Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 60 – SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)
Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 60:
Season of the Zzzzzzzzzzz…
By Nick Cato
In October of 1982, fans of the HALLOWEEN series were confused about the third film, which was titled HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. While technically it had more to do with the actual holiday than the others in the series, the film didn’t feature infamous slasher Michael Myers or star Jamie Lee Curtis. In time, the film gained a cult following and a slick blu ray edition has recently been released. But when the film was originally released theatrically, someone thought it would be slick to simultaneously repackage a 1972 film titled HUNGRY WIVES under the title SEASON OF THE WITCH and put it out the same weekend as the third HALLOWEEN film to swipe some of the successful series’ revenue (got all that?). And while I couldn’t find any proof they were successful, I can testify that the theatre I saw George A. Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH in (the now defunct Amboy Twin) was packed to the rafters…and the second showing sold out as well.
Despite being a huge Romero fan, I had never heard of SEASON OF THE WITCH (or HUNGRY WIVES) until I opened my local paper that Friday afternoon and saw an ad for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and, right across from it, and ad for another film simply called SEASON OF THE WITCH with the tagline, “An early work from the master of horror, George A. Romero!” And seeing this, I knew where I’d be that night; HALLOWEEN III was going to have to wait a day or two. I also convinced two of my buddies to put off their HALLOWEEN III screening and, knowing we were doing it for a Romero film, they joined me. In the pre-Internet days, there was no Googling to see if something was worth it or not.
I still have the black and blue-marks on my upper arms from being punched for a few hours after SEASON OF THE WITCH ended. And I couldn’t blame my friends for their anger.
The film takes forever to get moving. And, even then, it moves like a horse being dragged to the glue mill at high noon. We meet a bored housewife named Joan (Jan White) who has a husband who’s always away on business and a college-aged daughter who has the personality of a handball. Joan spends her days as a bored housewife and her nights at her neighbor’s boring parties, as well as a ridiculous amount of time walking through the woods in artistically-shot, trippy sequences. I think this was the first time I heard an audience start yelling for the film to get going so early on…maybe after fifteen minutes? As a Romero fan, I was getting annoyed at all the noise, but by the middle of the movie I had joined them.
The boredom is broken up with dream sequences of Joan being attacked in her home by a masked assailant. She seeks therapy for her nightmares but it doesn’t help and the dreams continue…as did the audience’s cheers for the masked assailant to kill her. Joan eventually visits a woman who gives her a tarot reading, and she develops an interest in witchcraft after finding out the tarot woman is part of a coven.
In the only sequence I enjoyed, Joan goes to some kind of underground hippie-owned store to purchase witchcraft supplies. I couldn’t stop laughing over a sign on the wall that said “Take Some Trash” posted over several garbage cans right inside the store! Over the years I’ve wondered if this was some kind of comment on the end of the hippie era, but now think it was just Romero tossing some goofy fun into this dreadful mess that I recently read is the only film of his even he wishes he could remake.
One amazing thing here: I don’t recall a single person leaving the theater. The film, while slow and painfully boring, does tend to keep your interest in the wake of the nightmare scenes. I think most audiences had a crazed bloodlust by the final minutes, hoping this masked intruder would finally decapitate Joan and end this celluloid torture session.
But in the “shock” ending, Joan is having another nightmare when she wakes; someone is pulling on the front door handle, trying to break in the house. She grabs a shotgun. The crowd I was part of went nuts…and I’m talking scream-out loud nuts! Most cheered for the guy breaking in to kill Joan…a few even begged her to blow her own head off! (Yeah, we New Yorkers are a happy bunch). But neither request happens. Joan ends up shooting the intruder.
And the intruder ends up being her husband Jack, back early from yet another business trip.
Boos erupted to the point I was partially deaf for a good half hour.
I still can’t remember what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure Joan joins the tarot reader’s coven. Either way, some older woman next to me said, “Man, that was really for the birds!”
And despite being a George Romero fanatic, I had to agree. SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. HUNGRY WIVES, a.k.a. JACK’S WIFE) is a slow, tedious, boring-as-you-can get feature that even the most die-hard horror fan will have trouble getting through without a fast forward button. Being in a suburban grindhouse made it kind-of fun (and barely bearable), but I’d love to know how other audiences around the country reacted to this “early work from the Master of Horror.”
I’ll take another dozen of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD films before sitting through this thing again. Until next time, I’ll be putting ice packs on my upper-arm bruises…
© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato