Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Ray Bradbury Month continues with a movie you should probably watch on an evening other than July 4th. For starters, the season’s wrong, and then you have to start it with the sun still up, and then yahoos start shooting bottle rockets. This is a quiet, creepy movie, when the music’s not too unbearable, anyway. It deserved better than we gave it.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a pretty good film. I wouldn’t call it better than that, but it’s probably a film that’s going to have greater impact on younger viewers. There’s a lot here to like, but there’s also a lot that gets in the way of liking it. There are a couple of places where a threat gets sidelined by a long talk with somebody, usually Jason Robards, and it just kills the momentum stone dead. During the film’s biggest failure, our two young heroes are rushing home from a creepy carnival with a spectral green gas following them. But the kids have to get tucked in to their respective bedrooms and then Jason Robards has to meditate on the power of regret for five minutes before the nightmare gas catches up. Maybe it’s the music’s fault: it tells us that something very urgent is about to happen, and it doesn’t, for hours.

So anyway, Wicked was a quarter-century labor of love from Bradbury. It started as a screenplay in 1959 or so, became a novel in 1962, and finally went before the camera twenty years later, with lots of location filming in Vermont. Jonathan Pryce plays Mr. Dark, the leader of “the autumn people,” who show up with an October carnival every forty or fifty years to grant wishes and steal souls from the lonely and sad townspeople. You can see a far better story than the production before the carnival shows up. There is way too much music, but the supporting characters are introduced with sharp enough sketches that they’re easily remembered a half-hour later when things start going very wrong.

When Mr. Dark and his gang show up on a strange train, things pick up for a while, with fits and starts and frustrations punctuating some powerfully good set pieces. Pryce completely dominates the film. He has a big moral showdown with Robards and the blasted director doesn’t even allow Robards to stand up and face him. Supporting roles are filled by some fine actors like Diane Ladd, Pam Grier, and Angelo Rossitto, and there are some splendid scares, one involving a couple of hundred tarantulas and another had our son giving a very, very sharp gasp when Mr. Dark’s two hands come up behind the boys as they’re hiding in the library.

I think the set pieces might stick with our kid, but overall it is nowhere as tense as it should be, and the hints about what’s keeping the hero kids so unhappy are either frustratingly vague or hammered in with too much force. It’s genuinely not a bad film, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it. I’d like to see it issued on Blu-ray with a beefy set of bonus features, but I can’t swear that even the tarantulas would make it a pre-order priority.

Today’s feature was a gift from Nikka Valken, and I invite you all to check out her Society 6 page and buy some of her fun artwork!

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