To keep with the holiday season I decided to start viewing some dark fantasy films (my threshold for horror is mixxed at best. I prefer the subtler supernatural over the raw terror of a slasher film so a lot of the examples of the genre I like best are only nominally horror by my definition)

So for the first week of my Halloween countdown I decided to start with the works of  Ray Bradbury.

220px-Halloween_tree_coverThe first of the two was the  Hanna-Barbera The Halloween Tree. An adaptation of Bradbury’s novel of the same name. the Halloween Tree features the adventures of four friends who are guided by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) through the history of Halloween, as they try to rescue the spirit of their friend, Pip,  who is in the hospital with appendicitis (all this takes place in the turn of the century so his recovery is not a sure thing)

This is essentially an educational cartoon teaching children the history of Halloween (a lot of which needs serious fact checking) done on the most part on a shoe string budget. But what it does with what it has is quite spectacular. THe painted backgrounds are gorgeous and the titular Halloween tree provides a wonderful sense of wonder.

Also as far as Holiday specials go it has a very good plot and despite serving as a framing device for the four sequences there is always a feeling of suspense whether everything will go well in the end. Including will Moudshroud capture Pip’s spirit to take to the beyond and what will his friends sacrifice to rescue him.

220px-Something_Wicked_This_Way_Comes_(1983_movie_poster)The second film on our list was Something Wicked This Way Comes a film I remember as one of the last live action films Disney did before they adapted the Touchstone label. I didn’t see it when it first came out but it interested me how it became a cult classic afterwards.

Like Halloween Tree, Something Wicked This Way Comes is based on a Bradbury novel of the same name with a script by Bradbury. it takes place in an idealized turn of the century midwestern town where children can run and play unattended to their hearts’ content. We are introduced to this in loving detail and introduced to the community… all the better to see what happens when the circus comes to down.

Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival led by the mysterious Mr. Dark played wonderfully by Jonathan Pryce gradually seduces the adults of the town with their fondest wishes and gradually one by one they disappear. I enjoyed this a lot. Having mostly knowing Pryce as Sam Lowry in Brazil his performance as what is essentially the Devil was an amazing surprise.

For the most part I liked things better when the things were more subtlle. I found it much more frightening when the adults were entrapped by their dreams or when Dark tempts one of the boy’s father with the offer of lost years regained rather than the more graphic scenes of terror (spiders? Really?) But since this film is technically a children’s film I can understand why this was a priority. But still this was a nice lyrical film filled with Bradbury’s wonderful prose (I especially liked the description of the “Autumn People” and with a kickass soundtrack by James Horner  I think it does a wonderful  job capturing the tone of the Bradbury’s original novel.