Something Wicked This Way Comes

“First of all, it was October, a rare time for boys…” so begins Ray Bradbury’s classic autumnal gothic novella about a malevolent carnival come to wreck havoc on a small, dysfunctional town. The 1962 book was originally written for the screen in the 1950’s, specifically for Gene Kelly, whose film failure of INVITATION TO THE DANCE led to a decades odyessy of directors interested in one of Bradbury’s most cinematic, melancholy tales. No wonder he named his iconic antagonist Mr. Dark. But the spirit of dusk, leaves, magic and Halloween is there also. It’s still my favorite Bradbury book.

209227.1020.AAfter directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Steven Spielberg flirted with making it, subtle maestro Jack Clayton (THE INNOCENTS; ROOM AT THE TOP) finally helmed an apropos subtle version for Disney in 1983, who gutted his badly-previewed, special effects shy cut in favor of a very 80’s style spfx fest, replete with blue lightning bolts and what would have been the first CG integrated scene with the Pandemonium Carnival’s night arrival (later cut). The film is still effective and has a memorable performance in Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark and Jason Robards as Jim Nightshade’s father. Their verbal, metaphysical confrontation in a gothic library is the film’s high point. There’s a good eclectic supporting cast, including Pam Grier as The Dust Witch. Here’s Ray Bradbury discussing the film at a screening at the Egyptian Theatre. And to officially kick off October, here’s the cool trailer…

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33 Responses to “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

  1. BONZA!

    ‘something wicked’ is one of my all-time fave books — and on my list of things that TRULY creep me out in his world (esp. the dust witch. shudder)

    the movie is indeed pretty decent in its own right (i have it on VHS actually, my boy likes it; he’s going to have a go at the book over the summer, it’s still a bit advanced for him, reading-wise); it doesn’t even begin to make my flesh crawl like bradbury’s novel but you’re right, it’s atmospheric and creepy and macabre, and price and robards as dark and halloway really add some gravitas to proceedings (and the boys who play will and jim also do a convincing job)

  2. I have never seen this, though the book is an old favorite. (Possibly because the book is an old favorite.) Maybe it’s time.

    Thinking back, the novel may have been my first “adult” book. I found it at the school library some time around the sixth grade and I was off and running. Bradbury led to hard SF guys like Clarke and Asimov, which led to Heinlein which led to Ellison and Dick and the Dangerous Visions crowd, which led to Catch-22 and Vonnegut and the wide world of “straight” fiction. So I owe him a lot.

    I love his ’40s and 50’s output, especially those creepy short stories — but I’m afraid to revisit that stuff. It’s ideal when you’re a certain age.

    Never read any of his recent crime fiction. Is it any good?

  3. Hm, italics weirdness. Thank you html. Obviously, it was only supposed to have been the titles.

  4. christian Says:

    Can’t think of a better time than October for you to finally catch this Frank. Netflix! I devoured Bradbury after my brother got me “The Martian Chronicles” for Xmas when I was about 12. His short scary stories were great, like early Stephen King. And I love his poetic language that’s almost impossible to translate to film. He’s the single greatest public speaker I’ve ever seen and when he unexpectedly grabbed my hand at a writer’s conference for a group photo, I felt like I was being benedicted..

  5. Nice fake fall shot on the masthead, btw. I must have seen the film ten times before I noticed that while the fallen leaves were brown, the ones on the trees were green — not to mention the Washingtonia Filifera in a couple of shots. That’s how good a job Carpenter did of evoking that Midwestern autumnal atmosphere.

    Is it just me, or is there a spiritual link between Bradbury and Halloween (the movie)?

  6. christian Says:

    But I would like to see Clayton’s early cut. I think this trailer is based on that as there’s none of the gaudy efx in this at all.

