‘The least qualified person to understand a dream is the dreamer.’ (Therapist, Season of the Witch)
Also known as Jack’s Wife or Hungry Wives, Season of the Witch was a strong political and stylistic statement by George A Romero, who chose to critically explore female identity during some of the most dynamic years of the feminist movement while eschewing the zombies that had made him famous in favour of witchcraft. It’s tricky to say whether or not Romero was fully aware of the sort of statement Season of the Witch was making in relation to women’s liberation. Stylistically, however, it is clear that Romero was fully conscious of the break he was making, at least temporarily, with Night of the Living Dead.
The film was originally released as Hungry Wives – the trailer of which is included on the DVD as a special feature – and was marketed as a sexually charged exploitation film, with the emphasis on the sexual, violent and supernatural mischief bored housewives will get up to if left unchecked. The film’s star, Jan White, recalls (in an interview also included on the disc) the strong protests she made for the film’s title and trailer to be changed, as she thought audiences would be disappointed that the film was actually quite ‘avant-garde’ and not a ‘porno’ as they may have been led to believe. But whether the film is seen as art or exploitation, Jan insists that Season of the Witch is Romero’s take on women’s liberation.
The film follows the disintegration of bored housewife Joan (Jan White), then her subsequent rejuvenation as a witch through the discovery of dark sexuality and the occult. Joan is already seeing a therapist at the beginning of the film, but her mental state continues to decline as her nightmares are increasingly infused with her waking life. It is not until the leader of a coven introduces her to witchcraft that she begins to take some control over her existence: practising rituals and spells under her Catholic husband’s unsuspecting nose in the living room, seducing her daughter’s lover, and ultimately, engaging in an act of violence that seems to represent an extreme example of Romero’s take on the potential of feminism. This fear is also echoed through characters’ verbal references to two other films of the time, Rosemary’s Baby and The Graduate and in a visual reference in the opening sequence to Belle de jour. All three films also revolve around a bored housewife and the sexual, supernatural or violent potential within her: ‘all of them witches’!
Stylistically, the film immediately posits itself as a leap away from generic horror flicks. Its emphasis on dream and nightmare sequences push it further in the direction of Buí±uel than, say, Friedkin. One of the most visually powerful sequences in the film has Joan half-masturbate, half-sob on her bed while a storm rages outside and lightning illuminates the recurring motif of the ornamental bull on the dresser. The graphic images of Joan’s writhings keep a strange rhythm with her daughter’s loud orgasm coming from the room next door.
Regardless of Romero’s political intentions with the film, he proves himself a master of the unheimlich. The house he chose to shoot in was an existing cosy family home, which was used for the film with very little set dressing. The gnomish lamps that Romero repetitively features with dramatic lighting were apparently the clincher that made Romero decide on this particular house as his location. Thus, an unadulterated, real family home is transformed by Romero simply through lighting, repetition and soundtrack into something supremely uncanny. The family space is suddenly secretive, unsettling and a place of impending sexual violence. It is this creation of the uncanny through such extraordinarily simple stylistic methods that is the great success of the film.