Last of the Monster Kids

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013: October 30

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

As long as I’ve read books, I’ve loved Ray Bradbury. No author has influenced me more. When news of his passing reached me two years ago, I was crestfallen. If anyone could have lived forever, it would have been him. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is the first novel I ever read cover to cover. It’s a rare book where you can put your thumb down on any sentence on any page and find something poetic and beautiful. Bradbury’s preferred format was the short story and he never adapted as well to the novel or the screenplay. He happen to write both for the 1983 feature adaptation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” It’s not a great film but is one that has moments of greatness inside of it.

The film follows Bradbury’s novel quite closely. During a bleak October, the idealistic town of Green Town, Illinois is visited by a carnival. Led by the enigmatic Mr. Dark, the carnival seems to grants the most heart-felt wishes of the lonely, sad, scared towns people. But at a terrible price. Two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, are swept up by the mystery of the carnival, at first intrigued and then frightened. Will’s father becomes an unlikely hero to both, forced to overcome his own regrets and fears into order to protect the boys from the dark dreams of the carnival.

The book, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” is something of an allegory, a dark fantasy struggle of good and evil painted across an American small town. I love the book very much but find Bradbury’s themes overly simplistic sometimes. Perhaps the only way the film is superior is that Mr. Halloway, frequently long-winded on the page, is a more flawed, more human character on-screen. James Robards is excellent in the part, every regret and bad memory on his face. He is a warm, loving father but one wrecked by guilt for the things he didn’t and should have done. If Mr. Halloway is a more realized character in the film, then Mr. Dark is perfectly captured from the page. Bradbury wanted Christopher Lee to play the part, which probably would have been incredible. Yet Jonathan Pryce might be perfect in the role. There is such a real, deep sinister intent behind his every word and action. Mr. Dark isn’t quite the Devil himself but something very close. Pryce gives a star-making performance.

Both actors and characters are placed against each other in two scenes that stand out over the rest of the film. The first is when the carnival marches down the town’s streets. Their trumpets play out a funeral dirge. Will and Jim hide under the sidewalk. Mr. Dark confronts Will’s father, searching out the boy. The father tries to mislead the man, the boys’ faces tattooed on his palms. In rage at being lied at, Mr. Dark digs his fingers into his own hands, drawling blood. Blood that drips down on Will’s face under the street. That’s an awfully good scene.

However, the second confrontation between father and devil is incredible. The boys hide in the library. Mr. Halloway lifts his head up, taking his glasses off. Suddenly, as swift as a shadow moving into the room, Mr. Dark appears behind him. The two trade barbs, Bradbury’s lyrical dialogue dripping off their lips. Mr. Dark snatches Halloway’s book away from him. With every page torn away, another year lifts off of the man’s life, a glowing page falling to the floor. The scene builds an incredible intensity. Pryce doesn’t overdo it. Instead, he spits the words with vigor, rage quivering out of him. The book and film’s themes are summed in this scene, undoubtedly one of the darkest ever in a Disney film. If the rest of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” had been as good as this one moment, it would have been a classic for all time.

It’s a shame the film around those two incredible performances and two fantastic moments is so frequently a drag. The opening and closing narrations, though expressed with Bradbury’s lyrical verse, paint the film’s themes too neatly. The subplot concerning Mr. Cooger is unresolved. Royal Dano is delightful as Tom Fury, the lightening rod salesman. Fury’s overall importance to the plot is somewhat murky. His sudden reappearance at the end reeks of sloppy writing. A long scene where Will and Jim are attacked by spiders in their bedroom is awkwardly executed and goes on much too long. The climax is muddled and lacks satisfaction. Charles Halloway escaping the Mirror Maze through the power of love comes off as helplessly hokey. Mr. Dark dragged to his doom by the carousel is grim and mean-spirited. Considering the book ended with Will and Dad pushing Dark away with laughter and happiness, the film’s ending seems murky and inconclusive. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is haphazardly paced. The film is only 97 minutes long but feels much longer.

Changing the Dust Witch from an old crone to a siren-like embodiment of male desire was a smart decision. Pam Grier is sensual and enchanting in the part. Jack Clayton’s direction is occasionally quite striking, such as a single shot of Will and Jim running down the darkened town street. Sometimes, Clayton’s direction is a bit flat. The film had a troubled post-production, with rewrites, a completely new ending shot, and a new score recorded. Georges Delerue’s original score is appropriately sinister at times but drones too much. James Horner’s new score works for the film a little better but it’s too light at times. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is a troubled adaptation of a wonderful book. It’s honorable in some ways and worth checking out for Bradbury fans, despite maudlin and uneven elements. [7/10]

The Lost Boys (1987)

How big a deal is “The Lost Boys?” Is it one of those universally praised horror films? A beloved cult item? Or was it just the people I hung out with in high school who liked this movie so much? The film obviously has enough of a following to greenlit two twenty years later DTV sequels and action figures and things. I saw the movie years ago and it never grew on me. That’s one of the things Halloween is about for me: Possibly reassessing potential classics.

