Originally released 8/20/2018
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References and Sources
- “Study: Cops Tend to See Black Kids as Less Innocent Than White Kids” by Philip Bump (The Atlantic, published March 10, 2014)
- “Study: Black girls viewed as ‘less innocent’ than white girls” by T. Rees Shapiro (Washington Post, published June 27, 2017)
- “Innocence Is a Privilege: Black Children Are Not Allowed to Be Innocent in America” by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Electric Lit, published July 12, 2016)
- “Let Black Kids Just Be Kids” by Robin Bernstein (New York Times, published July 26, 2017)
- “Innocence and Childhood” by Doris Bühler-Niederberger (Oxford Bibliographies, last reviewed April 28, 2017)
- “The invention of childhood innocence” by Krysten A. Keches (The Harvard Gazette, published April 29, 2010)
- “History of childhood” (Wikipedia, visited Aug 18, 2018)
- “The Classical Cues That Inspired John Wiliams’ Music For Star Wars” by Brad Turner (Colorado Public Radio, published Jan 11, 2016)
- “Star Wars music: What were John Williams’ classical influences?” by Jay Gabler (Classical MPR, published Oct 20, 2015)
- “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by James Southall (Movie Wave, published March 29, 2016)
- “Something Wicked this Way Comes Is Both Creepy and Confused” by Jennifer Makowsky (popmatters, published Oct 30, 2012)
- “Legend of Faust” (Faust.com, accessed May 30, 2020)
- “What the myth of Faust can teach us” by Benjamin Ramm (BBC, published Sept 26, 2017)
- “Faust Legends” translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman (University of Pittsburgh, revised Jan 28, 2019)
- “Faust – Faust” by Staff (Opera Online, accessed May 30, 2020)
- “Synopsis: Mefistofele” by Staff (Metropolitan Opera, accessed May 30, 2020)
- “The Devil Gets His Due: Boito’s ‘Mefistofele'” by Staff (NPR, published Feb 29, 2008)
- “Expanded ‘Edward Scissorhands’ Soundtrack and Unused ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ Score to Be Released” by filmmusicreporter (Film Music Reporter, published Dec 8, 2015)
- “The Creative Power of Musical Borrowing and The Efforts To Control It” by Geoffrey Mock (Duke, published April 1, 2017)
- “Musical Borrowing—Grand Larceny or Great Art?” by Charles Michael Carroll (College Music Symposium, published Oct 1, 1978)
- “Rereading Stephen King, chapter 29: Needful Things” by James Smythe (The Guardian, published June 17, 2014)
- “The Great Stephen King Reread: Needful Things” by Grady Hendrix (Tor.com, published Oct 30, 2013)
- “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” by Berlioz, Colin Davis, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (2001), Philips)
- “Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussorgsky, Leonard Bernstein, and the New York Philarmonic Orchestra (Pictures at an Exhibit/Night on Bald Mountain (2004), Legacy)
- “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, Leopold Stokowski, Sidney Sax, and the National Philharmonic Orchestra (Stokowski Showcase (1991), EMI Classics)
- “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46: IV. I Dovregubbens hall” by Edvard Grieg and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (Moustache Mania: Your Favorite Mustached Classical Composers (2013), Naxos Special Projects)
- “The Arrival” by Patrick Doyle (Needful Things Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1993), Varèse Sarabande)
- “The Imperial March” by John Williams (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2018), Walt Disney Records)
- “Mars: The Bringer of War” composed by Gustav Holtz (Holst: The Planets with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1991), Deutsche Grammophon)
- “Main Title” by James Horner (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (2009), Intrada)
- “Main Title” by George Delerue (Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Unused Motion Picture Score (2015), Intrada)
Below is the transcript for Eerie Earfuls Episode 07: Needful Things & Something Wicked This Way Comes. The text has been cleaned up some for readability and clarity.
Justin: Hey everyone, this is Justin from Eerie Earfuls. For those that may be new, these episodes were originally released back in 2018 and we are releasing them until we catch up with our new stuff. With that said, you may be wondering why episode seven is coming out before episode six.
In response to the murder of George Floyd, folks across the nation have amassed to, once again, protest police brutality and the persistent murder of black people by the police. And as happens every time the police are protested, law enforcement officers are responding with militarized gear and aggression, in many cases intentionally provoking otherwise peaceful protests.
