Women in Horror Recognition Spotlight #15–Hungry Wives (aka Season of the Witch)

One-half of George Romero’s “lost” films made in the wake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (the other being the hippie drama THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA), 1972’s HUNGRY WIVES doesn’t get a lot of attention–or affection, for that matter, in genre circles, even from hardcore Romero-philes, most likely because it lacks the visceral excess of the DEAD films. But I’ve always found the film an underrated gem, one that’s not without its flaws but still a rewarding viewing experience.

Closer to the dark character study of Romero’s MARTIN, HUNGRY WIVES (which also popped up under the titles JACK’S WIFE and SEASON OF THE WITCH) centers on suburban housewife Joan Mitchell, played by Jan White. Ignored by her businessman husband and losing touch with her rebellious daughter, Joan finds her life spiraling out of control when she’s introduced to a local witch–along with a young, hunky “intellectual” at a party. Spurred by nightmares and hallucinations Joan allows her newfound fascination with witchcraft to become her main focus, creating a self-imposed delusion with ultimately tragic results.

Yes, HUNGRY WIVES is a conventionally uneventful film–there’s little in the way of on-screen action and some of the conversations run uninterrupted for several minutes–and the film’s low budget gives it a crude, cut-rate look. But viewers with a little patience will find a grim domestic drama with Romero’s typical sardonic wit, some clever visual motifs, and a pointed look at sexism, feminism, and the counterculture movement. Jan White’s Joan is not as memorable a protagonist as Martin or NOTLD’s Ben, but her muted performance captures her character’s midlife crisis without resorting to the usual cliches; her stiff yet expressive facial expressions reveal as much about her as the dialogue.

HUNGRY WIVES may not be an undiscovered masterpiece, but it’s still a worthwhile film deserving of a look.

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