“Funerals, bad marriages, lost loves, lonely beds. That is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. We search for more always. We can smell young boys ulcerating to be men a thousand miles off. And hear a middle-aged fool like yourself groaning with midnight despairs from halfway around the world.” – Mr. Dark
This one goes to Dani Carnage, who, in a roundabout way inspired this choice. Dani is, like me, a horror movie obsessive and like me, he gets into the spirit in the days leading up to Halloween. (Unlike me, Dani has musical talent. The only musical thing I can play is a CD). Anyhow, a few days ago on his Facebook page he asked which film captures the spirit of Halloween the best.
I thought about that for a while and the answer is, in my mind way too easy, as it’s John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s too much of a given, so I widened up the question to which film captures the spirit that is unique to the month of October the best? The answer in my mind can only ever be Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that this is a film that I just can’t watch at any other time of year – like Disney’s Ichabod and Mr.Toad or Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. The Octoberness (and yes, I invented a new word, and here’s another – the Octoberosity) of those films is too poignant for viewing in a month that doesn’t begin with an “O”.
Ray Bradbury is without doubt one of the most lyrical and poetic prose writers of the past hundred years. He had a passion for October, and a gift for describing and evoking its particular colours, sounds and smells like no other author I’ve read. It was a stroke of genius when the Disney company hired him to adapt his own bestselling book for the screen. (It is, however, the complete opposite of a stroke of genius that for reasons that are unknown to me and I probably wouldn’t be able to fathom anyway, the film is inexplicably unavailable in the UK on DVD and rarely, if ever, is shown on TV).
Set in the 1930s in a Norman Rockwell stylised fictional small town, Greentown, Illinois, two young boys, next door neighbours born a minute apart, either side of midnight, meet a seller of lightning rods named Tom Fury. He warns forbodingly that there’s a storm coming – and behind him are those kind of battleship grey clouds you only get at this time of year.
Well, there IS a storm, and it arrives at the small Mid Western town by train, in the form of a circus. Or, more accurately, Mr Dark’s Pandemonuim Circus. But this is a circus unlike any other – this is where you get your heart’s desire, but at a terrible price.
A stiff, starched, prim aging spinster is the local teacher. Once the most beautiful girl in town , incredible as it seems to the boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway. She yearns for the beauty of her youth and Mr Dark’s demonic sideshow makes it so, but as she sees her face become young and radiant again, she is struck blind. A young athlete who has lost an arm and a leg and can’t play football any more and spends his days wistfully dreaming of his lost gridiron career regains his limbs, but regresses to be a child, there’s a roundabout which alters your age, depending on whether you ride it backwards or forwards and so on.
Only the boys know what’s going on, and only Charles Halloway, Will’s father, a man written off as a coward for freezing, due to his inability to swim, while Will nearly drowned as a small child, can help them overcome the evil emanating from the circus as several of the men fall under the spell of the Dust Witch.
There’s plenty of horror content here – enough unease to keep even the most jaded individual’s attention firmly on the screen as the boys come under the pursuit the evil, manifesting itself as a green mist, and then as a plague of tarantulas.
Visit the circus of Mr. Dark if you must, but be careful what you wish for – particularly in the Mirror Maze. For a film released under Disney’s own label rather than their Touchstone brand – it’s spectacularly dark and the closest the House of Mouse have come to making an out and out horror movie.
Copyright © 2010 - 2014 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.