Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Disney made several valiant attempts to break free of its “kids only” persona by producing movies that would also appeal to adults (such as The Black Hole, Dragonslayer, and Tron, just to name a few). Based on a story by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes continued that trend and combined elements of horror and fantasy to weave the fascinating tale of a small town in the early 20th century and the traveling carnival that visited it one October.
Green Town, Illinois, is a quiet place, the kind of community in which nothing interesting ever happens. That is, until the night that Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival pulls into town. Best friends Will Hathaway (Vidal Peterson) and Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) hear the train coming and sneak out of their bedrooms to see what wonders Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) and his associates have brought to their sleepy little town. What they discover instead is that the carnival and its enigmatic owner are not what they appear to be.
The next day, while everyone else is playing games and visiting Dark’s many sideshow attractions, Will and Jim are busy trying to convince Will’s father, local librarian Charles Hathaway (Jason Robards), that the good citizens of Green Town are in the greatest of danger. But with his ability to understand people’s desires, as well as their deepest fears, Mr. Dark has a distinct advantage over Mr. Hathaway and the boys, and defeating him will be no easy task.
Something Wicked This Way Comes starts innocently enough, with a depiction of small town America that looks as if it was lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting. There’s a barber shop run by Mr. Crosetti (Richard Davalos), a man hoping to one day find the woman of his dreams; and a saloon in which bartender Ed (James Stacy), a former high school football star whose arm and leg were amputated years ago, recounts his past glories. Not even the sudden appearance of derelict lightning rod salesman Tom Fury (Royal Dano) is enough to disrupt the daily routine.
But the moment that train arrives and Mr. Dark sets up shop, a feeling of dread sweeps over the entire community. From then on, we the audience are poised at the edge of our seats, watching as youngsters Will and Jim (portrayed by two talented child actors) uncover the many secrets lurking beneath the canopies of Mr. Dark’s Carnival (including a merry-go-round with very unique powers).
Jonathan Pryce is deliciously evil as the sinister Mr. Dark, and Jason Robards is both understated and effective as the aging Mr. Hathaway, who is troubled by a disturbing incident from his past. Also worth noting is Pam Grier, who is damn creepy as the mysterious fortune teller.
Much like The Lady in White and The Monster Squad, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a horror / thriller you can watch with the kids (some scenes will surely frighten the tykes, but there’s no gore or over-the-top violence). Well-realized and expertly paced, Something Wicked This Way Comes has me wishing that Disney turned out a few more films like this back in the day.
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