A BC October Frights In Film: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

A BC October Frights In Film: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

When one thinks about the best horror films to break out and re-watch during the Halloween season, Disney isn't typically one of the studios that comes to mind. However, once upon a time (otherwise known as the early 1980s), the House of the Mouse wanted to try to move away from the perception of only being the lightest of fluffy, family-friendly fare and move into some more mature themes. They had already produced films like TRON, The Watcher in the Woods, and Dragonslayer, and now they turned to the Ray Bradbury novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Summary

Set in a small town in Illinois as autumn is about to arrive, a late-season carnival comes into town: Mr. Dark's Pandemonium Carnival. Two rebellious youth, Will Holloway (Vidal Peterson) and Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson), discover the newly arrived carnival and set out to explore it. Before long they realize that not all is as it seems, and dark forces might be at play. While they try to convince Will's father, Charles (played by Jason Robards), and something evil is happening, townsfolk begin to have their deepest desires offered up to them — but at what cost?

What Makes It Great

Recently Stephen King's It hit theaters, and while it was well made and well performed, there was little sense of dread. In Something Wicked, when Mr. Dark (played impeccably by Jonathan Pryce) sets his eyes on the two boys, there is far more sense of menace and evil than Pennywise ever manifested. Even adults watching Something Wicked can come away from it feeling both that sense of nostalgia of youth, and of the dreams of adventure that Will and Jim are sharing.

It's also a film that can be seen by younger teens and older preteens, as it's got some solid messaging in the mix without resorting to proselytizing or pandering. There are scares in the film, but not gore.

Does It Hold Up?

As with many Disney films, it does hold up better than you might think. When Mr. Dark and Will's father go toe to toe, Dark offers him his prime age of 30 to be restored if only he would reveal the location of the boys. As they talk, Dark pulls a book from the shelf, and describes a life as the pages of a book. And he idly rips out a page which immediately flames and vanishes, and now Dark offers, 31. With every page pulled, another potential year vanishes from Charles' life. It's not the sort of terror one might feel from Get Out or Nightmare on Elm Street, but in it's own way, perhaps it's a bit deeper.

While the film's production was long and troubled, the dialogue and writing by Bradbury in his prime is and art all it's own:

Charles Holloway: 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.

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About Bill Watters

Games programmer by day, geek culture and fandom writer by night. You'll find me writing most often about tv and movies with a healthy side dose of the goings-on around the convention and fandom scene.
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