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Something Wicked This Way Comes

“First of all, it was October, a rare month of boys; full of cold winds, long nights, dark promises...”

An underrated, horror-themed Disney movie from the early '80s, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a film experience that only seems to enrich itself as I get older.

Based on a Ray Bradbury novel, it tells the tale of two boys who are confronted, along with the regular growing pains of boyhood and growing up, by a dark and mysterious force that falls upon their idyllic little town.

Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are best friends and have always known each other. The two are different, though. Dealing with an absentee father and a mom who is a bit of a basket case, adventurous Jim is eager to grow up and be his own man. The bookish Will, however, does not want to face the realities of growing up; this is largely due to the impression he has of his own beloved father, Charles, an elderly man who fears his best days are behind him. The boys' friendship is tested by the newly arrived Mr. Dark's Pandemonium Carnival.

Mr. Dark is probably one of cinema's great villains, in an impeccably malevolent performance by Jonathan Pryce. Dark and his carnie minions offer to fulfill the deepest desires of the townsfolk... for a price. He soon sets his sights on Will and Jim, who catch on to the Carnival's otherworldly aura. As they try to elude Dark, Charles Halloway is compelled to take a stand to save the boys and the town from this evil that threatens to consume them all.

It's a pretty basic plot, but its power lies in the strength of its characters and themes. Both of which hit close to home. It's a very fall movie, and while it gets a lot out of rural autumn beauty, the season's aspects of darkness, decay and death are prominent also. Mr. Dark and his Carnival represent those aspects. They fuel themselves on the despair and longing of ordinary decent people, achieving immortality and other sinister powers. Making them especially nightmarish to both the boys and Charles.

While it's not quite as scary to watch as an adult, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disturbed by this movie when my dad had me watch it as a kid. This is most likely the movie that gave me a bad impression of carnivals. The part where Dark's hulking silent henchman uses his magic merry-go-round to turn into a creepy silent child is still really eerie. And the freakiest bit is certainly when Will and Jim are attacked in their bedrooms at night by a swarm of tarantulas. The faces of Will and Jim inexplicably tattoed onto Mr. Dark's palms while he hunts for them.

Beyond Dark and the carnival, though, there are other elements that run throughout. Probably the biggest yet most invisible conflict in the movie is a fear of the future. Of growing up, of getting old, of living with regret and dying. Ultimately, it's also about the beauty of life, love and friendship, and embracing those things in the face of all the world's darkness. This is all beautifully portrayed with the father-son bond between Will and Charles.

It's a good movie to come back to every now and then. Puts you in the right kind of mood for the season, in addition to just being pretty well done overall. One of these days, I'll have to read the book it was based on. I need to read more Ray Bradbury, in general.


* The town is called Green Town, Illinois. Not sure if it's a real place, but the location always looked really nice and peaceful from the way it looked in this movie.

* Along with Jonathan Pryce, Jason Robards turns in a moving performance as Charles; this was the first movie I saw him in. The movie also features Diane Ladd as Jim's mother and Pam Grier (in several great costumes) as the Dusk Witch who serves Mr. Dark. The child actors, Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, also do a pretty good job as Will and Jim.

* The best scenes in the movie, while more omnious than scary, are the two confrontations between Charles and Mr. Dark. The first when they meet on the street, where we get the iconic sequence of Dark slowly leading his carnival through town with music that sounds more like a funeral dirge. The second is in the libary, where Dark makes his true nature known.

* Really, Something Wicked This Way Comes is like a less messed up, more heartfelt version of that Stephen King story, Needful Things. Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. Pretty sure Needful Things came after, though. Interestingly, King actually wrote an adaptation of Bradbury's novel as a screenwriting exercise, though his adaptation was not made into film.


Tom Fury: "Some folks draw lightning to them as a cat sucks in a baby's breath."

Will Halloway: “If you’re a good person, the demons can’t harm you, can they? Am I a good person?”
Charles Halloway: “Well, I wouldn’t count on your mother’s answer right now, but I think you are.”

Mr. Dark: “All that time spent living only through other men’s lives. Dreaming only other men’s dreams. What a waste.”
Charles Halloway: “Sometimes a man can learn more from other men’s dreams than he can from his own.”

Charles Halloway: “‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’”
Mr. Dark: “‘Then rang the bells both loud and deep. God is not dead nor doth he sleep.’”
Charles Halloway: "'The wrong will fall, the right prevail, with peace on Earth, goodwill to men.'"
Mr. Dark: “It’s a thousand years to Christmas, Mr. Halloway.”
Charles Halloway: “You’re wrong. It’s here, in this library tonight, and can’t be spoiled.”
Mr. Dark: “Did Will and Jim bring it with them on the soles of their shoes? Then, we shall have to scrape them.”

Charles Halloway: “I know who you are. You are the autumn people. Where do you come from? The dust. Where do you go to? The grave.”
Mr. Dark: “Yes. We are the hungry ones. Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well.”
Charles Halloway: “To stuff yourselves on other people’s nightmares.”
Mr. Dark: “And butter our plain bread with delicious pain. So, you do understand a little?”

If you're looking for a solid and effective scary movie that the whole family can watch on Halloween, I'd say this is a safe bet. Four out of five lightning rods.

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