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In the ’80s, Disney wasn’t doing very well with their animated films, so they tried to make their money on their live-action films by expanding their audience clientèle. How did they do this exactly? They started to make films that were darker and more adult than what you’d expect a Disney film to be. And what better way to break away from your light-hearted fare than by doing a horror film?
Enter Something Wicked This Way Comes! And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens up to a small old-fashioned town by the name of Green Town, Illinois with a narration being done by an adult version of the main character. The main characters are two young boys: Will Halloway (the one narrating), played by Vidal Peterson, and Jim Nightshade, played by Shawn Carson. The two are best friends with Will being the more reserved and obedient of the two and Jim being the more rebellious and mischievous of the two.
We get a quick look at the town they live in and the people that live there including the cigar man, the barber, the barman, and even their teacher, Miss Foley, played by the late Mary Grace Canfield!
Oh well, moving on! We also meet Will’s dad, Mr. Halloway, played by Jason Robards. Mr. Halloway is the town librarian and regrets his old age and wishes that he could be younger. Might this plot device play into the story? We’ll just have to be patient.
The boys also happen to be neighbors and when heading home one day after school, they bump into a lightning rod salesman, Tom Fury, played by Royal Dano. He tries to sell his lightning rod to the boys, Jim in particular, because he senses that Jim’s house “needs” one or something like that. Jim, who’s been missing his dad because he went away to Africa some time ago and has never been heard of since, sees this as an opportunity to be the “man of the house” and agrees to purchase a lightning rod.
Later on that night, Will and Jim are awoken by the sound of a train coming into town. Apparently, the train is bringing a carnival to town and the kids decide to sneak off into the middle of the night to see the carnival being set up. And as soon as they get there, they notice that the carnival is a bit strange. For example, right as the train pulls up, all the rides and attractions automatically manifest themselves on the grounds.
And if that wasn’t weird enough, the kids see a spider in one of the attractions causing them to run home.
The next morning, they head back to the carnival in the daytime. Now, the carnival seems very ordinary, bright, cheerful, and slam-packed with all the townspeople. Nothing strange could possibly occur, right? Well, the only thing strange is that the townspeople, who’ve never been lucky in life, seem to get exactly what they want at this carnival. For example, the cigar seller who always wanted to win a lot of money wins $1000 at the carnival. And the barber who always wanted women gets a slew of sexy, exotic women to dance around and show interest in him.
There is even a sort of mirror maze that plays optical illusionary tricks. For example, the barman (who has lost an arm and a leg through some previous accident) looks into the mirror maze and his reflection shows him to have his arm and leg reattached to his body. And Miss Foley comes out of the mirror maze looking somewhat dazed and somewhat happy. Hmm…strange!
Anyway, Will and Jim end up coming across an unused tent with a carousel in it. But they’re quickly caught by the owner of the carnival, Mr. Dark, played by Jonathan Pryce.
Mr. Dark is shown to be a quite mysterious character…anybody with a tattoo that actually moves and changes fits the category of “quite mysterious” in my book.
Needless to say, he doesn’t seem to be all that angry at the boys for sneaking into a closed attraction and offers them 2 free tickets to come back again at night to ride the carousel themselves. The boys take the tickets and hurry out of there faster than Batman on Superman’s Segway.
The boys do come back later that night after all the people have left and enter upon the carousel when something strange is occurring. Mr. Dark (who doesn’t see the boys) is there with a middle-aged, male assistant of his . The assistant is astride one of the horses on the carousel, while Mr. Dark is near a switch of some sorts. When he flicks the switch, the carousel starts to spin backwards faster and faster and faster……..
until……..the middle-aged assistant is now a young boy about the same age as our two heroes.
Mr. Dark then sends his young assistant out to perform some task in the town while Will and Jim (who are shocked beyond belief) run after him. They soon catch up to him when he enters Miss Foley’s house and poses as her young nephew whom she was expecting. Now, this leads to some predicaments and questions. You see, Will and Jim have to warn Miss Foley that the boy is not her nephew, but how can you tell anyone that a backwards-rotating carousel caused someone to reverse in age and actually be believed?
On top of that, doesn’t Miss Foley know what her nephew looks like? How is she fooled by this random boy into thinking that he is her nephew? Maybe she’s never seen him before. Or maybe her nephew just looks a heck of a lot like the young assistant. Whatever the case may be, Will and Jim back out from telling her as they feel she’d never believe them. The young assistant also leaves the house which again begs the question, why would Miss Foley let her young nephew go out of the house at nighttime? But before he leaves, he throws a rock at one of Miss Foley’s windows and breaks it. He then flees from the scene causing Miss Foley to assume that Will and Jim broke her window.
But, the kids run home quickly before she can apprehend them. At home, Will’s dad is up and he decides to have a talk with Will about something. Apparently, when Will was 4 years old, he fell into a river and was about to drown, but Mr. Halloway couldn’t do anything about it because he didn’t know how to swim. However, a stranger, Jim’s dad to be precise, managed to jump in the river and save Will before he drowned.
You see, Mr. Halloway’s biggest fear in life is getting older and as he gets older, he starts to regret things: this Will-river incident, being his biggest regret. And all poor Will wants is for his father to be able to forget all this and just be happy.