  7. hey, i was gonna say that same exact thing earlier re: carpenter’s ‘leaf faux pas’, having been reminded by christian’s most excellent ‘halloween’ screen grab, but i forgot. really i was, honest

  8. christian Says:

    I’m bummed I actually learned that HALLOWEEN was shot here in Hell-A. Fake leaves or not, Carpenter gives the film a proper Mid-west vibe. That long tracking shot of Laurie walking as Carpenter’s quiet piano/synth theme plays is one of the most evocative Autumn scenes eva.

    • hey, i took one look at that shot of laurie up there and carpenter’s haunting tune instantly began to play in my head

      (a sure sign i’ve seen that movie way too many fucking times. and yet, i watch it each and every halloween before i go to bed come hell or high water, so here’s hoping i get to watch it 50 more times or so before i kark it)

  9. christian Says:

    Of course there’s a link — the Boogeyman gonna getcha!

  10. I guess it was Pasadena. It’s pretty damned convincing, aside from that leaf business. I grew up in neighborhoods that looked just like that.

    Yeah, I love the stalking shots. Suburbia never looked so menacing. And also the clothesline scene. Spooooooooky.

    Were you guys in HS (or Jr. High) when it was released? I think that makes all the difference between merely appreciating the film and feeling it in your bones.

    • fb, i must have been 11 or so when i saw ‘halloween’ at the cinema, it scared the living crap out of me (in the best possible way). bear in mind i’d just seen ‘black christmas’ for the first time about a month before that, so i went through a good solid month or two of being scared shitless every night. it was great. you’re never so alive as when you’re about to jump out of your skin at every sound and shadow and you feel relief at the sight of dawn breaking outside your bedroom window

      • christian Says:

        I finally saw HALLOWEEN on its NBC network premiere…on Halloween I believe. Although “edited for television” there wasn’t much that couldn’t be seen on TV today minus P.J. Soles bod. Awesome direction, best horror theme ever next to PSYCHO, brilliant Dean Cundey camerawork and Jamie Lee and Donald P.

        Christopher Lee turned down Loomis and considers it one of his great regrets. And the film’s final moments are stunning.

  11. christian Says:

    I was in elementary school. The trailer terrified me so much after I saw it in a theater I woke up whimpering at my friend’s slep-over. Embarassing…

  12. christian Says:

    Speaking of Something Wicked…wordpress has just informed me that due to “content concern” I can’t post anything. WTF? Too much Glenn Beck?

  13. He’s the real boogeyman.

  14. Looks like poor Ray has been Shapejacked. Well, it’s October. It happens.

    Glad to learn I’m not the only freak who watches it every single year.

    At the risk of getting too geeky: which version? After reading about a hundred message boards, I decided on the Limited Restored with the Cundey-approved transfer — midnight blue filter and all that. If they combined this version of the film with the features from the 25th anniversary disc, it would be ideal.

    (Of course, for years I was perfectly happy with a crummy videocassette. What we didn’t know then didn’t hurt us.)

  15. christian Says:

    I’m sure Bradbury liked HALLOWEEN. But he’s a merciless film critic (when I met him he said of Coppola’s DRACULA: “There’s no heart to put a stake in.”)

    And isn’t there like 20 different HALLOWEEN tape/DVD releases at this point? I’d go for the Cundey approved version. Is that on Blu-Ray?

    But I do remember when I saw it on Beta for the first time back in the day. I was like OHMYGOD THE FUTURE IS HERE!

  16. Bradbury’s prose in general is stunning, and Wicked is my favorite longer work of the author’s as well. The movie, which I haven’t seen since I was 8 or thereabouts, is on its way as a result of this post.

    I was in DC a few months ago, trying to hit on this pretentious would-be lobbyist, one of those English majors who went to Law for better pay, and she was smart and had read every damn thing down the pike, which I liked. (I like my women smarter than me.) I brought up Bradbury and she dismissed him as children’s reading. That was the end for me, well, actually it wasn’t, it was the end for her towards me.

    Wait, we were talking about Ray Bradbury right?

    p.s. I love Coppola’s Dracula.