First, we wanted to make it clear that we at Eerie Earfuls stand with the protesters and with black folks across the country. This is a shameful moment in US history, but it has nothing to do with the actions of black people and everything to do with the actions of the police.
Episode seven isn’t about police brutality, but we do discuss the concept of childhood innocence, whose is protected, and whose isn’t. It’s not the focus of the entire episode, but it’s an important discussion and relevant to current events. We wanted to share it in the hopes that we can help in some small way to educate white people about these issues and to boost the voices of black people. It’s important that people in the white community do the work to listen and learn from black people. So even more than usual, we encourage you to read through our sources.
In addition to our usual list of cited sources, we are sharing a list of incredibly informative books to help further educate you on the topic of race in America and how racism, particularly anti-black racism, continues to shape our country to this day. We are also sharing links to several activist causes that could use your donations. If you can’t protest, and many can’t for a variety of reasons, donating to help those that can is always a good alternative.
I hope you enjoy our discussion. Stay safe. Stay healthy. End police brutality. Black lives matter.
[Episode begins – Intro music plays — “Baba Yaga” by Kevin MacLeod]
Justin: Hey, everyone! Welcome to Eerie Earfuls, located in the “who gives a shit?” section of your memory warehouse. Every two weeks we choose a horror movie double feature to compare and contrast for your entertainment. Fair warning: there will be spoilers.
Brandon: And I’m Brandon.
Let’s get to today’s double feature.
The person picking the double feature rotates from episode to episode. This week was my pick, and I chose Needful Things and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Let’s pop in the synopsis tape.
[Sounds of tape inserted into cassette player; “Anxiety” by Kevin MacLeod plays]
Brandon: Needful Things is a 1993 film written by WD Richter and directed by Frazier Clark Heston.
A mysterious proprietor named Leland Gaunt arrives in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine and opens a new antique store called Needful Things. The store sells various items of great personal worth to the residents.
Gaunt demands payment both in cash and in small favors, usually pranks played by his customers on their neighbors. Gaunt’s first customer is a boy named Brian Rusk, who buys a rare baseball card featuring Mickey Mantle in exchange for $0.95 and a prank on his neighbor, Wilma Jerzik, throwing muck from her turkey farm on her sheets.
Nettie Cobb buys a small statue that is identical to the one her violent ex-husband smashed in a fit of rage. In return, she goes to Danforth “Buster” Keaton’s house and places tickets covered in taunts, allegedly from Deputy Norris Ridgewick, all around the interior.
Gaunt has someone kill Nettie’s dog in exchange for a jacket like he wore in high school, then forces Brian to break all of Wilma’s windows with apples like the ones Nettie uses for her apple pie. This sparks a violent fight between Nettie and Wilma in which they kill each other. Brian, racked with guilt that his actions may have led to Nettie and Wilma’s deaths, attempts to kill himself.Sheriff Alan Pangborn manages to save him and Brian is hospitalized.
Meanwhile, Pangborn begins to suspect that Gaunt may not be what he seems. He tries to warn his fiancée Polly, but she purchased a pendant that cured her crippling arthritis and is unwilling to remove it.
All of the pranks come to a head and a riot breaks out with Gaunt watching from the sidelines. Sheriff Pangborn tries desperately to restore order, exposing Gaunt’s true nature and his web of lies and manipulations. But Buster, despondent after murdering his wife in a fit of rage, and with a bomb strapped to his chest, tackles Gaunt through the store windows, setting off the bomb and destroying Needful Things.
The film ends with Gaunt defeated but completely unharmed, emerging from the burning wreckage of his store and departing to continue his work elsewhere.
[Tape removed, flipped, and played – “Night of Chaos” by Kevin Macleod plays]
Justin: Something Wicked This Way Comes is a 1983 American fantasy film directed by Jack Clayton and written by Ray Bradbury.
Thirteen-year-old friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade meet a strange lightning salesman, Tom Fury, as he arrives in town ahead of a big storm coming. He convinces Jim to buy a lightning rod, which Jim puts up in anticipation of the storm.
