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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Season of the Witch/ There's Always Vanilla
Season of the Witch/ There's Always Vanilla
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // October 18, 2005
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 27, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies:

Two of George A. Romero's lesser known seventies films finally make their way to DVD as an interesting double feature flipper disc from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Here's what lays beneath the silvery surface of this release…

Season Of The Witch:

Joan Mitchell (Janina White) is a miserable woman approaching middle age faster than she'd like to be and stuck in a dull marriage. She lives out in the suburbs, tending to the home where she lives with her boring and at times very abusive husband, Jack (Bill Thunhurst), and their sad-sack teenage daughter, Nikki (Joella McClain) who is more interested in getting laid and getting out of the house as soon as possible. She wants a change in her life, something to make it more interesting and more exciting than the lackluster existence she's been toiling through day in, day out, for the last two decades.

At first, Joan has an affair with a younger man, an acquaintance of her daughter, but this doesn't give her what she needs and proves to be really nothing more than just a passing diversion. Joan finds exactly what she's looking for when one day she decides to pay a visit to Marion Hamilton (Virginia Greenwald), a woman in town who makes her living as a tarot reader. What Joan doesn't know, but soon finds out, is that Marion is also the leader of a covert witches coven who practice the black arts unbeknownst to the rest of the people in the city. When Joan learns of this, she brushes up on witchcraft a bit and becomes quite taken with it. It only makes sense for her to follow up on her interests and join up with Marion and her fellow mistresses of the dark arts and soon she's practicing witchcraft herself.

Her involvement in witchcraft soon proves to be a very unhealthy diversion for Joan. The more she gets into it, the more she retreats into it and soon it's almost as if she's living in her own world. Her family starts to notice but she just pulls more and more into her strange shell things start to get really bad for her and hers…

Shot as Jack's Wife and then released theatrically as Hungry Wives, Romero's Season Of The Witch is an interesting movie, if a very flawed on. The first thing that becomes obvious is that this one was made fast and cheap. The production values are noticeably poor and the performances, aside from White in the lead and a few of the supporting cast members (look for Bill Hinzman in a small role) are nothing to write home about. The pacing also drags in a few spots and despite an interesting opening scene in which Joan sees herself in the mirror as a wretched looking old woman, it takes a while to get going. Once the movie picks up though, Season Of The Witch is an interesting movie. Romero, as usual, packs some politics into the film that give it an interesting metaphorical characteristic. Anyone expecting a movie on par with any of his Dead films will be sorely disappointed as this one is slower and more methodical in its approach, but if what you're after is a creepy and atmospheric film without a lot of flash, this one should fit the bill nicely.

There's Always Vanilla:

Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine) is a man in his early twenties who, after some time away, decides to head back home to his childhood stomping ground of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He's finished his military duty, and he's tired of working part time here and there and scraping by so he's going to go head home to try and do his own thing.

At first his dad is pretty insistent that he move in with him so that he can groom Chris to take over the family baby food business, but Chris isn't too interested in this prospect, opting instead to move in with an older woman he's just met named Lynn (Judith Steiner of Night Of The Living Dead). She works as a television commercial model and she's more than capable of taking care of him financially, and to a different extent, emotionally as well.

Things are going alright at first for the two, until Lynn finds out that she's pregnant with Chris' child. At this point, she comes to the realization that he's a bit of a bum and that she doesn't think he'll make a particularly good father. Things soon turn from bad to worse, as the couple starts to fight and Chris starts to get downright rude with the woman who is feeding him and putting a roof over his head, not to mention carrying his child.

The original director of this project, Rudolph Ricci, left half way through the shoot and that's where Romero picked up the reins. The result is a bit of a mess, but the movie is not without its moments and the movie stands as a unique testament to Romero's skills behind the camera even when working outside of the horror movie industry – a genre that he is almost entirely associated with. The highlight of the film is Judith Steiner's performance. She's as good an actress as she is pretty to look at and she's perfectly cast in this part, playing against Laine's character who, let's face it, is a bit of a bastard. It makes for an interesting soap opera of a film that kind of plods around and never really finds itself. Bill Hinzman shows up in this one again, as does John Russo of all people. Not a highlight of Romero's career but more an interesting curiosity.

The DVD

Video:

Season Of The Witch comes to DVD in a 1.85.1 non-anamorphic transfer (despite what the packaging claims, this puppy isn't 16x9 enhanced) that doesn't look too bad for an older, low budget 16mm film. There's plenty of grain and some print damage throughout but overall the quality is perfectly acceptable despite some softness in the image and some fairly faded colors. The movie doesn't look great, but it's watchable. The 1.85.1 framing on this release looks pretty tight in some spots and it wouldn't be a shock to find out that it was meant to be shown fullframe, but nothing is too seriously compromised by the cropping.

The second film, There's Always Vanilla, is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.77.1 widescreen transfer that is watchable but again, hardly superb. Again, the colors are quite faded, there's some grain and print damage throughout, and the image lacks a lot of fine detail. Considering the low budget 16mm roots of this one, it's not surprising to see it look as it does here, and you can't realistically expect this to look like it was made yesterday as it wasn't.

Sound:

Both features are presented in their original English language mono mixes and while these are definitely no frills presentations, the dialogue is clear and easy to follow. You'll probably notice some mild background hiss in a few scenes and the odd pop or two on the tracks but overall you shouldn't have any problems following the film. There's not a whole lot of range here but for what it is, the presentation works out alright.

Extras:

On the Season Of The Witch side of the DVD, we find an interview with Janina White, the woman who played Joan Mitchell in the film, entitled Season Of The Witch – The Secret Life Of Jack's Wife. This is an interesting and candid interview in which White explains how she landed the role and discusses her experiences on the set. She also discusses the issues she had doing nudity in the film and how she fought the producers to not release the film under the title of The Hungry Wives.

Up next, the best supplement on this release, an hour long documentary entitled The Directors – The Film's of George A. Romero. Through film clips, interviews with the people who have worked with him, a lengthy interview with George himself, and numerous narrated bits, this does a nice job of giving us all the biographical information on Romero we need and filling us in on a lot of his work. While at times it definitely could have gone more in depth on some issues, it's a very well rounded piece that will prove an interesting little diversion to those who don't know a lot about Romero or his movie, and subsequently serve as a nice refresher course for those who are already schooled on his filmography.

Rounding out this side of the disc are trailers for the film as Season Of The Witch and as The Hungry Wives, two different alternate opening credits sequences (also under those two titles), and a still gallery or promotional artwork and publicity photos shot for the movie.

On the second side of the DVD, we find the bonus features for There's Always Vanilla, which start off with a new on camera interview with George Romero entitled Digging Up The Dead – The Lost Films of George A. Romero. This one clocks in at just over fifteen minutes in length and is a nice sit down chat with George who delves into the strange production history of the film and explains how he pretty much hates the film nowadays. Despite his disdain for the movie, he does cover the making of it and he does a pretty good job of explaining just why he is so unhappy with the final product as it is now.

Rounding out the supplements on this side of the DVD are a trailer for the film and a text biography for Romero.

Final Thoughts:

While I'm sure everyone would have loved to have found the films looking and sounding better than they do here, Anchor Bay has done a good job bringing these two lesser known Romero films to DVD and the wealth of supplements are a nice touch (though commentaries would have been fun). Season Of The Witch/There's Always Vanilla comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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