The central premise is actually fairly clever. It’s a gang of juvenile hooligans but the twist is they’re vampires! I’m not sure any movie did the roving gang of vampire teen things before this one. The film attempts to update the vampire for then modern audiences. That made the film successful in its day but has the effect of instantly dating it now. The style, fashion, and music is deeply rooted in the late eighties. Characters have perms, mullets, crimped, perfect hair-dos. They wear studded leather, denim jackets, and torn polyester. The heroes of the film dress in bright pastels. I’m partial to Echo & the Bunnymen’s cover of “People Are Strange” but a lot of the film’s music was only cool in the late eighties. I guess it shouldn’t surprise that “The Lost Boys” is a powerful bit of nostalgia for many folks.

The movie’s biggest problem is that it’s main character is the least interesting character in the film. Jason Patric’s Michael is a typically brooding teenager. He grunts a lot of his dialogue. His romantic relationship with Jami Gertz’ Star is completely flat. Michael spends large portions of the film treating his mom and little brother like an asshole. He is a stock boring audience surrogate.

Luckily, the supporting characters make up for it. The appeal of the Coreys mostly escape me but I’ll admit, Corey Haim is fairly amusing. I like his exaggerated comic reactions to the strange things that happen around him. Feldman, Corey the Second, puts on this bizarre gruff voices. The Frog brothers are entertaining mainly because they pretend to be experts when they are truthfully clueless assholes. Kiefer Sutherland is clearly the star of the show. His distinctive voice lends him a commanding presence, which works very well for this character. Edward Herrmann is fairly consistently awesome in most things and has fun playing two types here: First, the square boyfriend who is far too normal. Second, the evil head vampire, which allows Herrmann to gleefully over do it. The best character in the film is obviously Barnard Hughes’ Grandpa. He makes creepy taxidermy animals, is obsessed with his (usually stationary) convertible, swings root beer, and has an off-screen girlfriend. He delivers his dialogue with such an off-hand casualness. Only Dianne Wiest proves unlikable. She’s the classic clueless mom and remains clueless for far too long.

The horror content is comic book-like and light. The movie holds off on revealing the vampires up until the horror point. Before that, the creatures of the night are mostly represented by swooping shots. Victims are lifted out of the area but little actual bloodshed is shown. The patience pays off, as the reveal of the yellow-eyed, bumpy headed vamps works well. The last act is truly when “The Lost Boys” starts to move. Shades of “kids-on-a-mission” flicks like “Monster Squad” or “Goonies” poke through as Sam and the Frog brothers prepare goofy, creative vampire dispatching methods. The bathtubs and squirt guns full of holy water are actually clever, while the death by stereo moment is far sillier. The entire last act, the confrontation between vampires and the reveal of the big boss, works far better then the film that comes before it.

Joel Schumacher gets a lot of shti but give the guy some credit. He knows how to make a movie look good. “The Lost Boys” is especially gorgeous on Blu-Ray. The nights are dark and full of billowing fog. The red tent in the house at the end helps the suspenseful tone. Sometimes, his music video tendencies go too far, like the painfully earnest love scene between Michael and Star, but usually it lends a stylish, memorable look to the film. It’s probably silly to look for queer subtext in everything Schumacher does but it does become apparent at times. Why would a teenage boy like Corey Haim have a poster of George Michaels, in short-shorts, thrusting his crotch forward, on his bedroom wall? When Michael’s vampire instincts first kick in, he nearly feeds on his little brother. While he’s in the bath. Finally, the bro-mance between Michael and David is nearly homoerotic, especially since Jason Patric has way more chemistry with Kiefer. And then there's the Greasy Sax Man...

Conclusion? “The Lost Boys” is perhaps too prickly at first but eventually develops a likable zany streak. I’m not converting to the tribe yet but it doesn’t surprise me people love this movie. [7/10]

1 comment:

Kernunrex said...

I remember watching Something Wicked on TV as a wee child. I was fascinated by it - it was the darkest movie I'd ever seen to that point and the scene with the tarantulas really connected. This wasn't because I was afraid of spiders, but because I empathized with the fear of what may happen when you're along in your room in the dark.

Anyways, Happy Halloween!