A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Disney's 1983 horror-fantasy movie Something Wicked This Way Comes is scary the way The Wizard of Oz is scary, but it makes far less sense than Oz, which actually makes it far scarier. An evil carnival comes to town with the apparent goal to kill, destroy, or otherwise corrupt all the town's good people. Expect lots of ominous lightning and thunder, talk of death, regret, and fathers disappointing their sons. Kids run in terror. Boys are attacked by hundreds of tarantulas, a scenario that turns out to be a nightmare. A man is tortured with electric shocks. A bad guy is electrocuted to death until nothing is left of him but a shriveled skeleton. A copy of Will's bloody head falls out of the sky, and a beautiful woman suddenly looks like Frankenstein. "Hell" and "damnation" are uttered.
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What's the story?
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES recalls an earlier time in small town Midwest America when everyone knew everyone and felt safe and secure in the comfort of tradition and continuity. This is disrupted when a carnival arrives on a mysterious, middle-of-the-night train. The tents, rides, and games go up in seconds, as if by magic, and soon terrible things are happening to townspeople, including Will and Jim (Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson), two 10-year-old boys who are chased and caught and who worry about their imminent murder. The carnival owner, a man named Dark (Jonathan Pryce), is an incarnation of the devil, and the evil he casts depends on understanding each person's deepest desire and then fulfilling it, with a devastating twist. A lightning-rod salesman gets tortured with electricity. An aging teacher is given a moment back in the beauty of her youth and then is immediately struck blind before she can admire herself. Anyone who rides the carousel backward gets younger, even going into infancy if Dark so desires. There is much scary music, thunder, lightning, nefarious green mists, and a roomful of tarantulas designed to terrify the boys because "they know too much." It turns out, with no explanation, that one man, a librarian with a bad heart (Jason Robards), has the power to save the town from evil if he just refuses to take what he wants most from Dark, his lost power and youth.
Is it any good?
The book-to-movie road is strewn with disappointing results, and while this horror-fantasy boasts many assets, overall it's more puzzling than entertaining. Ominous music and freak-show oddities (an ex-football player with only one arm and one leg hops around) set the stage early on for doom and the triumph of evil, but it's a full hour before there's the tiniest attempt to explain what the evil is about and why it has chosen its particular victims. For this reason kids may be scared and still not have the slightest idea what the movie is about.
On the plus side, Bradbury has cleverly created Dark, an ironical devil who pits the longing of childhood -- to grow big -- against the longing of middle age -- to regain youth. Also in its favor, the movie has an almost archaic appreciation for poetic language, which may be attributable to the fact that the book's gifted author, Ray Bradbury, also wrote the screenplay. This leaning probably also accounts for the film's generally literate tone, but, unfortunately, often what works on the written page can seem out of place on-screen. Further along those lines, the literary/cinematic bent of director-actor Orson Welles is deliberately evoked here, as the film's climactic scene is staged in a hall of mirrors but not nearly as artfully as when Welles' did it himself in his 1948 The Lady from Shanghai.
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