The works of Ray Bradbury have inspired countless horror and dark fantasy writers over the years, myself included. Bradbury’s vivid imagery and dreamlike, poetic prose is something to behold. But how do his works translate to the screen? Is it possible to capture the thrills and magic of Bradbury’s work in television or film? I absolutely adore his 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (it’s one of my all-time favorite books), in which a dark carnival descends upon Green Town, Illinois, but I’ve yet to see the 1983 film adaptation (to be honest, I’ve only seen a handful of episodes of the ’80s anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater). After my conversation with horror author Scott Thomas, I think I need to add the movie to my queue. The film had a deep impact on Thomas as a child, one that informed his sensibilities and led him to create dark, twisted tales of his own.
Scott Thomas is the Stoker-nominated author of Kill Creek, which was selected by the American Library Association’s reader committee as the top horror book of 2017. He has written TV movies and teleplays for various networks including Netflix, Syfy, MTV, VH1, the CW, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and ABC family. Scott was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his work on R.L. Stein’s The Haunting Hour.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE: What book/movie/show/etc. got you into horror?
SCOTT THOMAS: The movie adaption of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
How old were you when you saw it and under what circumstances?
I was probably about seven or eight when I first saw it. Every year, on the last day of school, my elementary school would call us all down to the gym, give us a box of Cracker Jacks and a can of Coke and show us a Disney movie. It always alternated between Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Something Wicked This Way Comes and a third that I can’t recall.
You went to a cool school. Were you scared by Something Wicked This Way Comes? I haven’t seen it (I need to!) so I’m not sure the appropriate age-level for the film.
I wasn’t really scared by it, but there were these amazing visuals that were burned into my brain. The kids putting the lightning rod on the roof as a storm blows in. The teacher regaining her youth only to realize she has paid with her eyesight. Mr. Dark with the boys’ faces drawn on his palms, then squeezing his hands into fists as blood drips through his fingers. Mr. Dark ripping pages from a library book as they catch fire. Because we were being shown this movie at school, it felt wonderfully disturbing and edgy.
Sounds like those visuals really made an impression! Have you seen the movie since then and if so, do you think it still holds up?
I’ve seen it countless times since then, but I most recently re-watched it last Halloween with my daughter. It was fun to see it through her eyes. I have to admit it now feels a little hokey and disjointed, but I still love it. Those key moments I remember from my childhood still hold up. I think I’ll watch it again this Halloween. It’s technically a Disney movie, but it was made in the ’80s when they were exploring darker material like The Watcher in the Woods, Dragonslayer and The Black Hole, so it’s kind of the perfect movie to introduce younger viewers to horror.
Do you think the story and/or Bradbury influenced your writing in any way?
The dark magic of Something Wicked This Way Comes made me want to tell scary stories about places similar to my hometown in Kansas. Growing up, I loved hearing and telling ghost stories and urban legends about the Midwest, and Something Wicked felt like it could have happened right where I lived, maybe in the next town over where people still whispered about Mr. Dark’s carnival coming to town. Bradbury (who also co-wrote the screenplay) was one of those writers who made you feel like you were being told a true story, no matter how fantastic the subject matter. It definitely influenced my novels, Kill Creek and Violet. I wanted to attempt to capture that feeling of being told a horror story that may have really happened. Sitting in that gymnasium in elementary school, eating my Cracker Jacks and sipping my can of Coke, I was transfixed. There was an elegance to that story that made me realize the true artistry that could be brought to the genre. I was always fascinated by horror, but watching Something Wicked This Way Comes (and later reading the book) cast a spell that transformed my casual interest into true passion.
How do you think the book compares to the movie?
The movie is a fairly close adaptation of the book, which makes sense since Bradbury co-wrote the script. But the book has an almost dream-like quality to the writing while the movie is very straightforward. When you read the book, you feel like you’re living in some strange October-inspired dream that Bradbury is having about an event from his childhood. It’s very poetic and drips with nostalgia. There are also moments of quiet, heartfelt connection between an emotionally conservative father and his imaginative son that work slightly better in the book. The movie doesn’t quite capture these things as well as the book, but it nails the autumn setting, the sense of childhood wonder that comes with that time of year, and the terror of knowing something evil is present but no adults will believe you.
Do you have a favorite scene?
I love the moment when the carnival train chugs into town. It happens at night, and by morning the entire carnival is set up. It perfectly establishes the dark-yet-enticing aura cast by Mr. Dark’s carnival. I also love the scene where Mr. Dark confronts Will’s father (played by Jason Robards) in the town library. As he rips out pages from a book, they vanish in a flash of flame, and Will’s father’s heart begins to slow until he is near death. It’s an amazing showdown where Mr. Dark preys on a father’s unspoken fears. It’s a scary, beautiful, (literally) heartbreaking scene.
Are you a fan of Bradbury’s other work and if so, what?
I love Bradbury’s short stories. I feel like his style really shines in short form. I’m drawn more to the stories and novels that border on horror. Not surprisingly, his story “The Black Ferris” has always stuck with me because of its similarities to Something Wicked This Way Comes. The Halloween Tree is another fantastic exploration of the dark magic that exists in childhood.
Anything else you’d like to add about the movie
I don’t think I can fully express how inspiring this movie was when I was a kid. Many of the short stories I wrote in middle school and high school were my feeble attempt to capture just a sliver of the dark magic I felt when I watched Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think I’m still trying to capture that in the things I write.