Season of the Witch (1972) George Romero’s little-known low-budget drama examines the real-life horrors of domestic malaise (I suspect it took more than a few fans of Night of the Living Dead by surprise). Jan White plays Joan Mitchell, a housewife approaching middle age and trapped in a loveless marriage to a self-centered businessman. Her boring suburban existence is shaken to the core after she learns one of her neighbors is a practicing witch. Her idle curiosity turns to a fervent desire to learn about the dark arts, which ignites a voyage of self-discovery and a release of long-repressed urges. As she begins to exert her awakened sense of self, she enjoys a brief affair with a free-spirited college professor.
Season of the Witch demonstrates Romero’s range as a filmmaker, illustrating his potential to do more than straight genre films. The fact that the film isn’t populated with household names works to its advantage. Everyone seems ordinary enough to make this work. Much like Martin, which followed several years later, we’re never quite sure if there’s anything supernatural going on with the main character, or if it’s purely psychological. Although we see Joan practicing spells, we’re left to speculate whether the resulting phenomena are coincidental. It’s an underrated, intellectually challenging film that deserves re-evaluation.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray (Region B), DVD (Region 2) and Amazon Prime
Scum of the Earth (1963) Herschell Gordon Lewis (working under the pseudonym Lewis H. Gordon) wrote and directed this roughie, disguised as a morality play. Naïve young high school senior Kim (Allison Louise Downe), unable to find money for college, falls in with the wrong crowd, and is reduced to posing for lewd photos. Before she knows it, she’s trapped in a vicious circle, in which she’s forced to continue posing, to meet the demands of her horny classmates. The leader of the pornography ring (Lawrence J. Aberwood) bullies her into staying, spewing lines like, “You’re damaged merchandise, and this is a fire sale.” Scum of the Earth has everything you’ve come to expect from an H.G. Lewis movie: bad acting, cheap sets and awful dialogue (But you’ve got to hand it to him; Lewis knows his audience). As long as you know what you’re in for, it’s good, trashy fun. The Something Weird DVD is loaded with extras (it’s worth a look for the drive-in between-show reels alone). The film is presented on a double bill with another “roughie,” The Defilers (I recommend skipping this one, though).
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Blood Salvage (1990) When their motorhome loses a wheel, a disabled beauty pageant contestant (Lori Birdsong) and her family (including John Saxon as her dad) end up at a backwoods repair shop, run by creepy bible-thumping mechanic Jake Pruitt (Danny Nelson) and his two obtuse sons. Jake doesn’t make money repairing vehicles, but by staging accidents and harvesting the victims’ organs (Ray Walston plays the leader of the black-market organ syndicate). Unfortunately, this rednecksploitation flick (filmed in Georgia) sounds better on paper. Despite a cool premise and some inspired casting choices, the overall results seem tepid. Its biggest crime is that it doesn’t push the envelope enough, with the goriest bits obscured by a darkened set. It’s amusing in spots, and not a complete waste of time, but if you’re looking to see something about travelers who’ve wandered off the beaten path and lived to regret it, you’re better off with The Hills Have Eyes or Motel Hell.
Rating: **½. Available on Amazon Prime
Ghostkeeper (1981) In this Canuxploitation horror film by director/co-writer Jim Makichuk (shot around Lake Louise, in Alberta), three friends on a snowmobile trip end up in an old abandoned resort. Their troubles begin when the lodge isn’t as empty as they initially suspected. They meet the caretaker (Georgie Collins), an elderly woman who lives with her grown son, and harbors a dark secret about a spirit that resides within the walls of the resort. Ghostkeeper borrows heavily from The Shining, (including the “surprise” ending) but with none of that film’s suspense. There isn’t much reason to recommend this, unless you enjoy a glacial pace, bickering leads, and unpleasant characters all around (especially the loathsome male lead). The text prologue hints at the Native American ancient wendigo legend, but fails to deliver on the promise (I’m still waiting for a satisfying movie about the malevolent spirit).
* In some sources, including the poster above, the director’s name is spelled “Makichuck,” but the consensus appears to be “Makichuk.” Take your pick.
Rating: **. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime