The Summer of '83: Something Wicked This Way Comes -

The Summer of '83

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  • Starring: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Pam Grier, Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson
  • Written by: Ray Bradbury
  • Directed by: Jack Clayton
  • Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83: Something Wicked This Way Comes

How would you like to be thirty?

By Rob Vaux     April 29, 2013

 “Disney horror movie.” It sounds like an oxymoron and in many ways it is. Disney never really made horror movies; not in ways that really counted. You got a few straight-to-cable family films like Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire and Tim Burton made some headway (though they generally shuffled him off to the Touchstone brand), but real full-on scares? Not in this company, baby.

That’s part of what makes Something Wicked This Way Comes such an interesting film, despite its flaws. Along with The Watcher in the Woods, it may be Disney’s only honest-to-God effort to tell us a horror story. (That’s not the same thing as “scare us,” of course; just ask any five-year-old who’s seen Snow White.) Even more fascinating is the way it does an end-around on horror’s traditional audience: teenagers and twenty-somethings for whom the film’s earnest approach and periodic dead patches may come as a colossal bore. Children, however, should respond to its Boys’ Own battle against the forces of evil, as will folks over thirty who understand the darkness hinted at by Ray Bradbury’s original novel. Bradbury wrote the screenplay himself, and retains a lot of the book’s poetry of language here. It doesn’t quite sound natural, but its lyricism feels quite at home in the Norman Rockwell setting… a setting that also helps it fit in with Disney’s particular brand of nostalgia.

The story takes a unique twist on the Faust formula, so unique it has since become a cliché. An infernal carnival arrives in a postcard-perfect small town circa the 1920s. Its owner, Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) gains new performers by granting visitors their fondest desires, which naturally turn back on them in dramatically appropriate fashion.  So the womanizing barber becomes a bearded lady, the old schoolteacher becomes young again – and loses her sight so she can’t enjoy it – and so on. A pair of young boys discover the carnival’s secret and must dodge Mr. Dark’s minions before he adds them to his collection.

His infernal bargains hold particular strength when it comes to questions of age. Jason Robards plays one of the boy’s fathers, an older librarian who longs for his childhood days and perhaps envies his son’s innocence. The other boy, Jim (Shawn Carson), lacks a father and aches to be an adult so badly he can taste it. Mr. Dark offers them both what they want – thanks to a merry-go-round that alters your age – and both of them have to think long and hard over the choice. The film’s most powerful moments play on our need to look forward too eagerly or backward with too much regret. The scares are mild, the implications far less so. The film’s despair of the soul – a revulsion at the gap between desires and realities – hits us in ways that the nonexistent jolts do not.

 That makes the squeaky clean setting totally appropriate, as well as demonstrating how the House of Mouse could parlay its zeitgeist into something resembling real horror. Pryce’s stage background helps out immeasurably here, since he can infer the monstrosities that the studio’s image won’t allow. That allows director Jack Clayton to maintain his delicate tightrope act from end to end, letting adults fill in the ominous implications of Mr. Dark’s operation without freaking out the kiddies.

 Something Wicked This Way Comes stalls from time to time, as we wallow too deeply in nostalgia and the gee-whiz innocence gets in the way of forward momentum. But it also gives the film its own distinctiveness: a children’s fable sophisticated enough for grown-ups and which foresaw later horror-fantasy efforts like Pan’s Labyrinth. Bradbury’s work always struggled on the big screen. This, thankfully, reaps due rewards for its efforts, and pulls a unique identity out of its seemingly awkward combination of elements. 


Showing items 1 - 10 of 10
SarcasticCaveman 4/29/2013 2:16:49 AM

 Oh wow...I remember this now...never got to see it thanks to an over protective, fundamentalist Christian mom...I doubt my dad would have minded, but he was the Atheist in the house making at playing Christian hustband and what not.  Sounds interesting, even if it'll probably be corny now.  I must find this.

ElBaz13 4/29/2013 5:49:24 AM

Wow! I still remember seeing this movie as a kid. It was nice to see a "horror" film young people can enjoy.

I did not know Mr Dark was Jonathan Pryce until now.

SmokingFrog77 4/29/2013 7:10:39 AM

Yeah, definitely worth seeing. Was lent a copy many years ago, thoroughly enjoyed it. Jason Robards is brilliant at embodying world-weary regret.

Wiseguy 4/29/2013 7:28:07 AM

Never saw it, doubt that I ever will

redhairs99 4/29/2013 7:45:24 AM

 Can't say I've ever heard of this one but it sounds interesting enough.  Might be worth a look.

jonniej1017 4/29/2013 11:26:12 AM

Great flick... back then.  I probably wouldnt mind watching it now either. I have it on  a VHS tape if anyone wants to watch it. let me   My freind and I still make reference to it now an then... " By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes"...

CalamityJohnson 4/29/2013 11:49:47 AM

Delightfully creepy back in its day. It definitely had some disturbing moments for me as a scrub. Can't say as the effects hold up, but there were some difinitive scenes that still stick with me today: that scene when the carnival rolls into town in parade fashion with Mr. Dark at the head, and all his crazies (former victims and cohorts) bouncing about the street, intermingling with the citizens, and the kids hiding underneath the street watching through a grate. Great scene and suspenseful for a 9 year old kid. Stephen King improved on the whole idea with his amazing book, Needful Things, replacing Mr. Dark with Leland Gaunt, the proprietor of Needful Things. They made a movie out of it, but it didn't capture the feel or creepiness. Don't waste your time on the movie in spite of Ed Harris presence.

ashamel 4/29/2013 6:56:09 PM

Excellent movie, with a lot of nasty subtext. Something Wicked and Dragonslayer are the two best Disney movies, I reckon.

I know Stephen King wrote a script for this, but it wasn't used as they got Ray Bradbury himself to adapt it.

thezillaman 4/29/2013 9:06:58 PM

 love this movie i have it my kids love it, ..

SinisterPryde 4/30/2013 12:12:16 AM

Loved the movie as a kid, though it never seemed scary to me.  I do remember reading the book and being somewhat freaked out by that.  (I think I was about 10 at the time).



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