Later that night, we cut to Miss Foley back at her house looking into a mirror and seeing a young, beautiful version of herself.
She gets happy seeing this (as opposed to someone like me who would freak out of my mind if I saw this) and says “Please” over and over again. Soon, she transforms into this young, beautiful woman….but she loses her eyesight!!!! A work of Mr. Dark’s weird and frightening carnival, I presume?
Even later that night (gosh, how long is this night?), Will and Jim decide to slip out of their beds and head back to the carnival. Again, they surreptitiously enter a tent that Mr. Dark is in and remain hidden from his view. What they see shocks them. Mr. Dark has Mr. Fury strapped to an electric chair of sorts and is constantly asking him when the next lightning storm will be.
At the side of the room, Will and Jim also notice Miss Foley, the barman, the barber, and the cigar men in what appears to be zombie-like states. As Mr. Dark starts to torture Mr. Fury, Will yells out causing Mr. Dark and everyone to see them. Now that their cover has been…umm…uncovered, they both run away from the carnival as fast as they can and Mr. Dark sends a green mist after them. The boys end up together in Jim’s bedroom as the mist lands down on them causing an innumerable amount of spiders to inhabit their room.
Then quickly, the both of them wake up in their respective bedrooms, sweating and realizing that it was all a dream. How much of it was a dream? Well…probably just the spiders part! How do I know this? Well, the next morning, Mr. Dark takes some of his carnival performers on a parade through the town, but Jim and Will quickly realize that it’s a search for them. They then go hide underneath a sewer grate. Mr. Halloway steps near the grate and notices the boys underneath him, but then Mr. Dark appears and asks Mr. Halloway if he knows about these boys and shows him their faces on his palms.
Mr. Halloway then puts two and two together and realizes that this man is up to no good and is after the boys for something, so he tries to lie his way out of it, but Mr. Dark spots him right away and gives him a stern warning. As Mr. Dark leaves, Mr. Halloway pretends to drop his cigar on the grate and quietly tells the boys to meet him at the library tonight.
Later that night and after doing some research, Mr. Halloway discovers that these carnival people are actually creatures of evil: devils, if you will, who have been coming to this city for over hundreds of years. They grant people the wishes they desire, but then destroy them through those wishes, i.e. Ms. Foley wanting to be beautiful, but losing her eyesight in return. But there’s always a big lightning storm that occurs every time they leave, which explains why Mr. Dark wanted to know when the next lightning storm would be.
All of a sudden, Mr. Dark appears in the library and asks Mr. Halloway once again where the boys are (who have hid themselves away in the library) even doing so much as to offer Mr. Halloway a chance to be young again in return for the information. Mr. Halloway recognizes the offer, but stays firm and doesn’t reveal the boys’ hiding spot.
Mr. Dark then attacks Mr. Halloway leaving him injured for a while, finds the boys hiding in one of the bookshelves, kidnaps the boys, and takes them back to his carnival.
Mr. Halloway soon recovers from the attack, regains his strength, and heads to the carnival to save the boys. Will is hidden behind one of the mirrors in the mirror maze and Mr. Halloway soon finds out how difficult a place that is to find anyone.
You see, this mirror maze is the key to all those wishes granted. Whenever anyone enters the mirror maze, his/her desires are shown to them: Ms. Foley’s desire to be young again, the barman’s desire for an arm and a leg, etc. So, Mr. Dark tries to play this game once more and shows Mr. Halloway all his regret that he’s built up over the years. Mr. Halloway soon becomes depressed and is about to give in to Mr. Dark and become one of his zombie-like slaves, until he hears his son call out “I love you” from behind a mirror panel. This then gives him the courage, strength, and motivation to continue and break through the mirror by punching it
and reuniting himself with his son.
But where’s Jim? Well, Mr. Dark has him in the carousel room and entices him to ride it with him so that Jim may grow older and become a partner of Mr. Dark of this carnival. As we’ve seen before, Jim’s desire is to be a “man of the house”, an adult, a leader, so he temporarily gets dazed by Mr. Dark’s offer and seems to accept it. Luckily, Mr. Halloway and Will arrive in time and manage to pull Jim off of the carousel. That’s the exact moment when the lightning storm occurs that sends a lightning bolt directly to the carousel’s switch thereby electrocuting Mr. Dark (who didn’t manage to disembark the carousel in time) and turning him into a lifeless skeleton.
The lightning storm then turns into a tornado somehow and sucks up all the remnants of the carnival causing everyone affected by it to revert to their old selves. And the townspeople live happily ever after with no more regrets about what they don’t have!
This film definitely succeeded in being darker than the usual Disney fare at the time. It even has a few uses of the word, “hell” and “damn”. And I personally feel that the darkness of this movie makes it quite enjoyable.
The effects are extremely good and believable for its time and some of the acting is pretty good with Jonathan Pryce’s being the best at showcasing an evil demonic creature to be feared.
It’s not the scariest movie ever, but it’s definitely one of the freakiest Disney movies ever!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 31/35 = 88.57% (B+) !
The next review will be posted on May 19th.