Saturday, January 8, 2011

Season of the Witch [Hungry Wives] (1972) - 2/5

After the failed attempt to branch himself outside the horror genre with the romantic dramedy "There's Always Vanilla", director George A. Romero decided to return to the genre that made him famous with "Night of the Living Dead". Still this isn't a full blown horror film as the title "Season of the Witch" would suggest (that's just one of three titles this picture is known by). It's more like an artistic horror film along the lines of Romero's later and MUCH better "Martin" but "Season of the Witch" misses the mark making it a step back on the right track for Romero but another failure that quickly fell out of the public eye and into oblivion.

Filmed as "Jack's Wife" (and briefly released with that title), Romero opts to open the film with a surreal dream sequence. We are then introduced to Joan Mitchell, a bored housewife whose successful husband is never home due to being an workaholic and her daughter is grown and moved out the house. One of her friends introduces her to the world of witchcraft so she decides to become sexually liberated with a young college professor and begins to smoke pot and dabble in the occult.

The problem with "Season of the Witch" is that it's so damn slow moving and talky. It's mostly made of groups of women sitting around, talking witchcraft, occasionally smoking pot, and talking some more. It attempts to focus in on the dark repressed desires of a suburban housewife but just comes off as an extremely dull, pretentious drama with only vague horror undertones. I found myself bored almost as much as the character was in the film.

Romero breaks up the tedium with surrealist dream sequences where Joan is stalked by a devil masked killer. These scenes are well shot and suspenseful and are the only really memorable aspect about the picture. The first home video release of this film retitled it "Season of the Witch" and used a still frame of this devil-masked stalker to adorn the cover artwork to make people believed this was a balls out horror film audiences had come to expect from Romero. It was deceptive but at the same time a clever title change and marketing scheme as it worked on me. The title, cover artwork and the tagline "from the director of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead" suckered me right in. Romero directing a film about witchcraft? Sign me up! You can imagine my disappointment when I got a dull drab film about womens liberation from being measly housewives.

"Season of the Witch" just comes out confused as it's not entirely a horror film yet it's not entirely a drama or whatever other genre you want to put it in. The plot won't really appeal to horror fanatics or really anyone else for that matter. Distributors of the film were also dumbfounded on how to market it and they retitled it "Hungry Wives" for a majority of its theatrical release and gave it suggestive poster artwork to fool audiences into thinking this was a soft-core porn flick. Soft core fans would have been even more disappointed than horror fans!

This is definitely a step in the right direction for Romero as it is a return of his stylistic approach (sorely lacking in "There's Always Vanilla") and the subject matter has his trademark hidden meanings, it's just a damn shame it's such a borefest. The film is definitely one of Romero's least known films (though the title makes some people think the new film starring craptacular Nicolas Cage is a remake of this, which it isn't) and deservably so. "Season of the Witch", though shows signs of Romero getting back on track, still ends up being another failed project that will only appeal to Romero worshipers. The DVD release from Anchor Bay Entertainment packaged the film with Romero's other 'lost' film "There's Always Vanilla" for those of you who have to see ALL of this cult director's films, even the poor ones.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

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