Something Wicked This Way Comes (1985)
Directed by Jack Clayton
Starring Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Pam Grier
This movie was a Halloween staple for me and my brother growing up. It definitely came out at a point when Disney didn’t seem to know what to do with itself and was churning out all sorts of random stuff. I remember us renting the clamshell VHS from the local Home Video Village, and then later watching it, “The Watcher in the Woods”, and “Disney’s Halloween Treat” on the Disney Channel during their free weekends. Back then, I think it was just a fun seasonal movie for us to watch, but now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate it so much more as a strong morality tale…it’s got SO much to say on the deep desires of the human heart and the price we can pay to satisfy them. The book is also incredible. I mean, it’s Ray Bradbury.
And the beginning of the book AND the film has one of the best opening lines ever… “First of all, it was October.” Gah, I love it so hard!
Spoilers For Something Wicked Comes This Way Below!
The movie is set in the 1930s, in the small hamlet of Green Town, Illinois where two boys, Jim and Will, are best friends. One week before Halloween, they find a flier advertising a carnival that is coming to town, and are surprised, because carnivals usually come in the summer. They sneak out to see the carnival arriving by train, and are intrigued by the dark differences the carnival exhibits. The next day, when they return during open hours, they are disappointed to see the carnival looks plain and ordinary. The boys meet Mr. Dark, the owner of “Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show”, when they are exploring the out-of-order carousel. Mr. Dark is covered in strange tattoos, and offers them free rides on the carousel when it is repaired. The boys then hide in order to see what happens with the carnival after nightfall.
Jim and Will are astonished to see Mr. Dark’s partner, Mr. Cooger, de-age as he rides the carousel backwards, and he emerges as a young boy. They follow the young Mr Cooger to the home of their school teacher, Miss Foley, and discover Mr. Cougar masquerading as Miss Foley’s nephew. Mr. Cooger, suspicious that the boys know his true nature, shatters Miss Foley’s window and blames them for it.
Jim, who longs to be older, is making his way to the carnival alone to ride the carousel forward when he is stopped by Will. The boys return home where they are stalked by the spiders sent by Mr. Dark. Meanwhile, Miss Foley, who has wished to be young and beautiful again, is granted her wish…only to go blind, unable to see her own loveliness.
Jim and Will discover other townspeople who have been granted their deepest desires by the carnival people, with disturbing results: Mr. Crosetti, the lonely barber who loves women, is turned into a woman. Mr Tetley, a man “obsessed with money”, wins the lottery only to be transformed into a statue, unable to spend his riches. And Ed, the barman who is missing an arm and a leg, finds his body fully restored, only to be reduced to a mute child.
Hunted by Mr. Dark, the boys seek the help of Will’s father, Charles, the town librarian. Charles is an older man, and regrets he was not able to save his son from a near-drowning as a child. He helps the boys hide from Mr. Dark, and using his preacher father’s journals, discovers that the “autumn people” have come to their town several times in the past. Mr. Dark arrives at the library searching for the boys, where Charles confronts him, revealing that he knows his true nature and what their plans are. Mr. Dark offers Charles his youth back again, but Charles refuses, and Mr. Dark gives him a non-fatal heart attack. He finds the boys and takes them back to the carnival.
Charles goes to rescue the boys, finding Will in the carnival’s mirror maze, where he is able to come to terms with his regrets, forgive himself, and reconcile with his son. The two run to the carousel, where Jim is just about to board with Mr Dark, who plans to make him his new partner. They rescue Jim, and sabotage the carousel to age Mr. Dark to death. A severe storm destroys the carnival, and Charles brings Jim back to life by the power of laughter and joy, and the three of them greet a new day together.
So What Did God Show Me?
