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Something Wicked This Way Comes - Disney DVD Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes movie poster - click for larger view and to buy Something Wicked This Way Comes

Theatrical Release: April 29, 1983 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jack Clayton / Writer: Ray Bradbury (novel & screenplay)

Cast: Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Pam Grier (Dust Witch), Bruce M. Fisher (Mr. Cooger), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed), Phil Fondacaro (Demon Clown), Arthur Hill (Narrator)

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Something Wicked This Way Comes opens with the perfect setup. It's autumn in the Norman Rockwell-esque setting of Green Town, Illinois, in the 1930s. The leaves are an array of reddish and orange hues,
and the wind is blowing the way it does when the days get shorter and shadows get longer. With the warm, nostalgic opening narration, you might think you're in for a celebration of past youth in simpler times, but of course, you're not.

This small town, with its bunch of familiar characters, is merely the thoroughly convincing old-fashioned setting for this dark, creepy tale from author Ray Bradbury. The young protagonists whom the story centers around are Will Halloway (Vidal Peterson), a bespectacled 12-year-old boy, and his best friend and next door neighbor Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson).

The story really begins with the arrival of a salesman who is vending lightning rods to the people of Green Town. He warns of a great storm coming, and naturally, he is right (to a degree). While Jim is installing his newly-purchased lightning rod on the roof of his house, the wind blows in to the boys a piece of paper announcing the arrival of a new carnival.

Before there was Harry and Ron, there was Will Halloway (right) and Jim Nightshade, the young protagonists of "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Will's father, the town librarian, is expertly played by Jason Robards.

While a carnival in October seems unlikely, the boys wake up that night and observe the very arrival of a train and soon the carnival is in town. An ordinary carnival wouldn't make much good for a suspense tale, so it's not so surprising that there is more going on beyond the seemingly routine fairground atmosphere.

Will and Jim begin snooping around the carnival grounds, lurking to find answers. They learn that the "out-of-order" carousel is in fact working, but not in traditional ways. Here, one can find youth or adulthood, depending on whether the merry-go-round moves forward or backward.

It turns out that this is one of a number of methods in which the enigmatic carnival leader, Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), is granting the townspeople their deepest wishes. Through Dark's carnival, one can find youth, beauty, fortune. There's no consistency to what the cost will be if you give in to your desires, but you'll lose something. To assist Mr. Dark in getting souls is the Dust Witch (Pam Grier), a force of both beauty and evil, who shows up a lot, draws people in, and then doesn't do very much that we see.

Dark and his carnival crowd (the Autumn People) thrive on the weaknesses and regrets of ordinary people and wreaking havoc among the simple little town.

Dark and his carnival of oddballs march through the main street of Green Town Will and Jim pry into Dark's carnival.

When Mr. Dark declares that Will and Jim have seen too much, he sends out forces of evil to get them. Here, the movie shifts gear a bit. While it successfully continues to tap into fears and maintain high levels of suspense, the film begins to stray. One can even see that this section posed creative problems for Disney: in some sequences, the actors playing the boys appear considerably older, the unmistakable sign of post-production reshoots.

For Will and Jim, the adventure becomes solely to avoid Mr. Dark. Meanwhile, Will's father has to face his own fears. Jason Robards delivers a strong and resonant performance as the aging Charles Halloway, the town's librarian who's been pretty sad lately. Mr. Halloway feels inadequate as a father to Will, but he can't seem to shake his fear of taking risks and having fun. The frightened and unadventurous elder Halloway becomes a perfect target for the vicious Mr. Dark to pry as his way of getting to the boys.

Ray Bradbury wrote the book Something Wicked This Way Comes in 1962 and two decades later, this screenplay adaptation, which took a few liberties to make things more cinematic.

Man, you can't even get a haircut in this town! Guess I'll just have to keep wearing this hat. Have you seen this boy?

Gripping, chilling, and with terrific atmosphere, Something Wicked succeeds at unsettling. The film aptly wavers from nightmarish dream states to nightmarish states of wake, and the suspense constantly builds.
There's enough to frighten even the most jaded of youths and the film shows far more than something implicitly scary like The Watcher in the Woods.

