Wednesday, June 27, 2012

B-Movie Review: “Season of the Witch” (1972)

If you ever wondered what it would have been like had George Romero scripted “Desperate Housewives,” well…here you go. 

Every now and then, you’ll encounter a movie that really, really straddles that fine line between being a cheesy, amateurish B-movie and a no-budget indie wonder that almost (almost!) accomplishes what it sets out to, despite being filmed for what appears to be five or so nickels.

Well, folks, “Season of the Witch” just so happens to be that kind of movie. Before we begin evaluating the movie in-depth, I must preface this review by reminding all of you that this IS NOT the 2011 Nicholas Cage movie, but rather, a supernatural horror flick directed by George A. Romero from the early 1970s. Outside of having the same title, the movies have absolutely nothing to do with each other - and before you ask, this movie has nothing to do with “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” either.

As we all know, George Romero is the mastermind behind “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead,” the two most influential zombie movies ever. The rest of his directorial oeuvre, unfortunately, ranges from incredibly underappreciated (“Martin”) to pretty overrated (“Creepshow”) to EXTREMELY overrated (“The Crazies”) to why-god-why, why-do-these-movies-exist (“Monkey Shines,” “Bruiser,” and “Survival of the Dead.”) “Season of the Witch,” filmed in 1971 and released in 1972, was Romero’s third film, and a movie that clearly suffered from major under-budgeting issues. While most parts of the movie are really cheap and corny looking, it’s also sort of evident that if Romero had more money and a cast that actually gave a shit, this thing could’ve turned out to be a really fantastic little horror flick. As a result, “Season of the Witch” stands out as one of those rare bad horror movies that, at certain junctures, manages to transcend its own campiness and cheesiness, resulting in a movie that, despite all of its shortcomings, is almost enjoyable in a non-ironic manner.

Our movie begins with a middle aged woman walking through a graveyard (not that it’s exactly how “Night of the Living Dead” started or anything.) After awhile, she starts getting assailed by tree branches (think, a “PG” version of the tree attack scene from “The Evil Dead") while some funky sound effects start ringing all over the place. As the scene progresses, she begins following a guy in a business suit, who smashes her in the face with a brick, leads her around on a leash and locks her in a doggy kennel. Of course, it’s the main character of the film having a dream about her husband, which is followed up with a brief psychiatry session shortly thereafter.

From there, the main character - named Joan, by the way - heads over to brunching session with the rest of the housewives in the neighborhood. They gossip awhile about some people they know being witches (that’s kind of important to the plot) and then play a game of Mad Libs. And, uh, the Mad Libs part isn’t as important to the plot of the movie.

I've heard of "branching out" before, but this is ridiculous!

In the next scene, Joan envisions some old hag starring at her in a mirror, while her husband does sit-ups. From there, we’re introduced to their daughter, and gauging from the insane amount of make-up she’s wearing, I’m guessing that about half of Romero’s budget for the film went towards eye shadow expenditures. Following that, we have a brief tarot reading scene, which segues into a scene where Joan, her daughter, her boyfriend and one of Joan’s friends sit around getting sloshed and talking about voodoo. From there, the boyfriend tries to convince Joan’s friend that she’s smoking a marijuana cigarette in a scene that goes on forever, although it’s sort of funny because not only does the boyfriend look a little bit like Topher Grace, Joan’s daughter sort of looks like a blonde version of Donna from “That 70s Show.”

So, Joan’s friend has a freakout, and she confronts her daughter’s boyfriend about that mean-ass prank he just pulled. There’s a brief mother-daughter talk, and Joan gives her friend a ride home. Once she gets back to her house, she starts thumbing through a book called “How to Be a Witch” (remember kids, subtlety wasn’t invented until 1973) and starts listening to her daughter have the S-E-X during a thunderstorm. Joan’s daughter walks in on her being all voyeuristic and creepy, and in the next scene, we’re informed that she was so weirded out by her mom’s behavior that she ran away from home.

