When most people think of Disney they think of Disneyland, Mickey Mouse, cartoons and G-Rated entertainment. The 1983 film Something Wicked This Way Comes might change your mind about all of that.
Based on the book by Ray Bradbury, in Something Wicked This Way Comes we meet Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, two young teenagers growing up in a small Midwestern town. One night, an unusual and sinister traveling carnival led by Mr. Dark (never a good sign) rolls into town. While snooping around, Will and Jim discover some of the carnival’s darker secrets. Will and Jim try to warn the townsfolk about the dangers of the carnival, but that’s tough to do when they keep mysteriously disappearing.
I first saw this movie at the age of ten and it scared the bajeesus out of me. This time around (twenty-five years later), I found the film more disturbing than scary. Most of the people we meet throughout the film have life-long regrets — the old, ugly school teacher who was once young and beautiful, the former college football hero who has since lost an arm and a leg, and the single barber who dreams of meeting a beautiful wife — and throughout the film we learn to what lengths people would go to have those regrets corrected. Quite literally, almost everyone who attends Mr. Dark’s carnival is willing to “sell their soul” to get what they want, no matter the price.
This film works on multiple levels. If you’re approaching middle age, you’ll relate to the film’s central theme about life, aging, and regrets. That’ll fly over the head of younger kids, who will spend most of their time hiding their eyes from some of the movies scarier scenes. Don’t let the Disney masthead fool you on this one — the scene where Jim and Will are attacked by hundreds of tarantulas is enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies.
By all accounts the book is better than the movie, but what else is new. According to the DVD’s documentary track there were disagreements between the director, the screenwriter (Bradbury) and Disney about what direction the film should go. Expensive reshoots (to the tune of five million dollars) were done over a year after the film was finished. You’ll be able to tell which scenes those were as the formerly thirteen-year-old actors will be fifteen and appear noticeably older.
For a twenty-five year old film, Something Wicked This Way Comes holds up well. Due to time restraints much of the book’s plot has been dropped, but what remains is still a thought-provoking and legitimately creepy film.