Fliers scatter throughout the town announcing an arriving carnival, so that night the boys sneak out to watch the carnival arrive at three in the morning. They follow the train over a hill only to find that the carnival is already up and assembled, albeit eerily empty. They get spooked and hurry home. But upon investigating the next day, they’re surprised at how normal everything appears.
However, something sinister is happening upon closer inspection. Their seventh grade teacher Ms. Foley is dazed after visiting the mirror maze. Mr. Tetly, the local cigar salesman, disappears on a Ferris wheel after winning a large sum of money in a carnival game. Mr. Crosetti, the local barber, attends a belly dancing show and disappears after being surrounded by women.
They sneak next into the carousel and run into Mr. Cougar and Mr. Dark. Mr. Dark tells them the ride is out of order and offers them passes to come back the next day when the carousel has been fixed. He seems especially focused on Jim. They sneak back later that night and witness Mr. Cougar running backwards on the carousel, which ages him back to a child. They followed the young Mr. Cougar to Ms. Foley’s house where he pretends to be her nephew. Will tries to warn her, but Jim stops him. Ms. Foley using a mirror in her house, wishes for her youth, which she is granted, but then she is immediately struck blind.
The next day, the boys run into a parade featuring all the people that are missing from the town. They realize the carnival is searching for them and hide in a storm drain. Will’s dad, Mr. Halloway spots them, but when Mr. Dark interrogates him, he feigns ignorance, giving Dark fake names. Mr. Dark sees through the deception and threatens him before leaving. That night Will and Jim meet Mr. Halloway at the library where he has discovers that the carnival arrives once a generation and leaves in the midst of a giant storm.
Mr. Dark appears and the boys hide in the book stacks. He discovers both of them and takes the boys back to the carnival offering to make Jim a partner and treat him like a son. Mr. Halloway follows them to the carnival and into the mirror maze. He experiences flashbacks of when Will almost drowned, but the illusion is shattered when Will calls to his father and admits he loves him. They find Jim in the carousel and pull him from the ride just before it gets struck by lightning and kills Mr. Dark. The film ends with Will, Jim, and Mr. Halloway racing into town to touch the barber’s pole, their sense of youthful joy restored.
[Tape ejects; music stops]
Justin: First I want to welcome Brandon back. He was gone from last episode, but his school stuff has cleared up, so we were able to jump basically right back into doing things like we did. So, welcome back, Brandon.
Brandon: Whooooo. Yay. Hold your applause please.
Justin: (Laughter) You came back on your pick, so I wanted to ask you why did you choose these two movies?
Brandon: Well, I thought these two movies would pair well together because the central idea is the same. A stranger comes into town and offers people things that they want in exchange for something, whether it be a task or a sacrifice or something like that. So I thought the two paired well together on that aspect.
Justin: Yeah. I really liked the sort of Twilight Zone nature to both of the movies. This sort of like “be careful what you wish for because you get it, but you might not get it the way that you want it or you might get it at a cost” sort of level. I thought that was a very fun connection between the two.
Brandon: Yeah, I agree. I guess I didn’t realize how similar they were until after I watched the two, and I was like, oh wow.
Justin: Honestly, I think that they might be very similar because the book Something Wicked This Way Comes, came out in I think 1962. It was written by Ray Bradbury, and he wrote the script for the movie as well. And the book Needful Things about came out…sometime…
Brandon: Yeah, I think it was in ‘91 or ’92, and the movie came out in ’93.
Justin: Yeah, I think so. So I’m sure that Stephen King read Something Wicked Something Wicked This Way Comes and kind of wanted to do his own spin on it. Not to mention, I did read that Stephen King apparently wrote a rejected adaptation of the Something Wicked This Way Comes movie script before Ray Bradbury wrote it himself.
Brandon: That’s funny because some of the reading that I did, the story actually started as “The Black Ferris Wheel” or something. It was like a Ray Bradbury short story. And Ray Bradbury wrote it into a script in I think 1956 and he wrote it with his friend Gene Kelly in mind to be Gene Kelly’s directorial debut. And Gene liked it and shopped it around to a bunch of the different studios, and no one really wanted to make it into a movie. So Bradbury was like, “well, if no one wants to do it, then I’ll do a novel.”