Evil and temptation always show up when we least expect it, don’t they? Evil doesn’t announce itself widely or loudly. It’s subtle, inciting curiosity, like the fliers Mr. Dark throws around. It tends to creep in when we’re not paying attention, or when we’re bored. Yes, when life is dull and we long for a little change, a little excitement to perk us up, that is when temptation can ooze in… And it always starts off as innocent, as something benign, fun even, like a carnival. I mean, Eve didn’t see the serpent in the garden as evil or dangerous, otherwise she would’ve stayed away from it, or run away screaming, but she certainly wouldn’t have talked to it, or listened to its suggestions! It’s so important to know the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives so we can recognize temptation when it’s in front of us.
Desire is so personalized to each of us. Oftentimes our own personal desires make no sense to other people, because our desires aren’t something they are interested in; they have their own desires, which may make no sense to us. We only understand our own. And no one knows the terrible pull of our desires like we ourselves do, because everyone is different. But this is why we need each other, and need the Holy Spirit, to help us stand against and reject the temptations of unhealthy desires.
“There is something missing from your life…something that could make you so happy…” Temptation tells us what we’re missing out on, what’s keeping us from being totally happy. Again, like in the Garden, where Adam and Eve had no lack of anything, and yet the serpent was able to convince Eve that she wasn’t truly happy and was missing out on something.
The enemy uses pain and regret to remind us of how happy we’d be “if only”. Miss Foley, who used to be known as the most lovely woman in town, has become older, and not so lovely. When she finds the caricature Jim has drawn of her in his desk, I was feeling for her. How painful! And the joy that is in her face when she catches a glimpse of the beauty she used to have, and the hope that she could get it back again! How thrilled Mr. Crosetti is with the attention of ladies after having been alone so long, or how excited Mr. Tetley is to have won a thousand dollars and the plans he has to spend it! And Will’s father… the heavy regret he carries that weighs down upon him. If only he was younger and could play ball with his son. If only he knew how to swim, so he could have saved him.
Pain and regret suck, majorly, for sure, but they don’t have to rule us. And we have to remember that God is in those tender areas with us, upholding and sustaining us through them, and that He wants to give us good things. If we stop trying to fix things ourselves, and are brave and vulnerable enough to bring our broken pieces to Him, He can bring healing and freedom to those places.
-At my church, we have retreat weekends called Encounters, that are all about encountering God and letting Him bring restoration and truth to areas of our lives that need it. One session we hold discusses the “Father Wound”, and it addresses areas of hurt we’ve had regarding our parents. Both Jim and Will are suffering from their own versions of father wounds. Jim’s father abandoned him and his mother, and now we see Jim being in a hurry to grow up so he can be an adult, “trusted, feared”, as Mr. Dark offers him. Mr. Dark even promises to become a new father to him! Jim’s willing to do almost anything to satisfy that desire. Will, on the other hand, wants a connection with his father desperately. He loves his father, trusts him, seeks him out for safety and help, but his father doesn’t see it. Charles is too caught up in his regrets and thinks his son hates him for being old and not being able to save him when he almost drowned. It’s not until Charles faces his fears and accepts Will’s love that they are able to triumph over Mr. Dark. And just as Jim’s father once saved Will, Will’s father is now able to save Jim.
One of the terrible truths the movie shows us about temptation is that once you give in to temptation, and get what you think you want, what you receive becomes useless to you in one way or another. Miss Foley becomes young and beautiful, but goes blind and can’t see her own beauty. Mr. Crosetti’s lust for women causes him to turn into one. Mr Tetley is unable to spend the money he longed for. And Ed is unable to use the arm and leg that is given to him to play football as he used to. Giving in to temptation may seem like a quick fix, but it NEVER turns out the way we thought it would.
Mr. Dark offers Charles the opportunity to have his youth restored to him, even going so far as to describe all of the things he could do with his youth, run up the stairs, learn to swim, etc. But Charles, in an absolutely FANTASTIC scene, calls out Mr. Dark, revealing that he sees him and his fellows for who they truly are:
Charles: “I know who you are. You are the Autumn People. Where do you come from? The dust. Where do you go to? The grave.”
Mr. Dark: “Yes. We are the hungry ones.”
