing drug infused mind games with the middle aged sex starved women is almost embarrassing in its ideological earnestness. The entire sex sub plot featuring Raymond (Gregg Williamson) seriously harms the film - not least because Raymond is a symbol rather than a character, and is the most repugnant creation in the film. This episode illustrates to Jan that her need goes beyond the sexual desire she had been repressing. Romero’s feminist treatise is given an unfair advantage from the manner in which he depicts the male characters. There are only two in the film and they are totally repulsive. In addition to Raymond there is Jack who is a boorish, aggressive wife beater whose true love in life is the business trips that keep him away from dull suburban orthodoxy. We have no option but to root for Jan and hope she achieves some kind of epiphany, as usual for Romero, he offers the audience no choice but to follow his argument.

There are one or two concessions to the horror genre - the blurring between fantasy and reality is a critical component of the film. This blurring of the means of representation is what actually frees Jan from her frightfully drab marriage. Jan becomes convinced by the power of the supernatural even though nothing in the film indicates its existence. Her dreams are plagued by a mask wearing home invader, and the delicate use of mirrors which offer a nightmare prophecy of her faded looks all add an atmosphere of subtle scares which is very welcome. The inclusion of a scene featuring Jan heading to the city to purchase items for her black magic ritual accompanied by a song by Donovan is an unexpected highlight. But Season of the Witch never rises above the mundane, which is somehow fitting for a film of this topic. Romero seems totally unaware that artier films can also be fun, exciting, and entertaining.

© Shaun Anderson - 2010


  1. I never did get to see this one, but I have a feeling it falls under the same category as KnightRiders, the only two Romero films I dont give much of a damn about. I started seeing Knight Riders...but I wasnt clicking with it for some reason and turned it off...I guess Romero is best when he is doing horror.

    Samething happened with Bruiser which I didnt like much either, whenever he deviates from horror, it just doesnt work for some reason!

  2. You havent missed much - this is listelss and boring. I havent seen KNIGHTRIDERS for many years, but I seem to recall that one also dragged on and on and on...I agree that Romero is best when he's working in the horror genre, but like most filmmakers he has pretensions beyond his niche.

  3. Talk about pretensions ouf of my niche, I normally do horror/comedies, and now Im doing a socially conscious film about a cook who is getting fired and having a nervous I felt kind of identified with Romero while reading your review. I guess Im doing the same thing he did, I just hope my results are dull or boring, well, at least Im trying my best not to make it that way!

    Ill be sure and send you a copy once its finished, see what you think of it. DIY at its best. :)

  4. Well its always worth trying to make a film outside of your comfort zone - but the worst crime is to make a boring or dull film in what is ostensibly a medium for entertainment. I'd love to see your films Franco if at all possible, and I'd be glad to give them a review...good luck with your latest project.

  5. Thanks Shaun! I let you know as soon as I finish it so you can check it out! Im still in the middle of shooting the thang!

  6. It has some slow parts, but I like Season. Natural performances, with some great dialogue. I love when they give Jan White's friend a fake joint.

    Funny at times, and it's powerful that (after striving to find her identity, and settling for "witchcraft") in the end she's still merely known as "Jack's wife".


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