Justin: Honestly, I think that the most interesting thing about these two movies is just the similarities and the differences. Because as you said, they’re very similar in concept: “mysterious man comes into town offering people their heart’s desires.” But the little differences in execution are, to me, what makes them very interesting to watch – having watched them sort of back-to-back.
For one thing, both of the men come into town and they’re both driving sort of like these sinister vehicles. Leland Gaunt in the movie has this like black old school Mercedes. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes arrives on this sinister black train.
I actually enjoyed Something Wicked quite a deal more than I liked Needful Things. I felt like Something Wicked had more atmosphere and I feel like the execution of it was better, even though it had flaws and was at times goofy. I felt like overall it felt like more of a movie to me. And maybe it’s just because I haven’t read the book, so I’m not familiar with the story, so I was able to watch the movie as a movie.
When I watched Needful Things, I’ve read the book, and so it felt like just a cliff notes version of the book. It was just a lot of like scene, scene, scene, scene, quick introduction, quick introduction, here’s a thing, here’s a thing. And it felt like the plot never stopped moving. It never slowed down to give anybody time to breathe or develop as characters.
Whereas Something Wicked, at times it had pacing problems, but those boys felt like real boys. Their dad had time to develop and felt like a real person. The townspeople were less developed than in Needful Things — they were kinda sorta almost caricatures — but the main characters felt like real people.
And I think that’s another criticism I would level at Needful Things: the movie sort of doesn’t have a main character because it hops around to so many people. I mean, Alan is supposed to be the main character, but he doesn’t take a lot of the narrative thrust for probably half the movie.
Brandon: I actually liked Needful Things more than Something Wicked. And movie-wise, I think that Something Wicked is the better movie of the two, but in terms of enjoying it more, I enjoyed Needful Things a lot more.
I mean. It is very much like a mile wide and an inch deep. Like you don’t get a lot of character development. It’s more about like moving the plot forward because it’s a pretty big book and there’s a lot of things that happen in it. And the things that people do to each other are very interwoven and they have to be timed a certain way. You know? So it did feel like it should have been longer to let some characters breathe.
But I felt like Something Wicked had all of the right things — it had atmosphere and score and good source material and pretty good actors in it — I just don’t feel like any of those things to me were meshing together. There wasn’t a consolidated vision for the whole project that somebody was constantly looking after. It just felt like there were things that would have made the movie better had the original version actually been able to be released. But since it wasn’t, it just kinda fell flat.
Justin: They’re supposed to be thirteen, but the actors didn’t look thirteen to me. They looked really young. Like for some reason I thought they were like 10.
Brandon: Yeah, they did. They’re supposed to be almost fourteen in the book, like fixing to turn fourteen and yeah, in the movie they did feel very young.
But there were a couple of scenes you could tell that the movie was delayed by almost a year. The final product wasn’t satisfactory for Disney, and so they shove it to the side for like a year and shoved Ray Bradbury and Jack Clayton and all of them to the side, and they’re like, “we’re going to take it from here” and brought in a new director and then a new editor.
But anyway, that was my complaint was at least Needful Things felt like a cohesive product building towards something. It was like a string of firecrackers going off. It was like it started and then boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. Things happen, and then it ended, and I was like, “That was a great movie!”
And Something Wicked felt like it had a message…I just didn’t catch it, or it just… it had all good things, they just didn’t go well together. They didn’t mesh into this really satisfying product. And so at the end I was kind of like, “Okay…” I felt the same way that I did when I watched it as a kid. I was like, “well, that was kind of weird and not really sure if I got it.”
Justin: There are a handful of parts that didn’t work for me. The beginning narration feels very weird. In my notes, I actually wrote, “we now return to A Halloween Story because it felt like A Christmas Story, with like the little blonde, round faced kid with glasses. So the narration felt weird to me.
Brandon: Yeah. Well, it was also added after the movie was already done. They had him come back and rewrite the opening.
Justin: To me it felt exactly like Silver Bullet in that the narration feels tacked on. The whole point of the movie is that Will’s dad is an older dad. He’s like in his fifties I think — he looks like he’s in the sixties — but he wants to be a younger man, and Will feels uncomfortable around him because he’s so much older and kind of sterner. So they don’t have a great relationship.