Before reaching its rousing conclusion, the film stumbles with non-specific darkness, as if it can't quite choose what direction to take. It finally decides that at the core of the elaborate structure is a touching story about a father and son, and it pays off quite well.

It's not surprising that Something Wicked This Way Comes didn't find much of an audience upon theatrical release. It's a Disney horror film, probably too intense for children and yet with children for protagonists. From the new DVD cover, one might gather that Disney is trying to appeal to the same audiences who gobble up Harry Potter films in mass quantities, and while this film is darker and less clever, it could well resonate with a similar viewership.

There are moviegoers who Something Wicked This Way Comes would certainly delight. Maybe not the traditional live action Disney fans, but they won't know unless they give this unusually dark and well-crafted suspense a chance.

Buy Something Wicked This Way Comes from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French; Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 3, 2004
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase


In what is a first as far as I can tell on a live action catalogue release, Disney has included two viewing formats on this DVD. Viewers can choose from the original theatrical aspect ratio (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) or a reformatted transfer designed to fill 4x3 televisions.
The reformatted fullscreen transfer adds a little bit of picture at the top and bottom of the frame, but more significantly lops off part from the sides.

When it was released on DVD by Anchor Bay, Something Wicked This Way Comes was supposedly presented in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen and reformatted fullscreen. I'm not sure how to account for the difference in aspect ratios. I assume this one might be more tightly framed, but I didn't notice any oddities or problems.

The new 16x9 enhancement is welcome, and the transfer is for the most part pretty good. The video is mostly clean and sharp, and handles dark and light scenes reasonably well. A bit of grain pops up in some night scenes, but not excessively. There are some scratches and occassional artifacts that turn up and prevent this being a grade-A presentation, but overall, the anamorphic widescreen transfer is satisfactory.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also quite able. The audio is crisp, and dialogue sounds natural. Surrounds are called to duty at times, and these effectively enhance the atmospheric soundfield. While not to the extremes of Disney's new Black Hole DVD, the sound does get very loud at times, at the pinnacles of drama. For a film that's over twenty years old, the 5.1 soundtrack is rather impressively active, and it does a good job of serving the film and its suspenseful story.

Disney's Main Menu for Something Wicked This Way Comes Blood, tears, and glasses for Will.


The only bonus feature is a well-worn theatrical trailer,
presented in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, and running 3 minutes. It's a very intriguing preview, which would catch any audience off-guard bearing the "Disney" name.

Disney's DVD showcases some nice, atmospheric 16x9 menus with an animated introduction and main screen. The only other thing on the disc is a promo for recent live action Disney films which plays at startup and is not accessible from the menu.

Disappointingly excluded from the DVD are a couple of features that were on a laserdisc that Disney put out in the '90s. The first is an audio commentary featuring author/screenwriter Ray Bradbury, director of photography Stephen Burum, and visual effects man Harrison Ellenshaw. The second is a track of the isolated score by James Horner. In addition, there appears to have been a making-of special that aired on TV but has never been released on home video. That none of these supplements were included is quite the letdown for fans.

Will's father makes good use of his job as town librarian. Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) gives his evil stare.


Something Wicked This Way Comes is about as dark as Disney films get, which will either attract or deter audiences, based on personal preferences. The movie delivers suspense and the intriguing Ray Bradbury story is executed with skill, though occassionally suffering from detours of excess.

The film is almost certainly too much for very young audiences, but viewers who revel in slightly darker fare and those with fond '80s childhood memories of the film will enjoy and should be pleased with this fine DVD release, which rises above the out-of-print previous Anchor Bay release.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy The Book by Ray Bradbury

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Related Reviews
New to Disney DVD: The Watcher in the Woods (1981) | The Black Hole (1979)

Disney in the '80s:
Return to Oz (1985) | The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) | Tron (1982)
Flight of the Navigator (1986) | Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) | One Magic Christmas (1985)

More Disney Fantasy/Horror:
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) | Return from Witch Mountain (1978) | The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

Featuring Cast Members of Something Wicked This Way Comes:
The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972) | Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Reviewed July 31, 2004.