Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

6 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

For every life, there lives a desire. For every desire, there is a wish. For every wish, there is a price. That saying alone will let you know what you’re in for when you watch “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a supernatural thriller that tells a story so compelling you can’t believe the Disney Studios would make a movie as frightening. Maybe they hope the two 12-year-old characters will lighten the mood. But the problem is, terrible events happen to these two kids—spiders surround them, an entire parade searches for them (with kid-sized coffins), and they become involved in a plot to grant people their dreams but take away their lives. This may frighten younger viewers but will probably delight older ones, especially adults because of the darker theme involving one of the kids’ fathers.

The film, based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, begins with a great shot of a train coming towards the camera in the dark. That shot alone tells us that we’re in for something that I don’t think the Disney Studios would want to make again. It lets us know that this is no family film. The film takes place in a small Midwestern town where the two boys—timid, sensitive Will (Vidal Peterson) and the more-outgoing Jim (Shawn Carson)—live. There are many other people in the town, including a cigar store owner who dreams of being rich, a barber who dreams of a thousand gorgeous woman coming to town and being with him, a one-armed, one-legged barman who dreams of playing football, and an old crone who dreams of being beautiful again. Then there’s Will’s father Charles (Jason Robards), who only dreams of being much younger. Will doesn’t particularly like living with an old father. Charles is unsure he can even live with himself.

The mysterious Darks Pandemonium Carnival comes to town and all of these characters (except Charles) arrive. The cigar store owner, the barber, the barman, and the old crone are fortunate enough to meet the Dust Witch (Pam Grier), who knows their dreams and tells their fortunes. It seems that the carnival’s biggest attraction is temptation and these people may be falling into a trap as they are tempted by the Dust Witch to give up something for their dreams come true. They get what they’ve been wishing for but there is a price that must be given—for example, the old crone becomes beautiful but she loses her eyesight. Then, I guess, they become slaves to the force that surrounds the carnival.

Only young Will and Jim realize that something creepy is happening. They run afoul of Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), the tall, mysterious carnival owner who seems to be the ruler of this strange force. He has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and many carnival attractions that are interesting with special effects—including a merry-go-round that can spin backwards through time. He seems to will the ways of the devil, in the way that he can tempt people and then feed on their souls. When Mr. Dark declares that the boys have seen too much, he sends his forces of darkness after them.

It all comes down to the ending in which Charles is finally falling into Mr. Dark’s trap and he must fight it in order to save himself and the boys. Mr. Dark knows Charles’ wish and would make it come true and the temptation is too strong…

“Something Wicked this Way Comes” is a powerful horror film with the right mood of the original novel (although loosely based on the novel) and great performances, especially from Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. The young actors are just OK (sometimes, they seem to be a bit too precocious to the point of annoyance). There are some parts where the boys seem older, especially in the scene where they’re surrounded by hundreds of spiders—probably because of post-production reshoots. But it’s really Jason Robards that steals the show. He’s got that amazing voice that makes you want to listen to him and believe in him. Also, I love how the carnival’s being isn’t fully explained—there are some tidbits of explanation but not enough so that there’s exposition. Actually, I’d rather not know. Then there are the heartfelt conversations Charles and Will have in the middle of the night occasionally, which feel very real. That relationship between father and son pays off well.

There are times when it seems like the movie doesn’t know which way to go, especially in the final half, but this is a most unsettling movie with a terrifying atmosphere and a grim feel. It’s unlikely that the Disney Studios would want to make a movie like this again—this is not for younger children. If they see this movie, there’s a good chance they’ll have nightmares for quite a while.

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