Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

NOVEMBER 22, 2010


If you read every review (and you shouldn’t – I recycle a lot of what I say and don’t want anyone catching on), you might recall that I had a ticket to see Something Wicked This Way Comes at the Arclight over the summer, only to screw up; driving to the wrong Arclight and missing it. So I was delighted to see that the New Beverly was showing it, since I’d rather see it there anyway (Arclight, sadly, no longer bothers to provide a quality experience, i.e. they don’t monitor the theaters for cell phone users/talkers).

However, my anticipation was built up even more, so I wasn’t as impressed with the film as I expected to be (it had come highly recommended from a few friends). I liked the story/script, and Jonathan Pryce was terrific, but Jack Clayton’s direction was very TV movie-like, which kept it from ever being really exciting. Everything was very matter of fact; there was no sense of dread or urgency to Pryce’s grand plans. I wasn’t even aware I was watching the climax to the film until I realized that it had been about 90 minutes and thus it HAD to be.

Disney also should have shelled out more for the town set, because it looks pretty fake to me. A lot of the early parts of the movie reminded me of Lady In White, which was an independent, low budget horror film, and THAT film managed to depict a period setting in a very natural and believable way – why the hell can’t DISNEY do the same? I kept expecting a Universal shuttle bus to drive by with tourists taking pictures before they saw the King Kong attraction.

I was also baffled by the casting of Jason Robards as the father to the adolescent hero. He’s a great actor, yes, but even with the fact that his age is a plot point, I think they went overboard with it – he’s old enough to be the kid’s grandfather. It’s hard to really buy into the plot of them not being close or having much in common when the age difference is so vast – why WOULD they have anything in common? It doesn’t help that the kids are unusually young-looking – the characters (and the actors playing them) are 12 or 13, but I thought they looked more like 8.

But again, my issues stemmed from the execution, not so much the design. The concept was actually pretty awesome, with Pryce assembling a circus comprised of folks whose souls he had claimed. We see a few of his “collections”, such as the formerly beautiful old hag teacher who desires her looks back (and once she gets them, loses her eyesight – d’oh!), and I bet if the film was a hit there would have been some sort of prequel where we see him collecting some of the other “freaks” in his entourage – I bet there were some cool stories in there.

However, my favorite scene was just a faceoff between Pryce and Robards, set inside a library hallway. Pryce wants Robards to tell him where the kids are, and he offers to make him younger. But with each passing moment, he raises the age he will revert him to, starting at 30 and ending somewhere around 50. As he ticks off each age, he (usually) explains the benefits of being that age again – apparently 32 is the prime year of a man’s life (2 to go!) and one should have a family somewhere around 38... it’s like that Five for Fighting song “100 Years” but with a crazed Jonathan Pryce “singing” and tearing up a book as he does. Great stuff. Interestingly, when I went home I watched the previous night’s episode of The Walking Dead, which featured a character (Dale) discussing time and how his father taught him the importance of not wasting time trying to conquer it, which is a similar lesson one could take from this film.

I was also tickled by the main kid’s abandonment issues. At least three times during the film he mentions being ditched or not wanting to ditch someone else. In one instance, he and his dad are chatting outside and then he goes to bed (it seems pretty late, though another problem with the movie is that it seems no one bothered to rent lights), and Robards says he’s going to stay outside and finish his cigar, to which the kid says “I don’t want to ditch you.” Kid, it’s HIS HOUSE. You can’t ditch someone in their own house!

And, yeah, it’s a Disney horror film, which is automatically worth some interest. I was surprised at some of the stuff they got away with (a decapitated head, a creepy, potentially murderous ginger kid, etc), and even though it turns out to be a friggin nightmare, there’s a great scene where our two heroes are besieged by spiders, one that probably freaked the hell out of the 12 or 13 kids who saw the movie during its theatrical release.

Nice James Horner score too. It’s easy to forget he used to put effort into his compositions. Now it’s all female choir voices and everything sounding vaguely like Braveheart.

As far as movies about circuses that feature Royal Dano go, it’s one of the better ones, but I couldn’t help but think that a more imaginative director (Tim Burton in his prime, or Guillermo Del Toro) could make a really kick ass version, retaining the “moral of the story” but improving the sense of mystery and doing a better job of visually depicting the effect that Dark’s carnival had on the town. Come on, Guillermo, add it to your list of projects that gets everyone excited until you announce you're doing something else instead!

What say you?


  1. Creepest kids movie ever! Well maybe not as creepy as Secret of Nymh, but still pretty damn creepy. The book was good too!

  2. I can see what you're seeing about Clayton's direction. It's odd that the man also made the Innocents, which has a lot of style and suspense.

  3. My oldest brother is a big Sci-Fi fan and a fan of Bradbury's but not a horror fan. He took me to see this when I was probably about 8 or 9. It was the first horror movie I had seen in a theater. It scared the socks off me and reinforced a lifelong fear of spiders. That shot of the kid hunched in the corner of the bed with spiders all around him has probably haunted me more than any other image... ever. The decapitation really rocked my world as well. I loved the idea of the kid looking as his own severed head.

    Anyway, I reprised this about six months ago and was pretty disappointed. Damn thing just didn't hold up at all.

  4. I absolutely LOVE this movie. I think part of it's charm is that I saw it as a child, and so it seems more scary to me because it scared me when I was little. You should also check out "Watcher in the Woods" (I didn't check to see if you've watched it already). I think it has alot of the same vibe and also scared me to death as a kid.

  5. Thank you for mentioning the spiders. I have wondered for years about a movie I saw when I was younger with a kid in a bedroom with spiders everywhere. Watched Kingdom of the Spiders and thought maybe my memory was just a little off. Finding this movie bothered me almost as much as figuring out the name for "The Peanut Butter Solution". That one took forever.

  6. (Sorry for my first comment being on an older post. I love the site.)

    To me, this movie is an interesting example of Disney producing a film more perverse than the original Bradbury novel. In the book, it is pretty clear that Jim has hit puberty faster than Will, but only the movie makes a strong suggestion that Jim wants to age on the carousel in order to hook up with his mother (at least, that's always been my interpretation of Jason Robards's character stopping Jim's mother at the carnival gates with "The man coming for you is not your husband!," since they spend so much time mentioning that he resembles Nightshade Sr.)


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