A cold, cold January night in Boston for the WFNX premiere of Season of the Witch at the Regal Fenway in Boston (near Fenway Park, of course) and a packed house got to experience the kind of horror film that was common place in the 1960s and early 70s when American International Pictures put the works of Edgar Allan Poe on the big screen, a throw-back to the era of the Universal monster movies from the ’30s and ’40s.
Director Dominic Sena (he of Kalifornia/Swordfish/Gone In 60 Seconds and Janet Jackson videos fame) pays tribute to the past masters. It’s interesting how Wikipedia writers can’t wait to get information on a film up before its opening and the collection of reviews there has Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir referencing Corman’s Poe films, thinking that Sena should have indulged Corman more and other elements less.
My perspective is that slasher thrillers have done serious damage to the genre. I Know What You Did Last Summer, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Halloween all spawned series of their own, and that probably won’t happen here. This appears to be a one-off ode to multiple blood and gore genres, from Zack Snyder’s cataclysmic swordfight indulgence 300 – which they could have cut and pasted for the first portion of this movie, to The Mask Of The Red Death.
Beginning in the city of Villach in 1235 AD and the killing of women for “consorting with the devil”, witchcraft (all spoken in 2011 English, naturally), to Nicholas Cage and Hellboy/Beauty And The Beast star Ron Perlman found 800 years later in 1332 crusading for the Catholic Church. If the Vatican had a problem with the Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, it surely won’t be happy with this dark history being utilized for commercial purposes, but the film jumps quickly as if it is a movie version of the Quantum Leap TV show trading in the hundreds of weapons for a bit of Medieval sword and sorcery…and the Black Plague to boot.
The great Christopher Lee is hardly recognizable as Cardinal D’Ambroise, from Dracula to Star Wars to this, it’s good to see director Sena indulging true monster movie fans their heroes. Castles and carting the witch to a far-off monastery the stay in Wormwood Forest is a cross between the first Predator movie and The Wolfman. There are some genuinely terrifying scenes and some great atmosphere but at the end of the day this economical 98 minute adventure might not hold up to repeated viewings.
Season of the Witch misses the A mark, the flaws dragging it to a B or a B+, but in this age of slasher flicks and buckets of blood, all involved get credit for giving it the good old college try. Irish actor Robert Sheehan as Kay could reprise his role to keep the Key of Solomon from falling where it doesn’t belong, but don’t count on it. The sacrilege, the demon-hunting, the wolf-stomping, dagger-driving fog-enshrouded mystery will probably earn its forty million dollar production costs back as the youthful audience in Boston gave it more of a thumbs up than the critics appear willing to.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.