When Season of the Witch came out in the movie theaters in January 2011 it was greeted with not-so-great reviews. After watching the film on DVD, it’s not clear exactly why people were so rough on it. It’s a B-movie for sure, but it’s also entertaining.
A fairly standard horror movie set in the 14th century, Season of the Witch, directed by Dominic Sena (who also worked with Nicolas Cage on Gone in 60 Seconds), may not be the most original movie ever made, but it has an engaging cast and is set in some great-looking locations — the movie was primarily filmed in Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. The two leads, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, have a great rapport. These two should make more buddy movies together.
Behmen of Bleiruck (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) are two German Knights who have been enlisted into the Crusades. After slashing their way through the Middle East they become disillusioned with their holy quest when they are no longer just killing other soldiers in battle, but ordered to slaughter innocent women and children. The pair decide to desert the Crusade and make their way back to their homeland. Once they get home they find that everywhere has been riddled by plague.
They arrive in the walled city of Marburg, where the local religious order, led by Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee, in a blink or you’ll miss him under heavy plague make-up cameo) believes that the plague has been spreading by a young woman (Claire Foy) who was found wandering and speaking gibberish. Convinced she is a witch, they want Behmen and Felson to accompany the girl and a priest, Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), to a neighboring monastery whose monks can determine if she is indeed a witch, the source of the plague, and deal with her accordingly. Stephen Graham also makes a brief appearance as sidekick and enchanted forest tour guide Hagamar.
The viewer watches the cast get knocked off one by one as Behmen tries to determine the source of the supernatural evil that plagues his band of travelers. Is the girl really a witch or not? Will Behmen ever be absolved of his guilt at killing innocents? Will Felson manage to squeeze in one more sassy one-liner? Perlman gets most of the good lines and keeps the movie (and Cage) from ever getting too serious. The two have an easy, bantering relationship — (After being thrown into a dungeon) Felson: What they do with deserters anyway? … Hang them? … Burn them? Behmen: Probably both.
The DVD also features some extras, besides the usual theatrical trailer. There are deleted scenes (which frankly, were mostly correctly deleted), a feature called “On A Crusade,” that gives some historical context (although most of the battles featuring the two knights are fictional), and a feature called, “Becoming the Demon,” that shows how the special effects crew worked a computer-generated monster into the end of the film. The CGI is the Achilles Heel of the film, and possibly the film makers realize this, as they also include an “Alternate Ending,” which was obviously the first ending and is a much better finish. There is a definite advantage to watching Season of the Witch on DVD, as one can see the alternate, original, and much superior ending. The original ending keeps the evil personal — if the filmmakers had the guts to go with it in the theatrical release, it surely would have made a difference at the box-office and with the critics.
There is something about Season of the Witch that is reminiscent of movies from the 90s like The 13th Warrior, or anything starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Nicolas Cage has made quite a few prestige films in his career (Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas), but since the mid-90s he gravitates towards B-movies like Con Air, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Ghost Rider, and Drive Angry. There’s nothing wrong with a B-movie. Everyone is in the mood for pulp now and then. Season of the Witch has got a medieval priest who amusingly references Jaws, “We’re going to need more holy water.”
Maybe critics and fans, because of the time and setting, were expecting a more serious movie. Season of the Witch is a B-movie with very good production values. Apart from the excessive use of CGI in the last reel, it’s a lot of fun. When Cage & Co. reach the monastery, flip to the alternate ending. You’ll be glad you did.