Friday, October 1, 2010

'Something Wicked This Way Comes':
A great film adaptation of a great novel

This is my first October with the new blog, and I'm going to celebrate with 31 Nights of Halloween. I'm kicking off this full month of daily reviews with the film version of one of my favorite horror novels.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Starring: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Vidal Peterson, Shawn Carson, Royal Dano, Pam Grier and Bruce M. Fischer
Director: Jack Clayton
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When a magical carnival arrives in an idyllic small town, two boys (Peterson and Carson) are the only ones who can save the adults from falling victim to their unfulfilled desires when ringmaster Mr. Dark (Pryce) turns those desires against them they are turned on them.

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" is one of the few books I've reread virtually every October for at least the last 25 years. It was one of my favorite books as a kid, and my love for it has only grown as I've gotten older. Every time I read the book, I find something new to marvel at, and Ray Bradbury's beautiful language never gets old.

You can keep your J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. "Something Wicked This Way Comes" is the only modern mythology or epic literary allegory that I need. And I may have to add watching the Disney film version of this great novel once a year, too, because in re-watching it, I found it to be even better than I remembered.

With a script by Ray Bradbury himself, the film adaptation of the novel captures its spirit perfectly, with Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce being the perfect embodiments of the two key adult figures in the book--Robards as the aging father of Will Halloway who must rediscover his youthful optimism if he is to save himself and his son, and Pryce as the sinister tattooed carnival master who is set on destroying everyone in the town with their own dreams. These two great actors manage to deliver Bradbury's poetically crafted dialogue in a way that makes it sound completely natural. The child actors playing life-long friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson) who are on the cusp of entering puberty and whose friendship is feeling the strain because of it, have a harder time making the elaborate lines sound natural, but they are above average in talent, so they still pull off their parts nicely.

The cinematography, set design, special effects and music soundtrack also help to bring the sensations felt when reading the novel to vibrant life on the screen. Like the book, this movie invokes alternatively a sense of nostalgia, a sense of magic, a sense of lurking dread, and feelings of stark terror as it unfolds, sometimes moving back and forth between the emotions in a fairly short space. What's more, the film does it without needing to resort to overt sexual content and gory violence. There are a number of intense scenes, but there's nothing here that you can't watch with kids older than ten or eleven. (There might be a nightmare or two on the part of particularly sensitive kids, because the film, like the book, taps directly into childhood fears, but I still think that this lyrical dark fantasy film is an experience a family can and should enjoy together.)

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" is available from If you haven't seen it, you should. And you should watch it with your kids. On a similar note, if you or your kids haven't read the book, you have missed out on a great piece of dark fantasy literature. Get your copy today by clicking below (or heading down the local library).

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