Thursday, December 19, 2013


George A. Romero, 1972
Starring: Jan White, Raymond Laine, Ann Muffly

A bored, aging housewife, Joan, is dissatisfied with her home life -- her 19 year old daughter has moved out and her husband constantly travels for work -- and is plagued by some strange nightmares. She sees a therapist, but it is no longer helping. She’s interested in a newcomer to the neighborhood, Marion, who claims to be a witch and gives Joan a Tarot reading. She soon has an embarrassing encounter at home, when she meets Gregg, her daughter Nikki’s young professor. Joan spies on them later when they are having sex and Nikki walks in on her masturbating. Infuriated, Nikki runs away. 

While she’s gone, Joan gets into witchcraft and casts a spell on Gregg, who she is secretly attracted to. Eventually she gives in and calls him; they begin an affair. Meanwhile, her awful nightmares about someone breaking into the house continue. She admits to Gregg that she believes she is a witch and wants him to help her with a complicated spell. He mocks her and she becomes hysterical. Later, during a nightmare, her husband unexpectedly comes home late at night and she kills him, thinking he is part of her dream. 

Romero’s third film after Night of the Living Dead and There’s Always Vanilla, he wrote and directed Season of the Witch, as well as being responsible for the cinematography and editing. During the first forty or so minutes of the film, it was in the running for Most Boring Film I’ve Ever Seen, but it eventually grew on me a bit more. The really frustrating thing about Season of the Witch is that so many of the element are compelling. A repressed woman is confused about her life, bored, and having an identity crisis. Romero is somewhat known for his social commentary and this seems to be a film about women’s rights in the ‘70s. It touches upon that, but ineffectively and inelegantly without addressing any of the questions or issues it raises.

The oppressive nature of suburban life has been explored numerous times throughout cinema, which is why it’s so disappointing that Season of the Witch is a failure. Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman and John Cassavetes’ Faces are just two examples of this subgenre that have limited, loosely sketched scripts, but are incredibly powerful. You could say that both of those films are slow (one of my graduate film classes hated me for forcing them to sit through all of Jeanne Dielman, for instance), but Season of the Witch is just agonizing. The film is essentially made up of poorly shot scenes of middle aged women having conversations in houses and cars. The dialogue is poor and the acting is worse. It livens up a bit in the third act, but not enough to save the overall film. 

All of the actors have limited experience, though Raymond Laine appeared in Jean Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death and Ann Muffly returned for Flashdance and Romero’s Knightriders. The acting is undoubtedly the worst part of the film with Romero’s bland script coming in at a close second. The characters are dull and unlikable. The lifeless cinematography, also not doing the film any favors, totally lacks style and almost has a made for TV movie feeling.

There are a few things to like about Season of the Witch, however. There’s an amusing sequence where Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays and Joan drives around town buying occult supplies. The numerous scenes of her performing rituals are downright silly, but the dream sequences have a certain power. One of the most interesting things about the film is the surreal opening sequence, where Joan has a strange, paranoid dream. These continue throughout the film, but perhaps not as often as they should. They are the catalyst for Joan accidentally murdering her husband, when she thinks she is fighting off a home invader, and they have a strangely menacing sexual tone to them. Lucio Fulci went a different direction with somewhat similar, though more stylistically advanced, nightmare sequences in Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, another film about a bored and possibly insane wife. 

Also known as Jack’s Wife and Hungry Wives, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a horror film. There are some slight references to the occult and Joan experiments briefly and awkwardly with witchcraft. Again, this isn’t my issue with the film. I love Bell, Book, and Candle and The Woman Who Came Back, both of which are occult-themed dramas focusing mostly on women’s feelings about identity and love. Two of Polanski’s greatest films, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, flirt respectively with madness and the occult but succeed because of their ambiguity. It seems like Season of the Witch attempts to go along a similar route - as does Romero’s later, more enjoyable Martin - but utterly fails. 

Though I can’t recommend it, Season of the Witch is available on a double feature DVD with Romero’s second film, There’s Always Vanilla, should you choose to punish yourself. Romero fans will want to watch this at least once to decide for themselves, but it is a disappointingly amateur effort. Maybe one day he’ll remake it, as he has loosely (and perhaps academically) suggested in the past. 

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