Something Wicked This Way Comes

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Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) evokes our collective idealized childhood memories of autumn. The changing leaves, the cold wind, the pumpkin patch, the early onset of night, and a generally sense of menacing wonder all permeate every frame of this film. During the opening narration the camera as well as the speaker draw our attention to this list as if it were the recipe for some strange and wondrous potion.

The last time I saw this film I was but a little boy following his father’s recommendation. The more grown-up themes and abstract concepts at work in Ray Bradbury’s script were lost on me. The spectre of the train, the autumn people’s carnival and the fear on children’s faces all made an intense impression though. Watching this film now at the age my father was then I am struck at how acutely this film renders in both its images and dramatic content that primal place where the fears of childhood and adulthood intersect. Charles Halloway’s (Jason Robards) fears for his son are the direct inversion of his son’s fears for him. Their relationship is strained by this mutual fear; a fear that feeds the menacing powers of Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) and his vanguard of carnies.

This primal quality is only part of what makes Something Wicked This Way Comes feel so folkloric. In the narrative itself it is revealed that once every generation Mr. Dark and his autumn carnival arrives. Charles Halloway’s own father kept a diary that relates some of the strange things that transpired all those years ago that now threaten to repeat themselves. In an early scene Charles Halloway reveals to his son Will (Vidal Paterson) that his own relationship with his father was strained, suggesting that the fear is intrinsic to their very nature and is in fact the lure that keeps Mr. Dark and company coming back. The cyclical and symbiotic nature of these two narrative threads are what the very foundation of American folklore is based upon.

For a film by the Walt Disney company Something Wicked This Way Comes is incredibly morbid, complex, and thematically adult. Yet, in a schizophrenic way, it is still very much a Disney picture. Director Jack Clayton and writer Ray Bradbury apparently had their vision drastically altered by Disney executives who, although they claimed to have been wanting to move the studio into a darker and more serious direction, found the film too disturbing for family audiences. So the balance between art and commerce was tipped in favor of the latter at great expense to the former. The Disney trademarks that scar this film as flawed do not impede it entirely. It still succeeds on every intended level.

Ironically Something Wicked This Way Comes has become decidedly difficult to obtain on BluRay today. The Disney Corporation, in all their miserly glory, have only released the film on this format through their swindle machine the Disney Movie Club. Now a film they asked for, tampered with and lost them a pretty penny at the box office almost forty years ago is being leveraged to pry an extra dime from the hands of collectors.