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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Horror > Season Of The Witch/There's Always Vanilla (George Romero)

Season Of The Witch/There’s Always Vanilla

 

Picture: C/C-     Sound: C     Extras: C     Films: C each

 

 

George A. Romero, a name synonymous with the Horror genre, and definitely one of its most important innovators.  However, before he became one of a generation of great post-Alfred Hitchcock filmmakers in the genre, he worked on a variety of projects.  Coming out of the highly industrial Western Pennsylvania City of Pittsburgh, he began his work in industrial films and clever television commercials.  After the all-time independent phenomenal success of Night Of The Dead in 1968, Romero tried out two films before settling on the Horror genre for good, but they have been rarely seen.  Now, Season Of The Witch (1972, aka Hungry Wives and filmed as Jack’s Wife) and There’s Always Vanilla (1971, aka The Affair) did not work out and Romero is not very happy with them.

 

Season Of The Witch was pushed into being more of a Horror film by the licensing of the Donovan song without Romero’s involvement or consent; it became the title song by default in hopes of capitalizing on his previous hit.  Based on a short film likely lost that Romero feels was far better (think Twilight Zone length), the film is as much about womanhood as any of its plots about infidelity or the occult, which is surprisingly limited in scope considering the director’s reputation.  He was thinking in terms of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (the other key Horror film from 1968 besides his own), but this version never clicks and is only interesting for what sometimes works.

 

There’s Always Vanilla was issued before Witch and was an attempt by Romero to make a total break from Horror altogether instead of a partial one.  It was part of a cycle of often independently-produced counterculture films that arrived with the arrival of the then-new ratings system.  Richard W. Haines’ terrific book The Moviegoing Experience, 1968 – 2001 pins the time period from 1968 to 1979 and it is an early entry fitting right in with so many forgotten films.  It offers an expansion of the very naturalistic side of what Romero does so well in location shooting, so much so that you expect a monster to show up and break the peace.  Instead, a father and son come to a crossroads and a mutual female interest creates uncomfortable tensions.  It is not a great film either, but like Witch is not from lack of effort from the actors or Romero.

 

The anamorphically enhanced image for both films is about as good as they are going to get considering the poor copies that survive.  Romero was actually cinematographer for both and the work is distinctive enough.  Witch (1.85 X 1) comes from a surviving second-generation print, while Vanilla (1.78 X 1) comes from a professional analog NTSC video source.  I love how Romero gets into the scenes with angles when he wants to create distance from the characters and how their location in his mise-en-scene, while being so good at steady close shots of the actors to tell the story by letting them show their characters to best effect.  Too bad the screenplays were not stronger or more well rounded.

 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound on both are easily monophonic and show their age with background hiss, as well as distortion from the simple age of the latter generation sources that were used.  Needless to say the original sound masters are beyond lost.  Extras include trailers for Witch under that title and another under the Hungry Wives name, while Vanilla has a single trailer on its side.  You also get a stills gallery, opening credits for the Hungry Wives prints and Jack’s Wife credits.  A text biography on Romero and Romero featurette where he is candid about the films is on the Vanilla side.

 

In all, neither film is very strong, but even a failure from Romero (if we can call them his films in total because they are not director’s cuts or what was intended) is far more interesting than most of the new theatrical releases we will see this year.  When these were out of the way, he was back on track with the underrated The Crazies (1972) and the rest is history.  Yet, this double feature reminds us he had the talent to go into other directions and if either of these films had been successes, his career and film history would have been much different.  In the long run, he has had a great run in film and these are now footnotes in that career, but anyone who thinks he can only do Horror should catch both of these interesting failures.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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