Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well.”

Not all stylishly dressed villains are vampires who shun sunlight to creep about in dark alleys. No, some travel about at all hours of the day, bringing with them the promises of fulfilling your deepest wishes while turning you into a twisted mockery of yourself. Which is the topic of our next subject. The 1983 Disney adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

You know. For the kids.

In Greentown, Illinois (an expy for Waukeegan, IL) in the, oh, probably 1940s, two young boys, who are opposites in personality but best buds, experience the arrival of (Cooger and) Dark’s Pandemorium Shadow Show, an assortment of strange carnie folk led by the elegantly dressed, top hat wearing Mr. Dark. The carnival blows into town and things get much worse before they get better.

Charles Holloway: Jason Robards is arguably the main character of the film since he goes through the most changes. He plays an aging librarian who’s spent his entire life with books and is now feeling too old to really connect with his young son. He’s tremendously sympathetic, and easily the only adult who can stand up against Dark’s sinister carnival

Will Holloway: Vidal Peterson is Charles’ son, a young, bespectacled, “nice kid.” He’s the meeker member of his friendship with Jim, but narratively, his relationship with his father is more important to the plot.

Jim Nightshade: Shawn Carson plays Will’s best friend, and the dark-haired, darker impulsed member of the duo. And yes, Nightshade is his actual last name. His dad’s been gone for years now, and Jim’s an antsy type who doesn’t really feel like he fits in with the town.

Tom Fury: Royal Dano plays a wandering lightning rod salesman who walks into town to ply his trade, eventually selling one to Jim. A very minor character in the book, he shows up a couple of times in the movie. While he looks like a hobo, he does have some pretty awesome boots.

Mr. Crosetti, Mr. Tetley and Ed the Bartender: Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel and James Stacy respectively. They’re three of the townsfolk who have business on main street. Crosetti’s a big, bearded barber and harbors lusty thoughts for beautiful ladies. Tetley’s just plain greedy and Ed is a former football champ who’s missing an arm and a leg (like, for real). Naturally, when the carnival comes to town, they’ve got reasons to be interested in the prizes being offered.

Miss Foley: Mary Grace Canfield is the schoolteacher of Jim & Will. A stern woman, she was regarded as the prettiest woman in town in her younger days. Obviously the carnival has something to offer her as well.

The Dust Witch: Pam Grier (Foxy Brown herself) plays the mysterious and spooky fortune teller of the circus and someone very close to Mr. Dark. She’s a really sinister figure.

Mr. G.M. Dark: Jonathan Pryce turns in a performance that’s just…evil. I’ll never be able to look at his Governor Swan role in Pirates of the Caribbean the same way again. Dark is the dapper, raven-bearded grandmaster of the carnival, the leader of these “Autumn People” and just…my God, Dark is evil. Honestly, I want to compare it to Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham, but its less scenery chewing and more chilling nonverbal promises of unspeakable evil. The stuff Dark does in this movie, well, you’ll be sitting there going “what an asshole” during the showdown in the library. It is gloriously badass.

Mr. J.C. Cooger gets downgraded in the movie to a simple henchman, but he’s still important and an example of the Merry Go Round’s powers over time. Kid Cooger is just plain freaky.

Directed by Jack Clayton, the movie blends both nostalgia for “the good ol’ days” of a simpler time with the downright creepiness of Dark’s carnival. Visually, there’s not a whole lot to say, but some of the special effects worked out pretty well, all things considered.

Arachnophobes take note, there’s a scene where a shitload of tarantulas attack our heroes. That’s not a rough estimate, either.

Ray Bradbury adapted his own novel for the film, so its quite interesting to see what he carried over and what he left out. For the most part, the story works, with the beginning through middle being outstanding at building the mood, but the big confrontation at the end just feels, underdeveloped and rushed, apparently someone else was also brought in “touch up” the script later. As an adaptation to the screen, it works really well at teasing the audience to check out the book, which is even darker, creepier and philosophical-er. Definitely worth a read.

Original score by James Horner. Its great and moody and brings the creepy.

While the title may be a Shakespearian shout out, the movie does indeed deliver on its promise. Something wicked does indeed arrive. A very interesting film and a fairly solid adaptation of one of the 20th Century’s most imaginative authors, its brought down a few pegs by its fumbled ending. Still, when Something Wicked This Way Comes hits it out of the park, its one of the ballsiest, least patronizing kids film’s I’ve ever seen. I promise you’ll never look at a carousel the same way again.

No comments: