SEASON OF THE WITCH And The Dissatisfied Woman
When Season Of The Witch was released in 1973, its original title was Hungry Wives. The term is an apt one, nailing both the protagonist’s insatiable thirst for flesh and power and a social commentary on the shifting role of women in society. George A. Romero, no stranger to socio-political commentary in his films, sandwiched his witchy unpacking of feminist evolution between two genre examinations of social unrest; zombie-fest The Night Of The Living Dead and bio-horror The Crazies.
Witch opens with a trippy seven-minute dream sequence, laying down the thematic foundation with oozing symbolism. Housewife Joan (Jan White) stumbles her way through a thorny wooded path behind her aloof husband (Bill Thunhurst), past a crying baby, into an idyllic home where she is leashed and kenneled by another man. A moment later, she’s in her own home, fielding a sales pitch from a shady realtor on the homemaking lifestyle she already has. She turns to a mirror and sees a monstrously aged version of herself in its reflection.
Romero lays the message on thick, but it’s effective: what does “wife” and “mother” mean for the modern woman? With a husband whose presence is intermittent and domineering between business trips, and a college student daughter (Joedda McClain) who treats her as invisible and disposable, the middle-aged housewife’s identity (which is tethered to her family) is on shaky ground.
At a routine dinner party, Joan chats with another housewife who casually mentions that she dabbles in witchcraft. “In today’s world, anything goes,” she quips. And she’s right; Romero’s film was one of many satanic horror films of the 1970s rearing the cinematic demon spawn that Rosemary’s Baby birthed the decade prior.
A 1966 issue of Time Magazine slapped “Is God Dead?” on its cover. Church wasn’t as much of an obligation as it had been in the post-WWII era. Feminism’s second wave was in full swing; arguments for Roe v. Wade were being made in the chambers of the Supreme Court, and the role of housewife shifted from June Cleaver to a more independent woman.
Witch‘s Joan is the avatar for that shift. She follows suit with her pagan acquaintance following their conversation and picks up a chalice and altar cloth from the local witchcraft shop. With every black candle she burns, every hex she casts, the wife and mother asserts another refusal to be defined by her family — for better or worse. As Joan enters into a dark alliance with demonic forces, she engages with counterculture, enters into an extramarital fling, and gains a personhood whose victory depends entirely on the viewer. As with occult horror films like The Witch (2015), there’s a catharsis within the void reserved for a gender that has often been defined, but rarely gets to define themselves.
George Romero wrapped on Season Of The Witch the same year that Ms. Magazine launched, and a year before the Combahee River Collective called attention to the lack of media coverage for POC women. The film contains a unique snapshot not just of 1970’s Pennsylvania, but of a shifting and confusing landscape. The season of the witch that the Martin (1977) director depicted was one of a rough conversation that women were having with themselves about who they were and what that meant. They decided that it wasn’t enough — as the original title asserts, the wives were hungry.
We are still in an age when “anything goes.” But there’s a double-edged sword of freedom where exploration into our darker sides is just a click away. As Joan found out, we may not like where that path leads, or what we see looking back at us in the mirror.
George Romero’s Season Of The Witch (1972) is available on Shudder in the US, UK, and Canada.
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