Charles refuses Mr. Dark, and this scene is so key, because of just that. We do not have to give in to temptation! No matter what, we always have the option to resist it. I read somewhere online once, I think it was at MoralRevolution.com, this fantastic quote: “The good feelings you get when you give in to temptation will NEVER feel as good as the good feelings you will have saying no to it. Temptation is never as powerful as your ability to say no to it.” That has stuck with me hard since I first read it, and it’s often come to mind when I’ve been faced with various temptations in my life. Remember, remember, remember, when it comes to temptation, we ALWAYS have a choice. Temptation has no power over us other than what we give it.
I think one of the absolute creepiest parts in this movie is when Jim’s mother has been given a message that her husband (his return would be satisfying her deepest desire) is waiting to meet her at the carnival. So she goes to the carnival at night to meet him, but Charles gets to her first, telling her to go home, and that “the man coming for you isn’t your husband!” EEEEEEEKK!!! Just another reminder that giving into temptation never gives us what we think we’re getting.
There’s a section at the end of the book that I wish had been included in the movie. The Autumn People have supposedly vanished, and Jim, Will, and his father are discussing them.
“Dad, will they ever come back?”
“No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “No, not them. But yes, other people like them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”
“Oh, no,” said Will.
“Oh, yes,” said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”
They moved around the carousel slowly.
“What will they look like? How will we know them?”
“Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”
Both boys looked around swiftly.
But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.
Will looked at Jim, at his father, and then down at his own body and hands. He glanced up at Dad.
Dad nodded, once, gravely, and then nodded at the carousel, and stepped up on it, and touched a brass pole.
Will stepped up beside him. Jim stepped up beside Will.
Jim stroked a horse’s mane. Will patted a horse’s shoulders.
The great machine softly tilted in the tides of night.
Just three times around, ahead, thought Will. Hey.
Just four times around, ahead, thought Jim. Boy.
Just ten times around, back, thought Charles Halloway. Lord.
Each read the thoughts in each other’s eyes.
How easy, thought Will.
Just this once, thought Jim.
But then, thought Charles Halloway, once you start, you’d always come back. One more ride and one more ride. And, after awhile, you’d offer rides to friends, and more friends until finally…
The thought hit them all in the same quiet moment.
…finally you wind up the owner of the carousel, keeper of the freaks…proprietor for some small part of eternity of the traveling dark carnival shows…
Maybe, said their eyes, they’re already here.
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” Galatians 5:24
I also want to clarify, not all desires are bad. I have a lot of desires. I desire to have my books published someday. I desire to be married at some point. I desire to tell as many people as possible that they have been created by God with a powerful destiny, and they need to know that they are totally able to achieve it! God has planted certain desires, wishes, dreams in our lives that are meant to be fulfilled, because God wants to pursue those dreams with us. He created us so that we could pursue them together with Him! “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” – Psalms 37:4. Again, God is a good Father that wants to give us good things! It’s only when we try to gratify unhealthy desires apart from God that we will always fall short of true joy and satisfaction. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21.
This movie isn’t perfect by any means, but it captures the essence of fall, October especially, very well with its outdoor scenes (shot in Vermont in the autumn) and its terrific soundtrack by James Horner. The opening five minutes and the last two minutes always, always gives me the warm fuzzies. And that scene in the library! SO powerful. There’s a fantastic line Charles speaks in the book (which y’all need to PLEASE go read!) which says, “Oh hell, don’t let them drink your tears and want more! Don’t let them take your crying, turn it upside down and use it for their own smile! I’ll be damned if death wears my sadness for gladrags! Don’t feed them one damn thing!” PREACH it Charles! The enemy, like Mr. Dark says, loves to butter their plain bread with our delicious pain. Satan loves to take pride in our misery and dangle it before us, gleeful and triumphant. But we don’t have to let him! The enemy doesn’t own us, and he certainly has no claim on us, and we can always choose to turn from what he offers and take what God gives freely instead.
So, as the saying goes, the next time the enemy reminds us of our past, remind him of his future. Like Charles says, all the enemy has in front of him is the grave. Joy wins. And laugh! Loudly, and as often as necessary…it sends them running!