Season of the Witch

Wicked Wednesday: Season of the Witch (1973)

There seems to be something about horror movies called Season of the Witch that really piss people off. This week’s George A Romero film has quite a few things in common with the Halloween instalment it shares its name with.

For one, they’re both breaking from their moulds. Halloween III was notoriously the first in the franchise that didn’t feature Michael Myers. For that, it was slated by both fans and critics. Thankfully it’s been resurrected in recent years. I, for one, adore it and all its zaniness.

While Romero’s Season of the Witch isn’t hated exactly, it’s certainly frequently overlooked. There are pockets of his filmography that horror fans tend to simply skip over for lack of the undead.

Following the comedy There’s Always Vanilla, Romero returns to the genre that made him famous, if only with a lighter touch.

Joan is a bored housewife. She’s ignored by her husband and seemingly lives a rather unfulfilling life. When she learns that a practising witch has moved into the neighbourhood, Joan begins to develop an interest in the occult.

Soon after, Joan meets Gregg, an acquaintance and casual sexual partner of her freewheelin’ daughter, Nikki. The tension between Joan and Gregg quickly grows, both emotional and sexual.

Nikki soon flees the house after she learns that her mother has heard her having sex with Gregg one night. Distraught, Joan tries to locate her runaway daughter. This brings her even closer to Gregg, especially once she starts dabbling in magic.

Using her new powers, Joan begins to pull Gregg nearer to her while her husband is away yet again. But she’s also plagued by nightmares of being attacked in the night.

When things finally come to a head for Joan, it’s difficult to tell what she really wants. If the tragedies in her life are an accident or of her own making.

Night of the Living Dead had a lot of different subtexts. On the surface, though, it could be discounted as a zombie film, making it easy for most people to digest (hehe). If you didn’t agree with Romero’s politics, you can focus on the zombies. But Season of the Witch is not subtle. At all.

Throughout the film, there’s a constant repetition of several themes and imagery: the use of a leash and collar around Joan’s neck, the masked intruder, the ways people manipulate each other with different forms of “magic”. Romero has plenty to say on it all: the toxic masculinity that still lingered from the 50s, the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, and the struggle of living in a world in between the two.

It had a surrealist take on 70s feminism that reminded me of similar genre movies like The Witch Who Came from the Sea that followed a few years later. Both, incidentally, are bizarre and a bit uneven. Though there’s something very powerful about stories from that era when they are focused on themes of liberation.

Apparently the movie suffered greatly before its release. The budget was slashed. The distributors dismantled it and tried to turn it into softcore porno. There are certainly reasons why this movie isn’t as successful as some of Romero’s other works. But I think the themes and the way they are attacked (plus some great acting from Jan White as Joan) make this memorable, if soft and understated.

Season of the Witch probably won’t please most Romero fans who are looking for more in the way of the gore in Land or Dawn of the Dead. But if you love Romero for his ability to bring real-life horrors into the supernatural realm, there is definitely something to be gained by watching it.