We get another psychiatric session, and Joan tells her husband about the night before. He responds by slapping her and threatening to “kick some ass.” We’re introduced to some detectives that searching for the missing daughter, but since this is the only scene in which they’re in the movie, it’s not really that important. Joan decides to meet with her daughter’s boyfriend - a dude that works at a nearby college - and he accuses her of trying to “put the make” on her. So, yeah, I guess you know EXACTLY where this movie is headed from here. After that, Joan has another dream, this time one where she’s getting chased around the house by some guy wearing the shittiest rubber mask you’ve ever seen. She wakes up, and surprise! She was just having another reverie about how much she hates her husband.

"Hi, honey, I'm home! And wearing a shitty Halloween mask, just because!"

The next scene is probably the best in the entire movie, a montage sequence where Joan walks around town accumulating spices and herbs for some sort of Wicca ritual while Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays in the background. She goes home, rubs some ashes on her forehead, and does this ceremonial thing with a teapot. Her husband comes home and threatens to kick even more ass, while she does some sort of written spell. A few moments later, he walks back towards her, and apologizes for smacking her around the evening prior.

From here, we cut to a bridge game, and then to a scene with Joan walking around under the moonlight, in a bright yellow robe while holding a candle. Apparently, she’s doing some sort of ritual to conjure up her daughter’s boyfriend, but after waiting for a few hours, she decides it’s easier to conjure him up via the phone, instead. SPOILER: when he arrives, they don’t spend the evening playing Boggle.

Who wouldn't want to buy their parsley and sage from a suave fellow like this?

Next scene, Joan is talking to a tarot reader about joining the local coven. She has another dream about the masked dude, which is followed up by a scene in which her daughter’s boyfriend (in a fisherman’s hat and the goofiest red, white and blue jacket you’ve ever seen) decides to come on over for some…uh, company. She tells him that she’s a witch and she convinces him to partake of some kind of conjuring ritual. Her daughter’s boyfriend laughs her off, and suggests that they do some “ballin’” instead. And man, do we need to bring that term back into the American lexicon, or what?

So, Joan does this really lengthy paper-burning ritual, which results in a cat coming into their basement. Her daughter’s boyfriend gets bored, so he decides to force himself upon her instead. We get a series of confusing quick cuts after that, which involve Joan doing some gardening before the shitty mask man makes another appearance in the movie. After pulling a shotgun out of the laundry (isn’t that a line from an Army of the Pharaohs song, btw?) she blows the demon away, but what do you know? The masked intruder was really just her husband. The odds, huh?

Eric Foreman, seen here sporting his most patriotic ensemble.

The movie concludes with Joan officially joining the neighborhood coven, while some cops at the crime scene say misogynistic things. The final image of the movie is Joan (with an absolutely awe-inspiring bouffant ’do) at another women’s meet, just starring into the camera.

So…yeah, “Season of the Witch” ain’t exactly on par with “Dawn of the Dead,” but as far as bad horror movies go, it really isn’t all that terrible. There’s a smidge of suspense as the movie progresses, and the narrative is at least solid enough to keep your interest until the flick concludes. However, there is simply no denying the cheapness of the flick, which is obviously the results of Romero being severely underfunded for the project. Rubber masks, sorcery scenes with virtually zero special effects and especially the hokey acting - this film is a case example of a director being seriously hindered by a lack of project capital, and in virtually every scene of the movie, you can tell Romero was hurting for money.

Eh, Eye will believe it when Eye see it...

Romero has gone on record saying that this is the only movie he’s made that he would like to go back and re-shoot, and after watching the flick, I think that’s something we can all agree upon. While not necessarily being a horrible movie in any regard, “Season of the Witch” is the kind of flick that could’ve been SO much more than what it ended up becoming. At times enjoyable, but stilted as an overall picture, Romero’s movie is a moderately entertaining oddity from the early 1970s - pending you have a taste for the off-kilter, you may find yourself entertained, but at the end of the day? Yeah, you’ll wish Georgie had waited a few years until he had all the resources necessary to make the flick, too.

Two and three-quarters stars. Jimbo says check it out.


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