“Something Wicked This Way Comes” concludes the Halloween Seven. This is currently my Halloween night movie, because I think it has a great blend of terror, fun and morality that brings together everything the holiday is about. The movie is strongly based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, first published in 1962. It is about a pair of boys, one dark, one light, in the small town of Green Town, Illinois. A carnival mysteriously shows up in late October, just a week before Halloween, bringing with it all the mystery and intrigue that a carnival can. There are endearing characters, great settings, and plenty of Halloween bravado. It is not a scary movie by any means, but it makes you think, and more than that makes you appreciate the holiday. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a great way for kids to start their trick or treating, and a great way for adults to wind down and remember the good old days when they used to dress up and prowl the streets.
The movie, released over twenty years later, has one feature very uncommon to crossover stories: It was written by the same person that wrote the book. This is important to note, and I think it is one of the main reasons this movie is so successful, whether compared to the book or on its own. The usual comment is that “the book was sooo much better”, but that sentiment really doesn’t exist here. The story lines of both are very similar, but the way they go about telling said story, emotionally at least, is very different. The novel really highlights the two boys, Will and Jim, as main characters. Their segments are fast paced and exciting, while Mr. Halloway’s segments are slower and brooding. The movie, however, almost turns the tables. Mr. Halloway seems much more intriguing than the boys and his character really moves the story in a way the kids can’t. I believe this has a lot to do with the quality of actor portraying both parties, but that is for another time.
As I have stated, the differences between novel and film are few, but when they are evident, it is hard to tell which is “better”. Some scenes are completely different, but it would be hard to debate which comes across stronger. It seems to me as though Mr. Bradbury wanted to take his novel and explain it in a different way with the film. The difference in endings is the best way to show this, so I will try my best not to ruin anything. In the book, a character loads and fires an imaginary bullet with a real gun, which kills an evil character. This very distinctly illustrates a big theme in both stories, that belief is a very powerful force. In the film, the characters flap their arms, make bird noises, laugh and smile to defeat the evil characters. This ending shows a variation on that theme, the power of imagination and how it is important just to be a kid. Both are equally effective, have the same result, but express very different themes.
The special effects in “Something Wicked” are really not very special. There are some very cool shots in the mirror maze, something that is difficult to do well even now. The costuming is spot on. While it may not be period correct, it invokes that sense of timelessness I speak so highly about. We don’t see any cars, and they have gas lamps, but these qualities existed in small towns well into the twentieth century. It certainly isn’t set in the 60’s, but any time before the 50’s is fairly believable. The set pieces are also wonderful and full of Halloween flavor, but I have a sneaking (but unconfirmed) suspicion that the town square set is the same one from “The Lady in White”. Maybe that’s why I like both so much. The real “special effects” include lightning bolts, transforming mirrors, and tons of spiders. The transitional effects are pleasant and effective, even thirty years later, but the lightning and electrical shocks really date the film. A note on the spiders: I’m almost positive they are all real, so if you are squeamish about creepy crawlers, prepare to close your eyes for a bit.
The acting does need to be touched upon before any sort on conclusion can be made. The majority of the actors play their parts well and believably, everyone from Will and Jim to Miss Foley and the Lightning Rod Salesman. Jonathan Pryce is very effective as Mr. Dark, bringing in the equal parts charm and pure evil that the role requires. He would make a good vampire. The real standout, as I vaguely mentioned earlier, is Jason Robards as Mr. Charles Halloway. Robards plays the aging father of a young boy, the librarian (a little better job than in the book, in which he is the janitor at the library) and a very thoughtful and brooding man. The combination of Bradbury’s writing and Robards’s acting skill make for a very memorable character in Mr. Halloway. The elder Halloway is a fairly verbose character, but he doesn’t really need to be. It seems as though every word he says has the power of three from any other voice. His facial expressions and inflection do an amazing job of conveying the thoughts and troubles of the aging character. In both book and movie, Halloway ends up being a hero just out of sheer power of will. This is easier to convey in a novel, when the reader can be right inside a character’s head, but on film it takes a very talented actor to give the audience that level of intimacy.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a thought provoking look into our own souls. It makes the viewer take stock in what he believes in, then analyze it. Almost because of this, it is very slow. It builds and builds, luring the attentive and imploring viewer into its sticky web of desire and lust. Much like the characters at the carnival, each audience member will take away something different from the film. Many people will get nothing out of it but the feeling that they just wasted ninety good minutes. Others, like myself, will keep coming back, year after year, just to see what changes the extra year has made on them. Much like “Peter Pan”, “Something Wicked” forces you to think and act like a kid, and if you’re not open to it, the movie will fail for you.
Fun Factor: 7