Welcome to Monsoon-a-day.
Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.
It’s difficult to overstate how rudderless Disney was during the 80’s. It’s hard to imagine a time where the once and future kings of cinema were on the skids but that decade was them at their bleakest. They were spinning a million plates while simultaneously throwing everything at the wall in hopes that something would stick.
It seems as though any script that had a name actor attached or a marketable concept was instantly green lit. There’s no other explanation for the existence of films like Condorman, Midnight Madness, Night Crossing or Tex.
Another explanation (that’s 100% pure speculation) is that there were two producers that ran everything. One green lit every family friendly script that came his way and the other was Tim Curry’s character from the film Legend.
The house of mouse got uncharacteristically dark in the 80’s. I have no idea if it was a change in management, bleed over from the political climate of the time or if it really was the prince of darkness (the thought of that character wearing mouse ears while reading scripts is amusing to me) running the show but the times, they were a-changing.
Gone were the days of happy-go-lucky kids fare starring Kurt Russell or Fred MacMurray or animated frivolites involving talking animals. This was the time for bleak, seriousness. To quote the masterpiece that is Bad Boys 2:
“The shit just got real.”
Much like Monsters, Inc but in reverse, the company traded in laughs for the tears and misery of children. They now fed on the nightmares of children and they were hungry.
First they released The Watcher In The Woods, which was deemed by many parents to be far too frightening and complained that it scared their children but that was but a mere taste of the horrors to come.
They followed that up with Dragonslayer (not technically designed to spook the kiddies but that Dragon scared the shit out of me when I was younger), Return to Oz, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Black Cauldron. All specifically created to suck the joy from the unsuspecting youth but they were still tame compared to the infamous Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, the film follows two young lads that run afoul of a mysterious carnival owner that grants the residents of the town whatever they desire…but at a price.
It’s no surprise that Stephen King tried to adapt the novel because his book Needful Things is beat-for-beat this story minus the child protagonists. Which should give you a slight indication as to the tone of this movie. While it never strays too far into horror, it is far darker than any other child’s film and had scenes that actually shocked me.
These kids are in genuine peril and the villain is actually menacing. We never find out much about Mr. Dark or how he operates but we know that he’s a threat and we know that he will kill these kids if he catches them. This film does not sugar coat evil. There are no cartoon characters in this and the solution doesn’t involve the children outwitting the bad guy with home made booby traps. Without getting into spoilers but the ultimate evil is defeated when a character finally accepts his own mortality.
Mr. Dark will offer you anything and the ultimate rejection of that is to accept your fate. To live with the fact that you will die and no bargaining or trickery will save you.
The fact that this film nor its lead villain are not remembered today as one of the iconic Disney creations, may convey some sense of the ambivalence with which the studio and its fans regard this phase of the company’s history.
Every aspect of this film is masterfully done. The dreamlike tone, the excellent performances (as great as Robards is, Pryce is truly on another level), the dark yet hopeful message and the unique characters (Pam Grier somehow looks younger in this than she did in her prison films of the 70’s. Black magic indeed) all culminate in the greatest horror film for children ever made.
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.