  17. christian Says:

    Children’s reading? She’s aware that FARENHEIT 451…oh, never mind. You dodged a bullet. But I bet she just loves “magical realism” from Marquez…i.e., fantasy…

    Coppola’s DRACULA looks great but I still find silly storywise. I like to call Gary Oldman “Grungula” with his anachronistic glasses and hair…

  18. I tend to be madly attracted to snobbish, subtlely older, women with a pronounced disinterest in a number of things I treasure. I should probably get counseling.

    I had forgotten too that Jack Clayton directed Wicked. I recently watched The innocents, and I think that is still my favorite haunted house-ish picture (that I’ve encountered so far, at least.)

  19. rewatched that is.

  20. christian Says:

    THE HAUNTING is still the best haunted house film and THE INNOCENTS is probably the best filmed ghost story eva…

  21. i think the best haunted house/ghost story movie ever (meaning my favourite and the one that genuinely scares the bejeesus out of me) is ‘the changeling’ (late 70’s?) with george c. scott. that ball…shivers

    (one of my first roles in community theatre back in the day when i was convinced i wanted to become a great thespian was playing ‘miles’ in ‘the innocents’, somebody’s ‘screen to play’ adaptation of film, i don’t remember who. there was a dearth of boys at auditions so i did a bit of the ol’ transgender trickery – tho i would like to point out i do not look like a boy, i was like 14 and tall/skinny/athletic so i could get away with it. twas bizarre playing a boy but miles was quite a juicy role so i actually enjoyed it)

  22. christian Says:

    I’ve still never seen THE CHANGELING — it was probably because of all the scary tv ads with that fuckin’ possessed wheelchair…Speaking of, I went to an opera performance here last month directed by the same Peter Medak. I wanted to thank him for THE RULING CLASS but he was gone before I got to him…

  23. good god, man, have you taken leave of your senses? you must seek out ‘the changeling’ immediately and forthwith!

    (medak directs opera now? how quirky. i’d read somewhere a while back that he was heavily involved in directing TV – i know he did some episodes of ‘carnivale’ of which i was a fan – but i’d never heard about the opera)

  24. Coppola’s Dracula is great fun. Cool costumes and atmosphere, old-school effects, lush cinematography. But it would have been even better as a silent film.

    The Innocents is one of the few haunted house films that gives The Haunting a run for its money. The latter is an all-time great, the only real flaw being Julie Harris’s whiny voice-over. I just want to smack her.

    The 1999 version is terrific, too. Extremely subtle film, particularly in its judicious use of CGI. I felt like I was looking at actual ghosts. I’m shocked to this day that Catherine Z-J wasn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

  25. Still looking forward to seeing you onstage, L. Why don’t you do a monologue on Youtube for us? How about Taxi Driver?

    When you guys did Grease all those years ago, what kind of accents did you use? A bunch of Kiwi high school kids speaking in fake Chicagoese must have really been something to see.

    • my acting days are loooooong behind me, frankb, i’m strictly behind the scenes now

      re: grease, yes american accents all the way, and about as dodgy as you might expect tho prob not as bad as it could have been (just ‘generic’ american if i recall, regional brogues were a bit beyond our pay-grade. i’m american by birth and immigrated to nz when i was a kid so i may have had a slight advantage there, and the head of our drama dept/director was from boston so that likely helped a tad)

  26. christian Says:

    Leah: THE CHANGELING is a’comin’…

    Frank: I agree that Coppola shoulda done DRACULA as a silent film. It would have been audacious and worked even better.

    But boy I did not like the remake of THE HAUNTING. Millions spent on cg spooks with not one moment of genuine fear. Liked Neesom and Owen Wilson tho.

  27. Really? Wow, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it before! I thought it was better than The Exorcist. Better than Psycho and Texas Chain Saw, too. Especially that part where Lily Taylor yelled at the ghost and sent him packing. How come no one thought of that before? Think of how much better The Shining would have been if Shelly Duvall had chewed out the hotel and they’d all hugged in a freeze-frame ending. Kubrick was so jealous he died shortly thereafter. He knew he couldn’t top it.

  28. So you’re really one of us, Leah? One of us, one of us…

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