The Sci-Fi Chronicles book (and I am enjoying it so much) next brings me to Ray Bradbury, and the screenplay he wrote, which he adapted from his own classic story. Dark and moody, this one is definitely a family horror movie, this came from the period in the 1980s, when Disney started to play with some darker material, as it did with The Black Hole (a personal fave), and while a lot of this film is nostalgia for me, I still think it’s a good film, and Jonathan Pryce’s Mr. Dark is wonderfully evil and more than enough to menace the small town that is home to Will Halloway (Vidal Peterson), his father, Charles (Jason Robards) and his best pal, and neighbor, Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson). While there are changes from page to screen, most of the essence of the original tale is there, and as mentioned, Pryce makes this one worth watching, not to mention a gorgeous score by the late James Horner.
It’s October, and Jim and Will find themselves pulled into adventure and terror, when a strange carnival arrives in their sleepy little town, with secrets and desires behind each curtained window, run by the frightening and charming Mr. Dark. What follows is a unique coming of age tale, that teaches the boys that the adults around them are people, just like them, filled with needs, wants, regrets and desires, all wonderfully paraded before them as Dark gives each person who comes to his carnival their secret desire, but at a terrible price, one that seems to be emptying the town, almost overnight.
Will’s father, Charles, is the local librarian. A man he loves, but begins to recognize that his father is old, fragile, and like so many others in the town, filled with regrets, but when it comes time to face off against Dark, his father will always stand between the darkness and his child. Which ends up happening fairly quickly, as neither of the boys can stay away from the carnival, and when they learn its terrible secret, and how it ties in with its carousel, Dark and his fellows plan to hunt them down, once and for all.
This one ends up being a spooky, occasionally frightening family horror film, one that can make the littlest thing horrific. The production itself looks great, though some of the special effects are rather dated. The locations and costumes, and the acting are all fairly solid, though the film’s last act suffers a little. For all that, I still think this is a wonderful little film, and a bit of a strange horse I the Disney stable.
For me, there are three stand out moments, the nightmare, Dark stalking the boys in the library, and parade sequences. Although, speaking of the parade, I never figured out why the townspeople doesn’t recognize some of their own citizens in the parade.
If you can overlook that little exception, and want something fun, dark, and not quite the norm, this one is well worth the look. And I always dug the original poster, as seen above.