And it kind of implies that part of that is because Will almost drowned and his dad couldn’t save him because he was too old? But that was also like 10 years ago. If we’re going by the fact that they’re almost 14, then he says Will was four, so that was 10 years ago. He was 44.
Anyway, point being: he’s an older dad. But at the end of the movie, after they go through the entire ordeal, he literally is sprinting with the kids to like touch that barbershop pole and he’s racing and he feels young at heart again. So for them to come in with narration and be like, “And he did feel younger again, and we had a much better relationship,” and I was like… you did not need to explain this. I already got it based on the fact that they are hugging and smiling.
Narration is almost never the right choice. If you have to verbally explain to your audience, “and this means that we’re all happy now,” then you have not done well. But that’s also Disney’s fault. It’s not like Jack Clayton wanted to like put that in there. Disney was just like, “we need to explain it to them.”
Those were the only parts really that felt like they didn’t work. The rest of the movie to me feels pretty cohesive, until the very ending whenever they pull Jim off of the carousel. Then suddenly Mr. Halloway is like, “What you gotta do was be happy! Be happy, dammit! Clap and dance and sing! That’s what they don’t want! They feed on fear!!!” And, I mean, they said that they fed on fear earlier, but since when has any of this been established?
In the book, it makes sense because in the scene in the library where Charlie is laying in the floor and the dust witch comes in and Mr. Dark says, “I’m going to have you experience death so that you can see it coming again,” the entire point of that scene is she’s literally killing him. And the way he defeats her is by laughing. He suddenly finds it funny, and he becomes sort of like euphoric and laughs and his joy kills her.
Justin: And so that’s how he defeats the rest of the stuff when he goes into the mirror maze after his son and Jim, and that’s how they defeat Dark. They laugh.
And Dark in the movie gets stuck on the carousel and it ages him forward until he’s ancient. In the book, he gets stuck on the carousel and he goes backwards until he’s aged down to a young child. He runs up to them and is begging for their help. Then Mr. Halloway takes him in his arms and hugs him and shows him affection, and it kills him because he is a creature that eats hatred and pain and this affection is too much for him.
Brandon: Can’t beat that forceful hugging.
Brandon: The most underused plot device ever: forceful hugging.
Justin: Essentially you are bear hugging them to death. You’re just squeezing them until they’re crushed.
(Laughter from both)
But the idea in the book was supposed to be that like childlike joy and affection and love will defeat the evil. In the movie, that’s not what happens. It’s like “Lightning and your own dumb ass machines will defeat you.”
And then Mr. Halloway’s like, “Laugh goddammit!” And you’re like, “okay… Jesus! Why are you so–?” And he’s not he’s not even like “Wait…let’s be joyful! (Goofy giggle)” Like he’s very intensely like, “You gotta laugh! That’s what they don’t like!” And you’re like, “Whoa!”
Brandon: Yeah, because it was the end of the movie, like that was the whole point, the resolution of the movie, and it was so weird. I was just like, meh. Yeah, that’s, I guess that’s why I was more forgiving of the lack of character development in Needful Things.
I remember you talking about how the ending of the book was dumb. And the ending of the movie Needful Things is also not great.
Justin: (Laughs) Yeah.
Brandon: But at the same time, it made more sense after I read a difference between Needful Things the movie and the book.
In the book, these people do these things to other people that mean nothing to them, but the other person suspects it’s like their enemy in the town. And when it gets to that peak moment where they’re like, I want revenge, I need revenge, Gaunt gives them weapons in exchange for their soul, and then he keeps their soul in a valise. And so at the of the book, Alan Pangborn is doing this sleight of hand magic stuff, and it’s obviously not what he likes because it’s like “childhood innocence,” and it doesn’t really defeat Mr. Gaunt, but it does fend him back long enough for Alan to get the valise back and release the souls.
Brandon: So that makes sense. In the movie, they don’t do that. He doesn’t take the souls, or if he does, they don’t ever mention it. So it just kind of builds and builds and builds and builds and people die. And then Alan…talks all of the people down and everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, I guess we are kind of shitty.”
And then that one guy’s like, “well, I killed my wife and I’ve got a bomb,” and then jumps on Gaunt and blows the thing up. The explosion is very cool. At the same time I was like, eh, it’s still not a super satisfying ending, but I’m not sure if there would be a really good satisfying ending that you could write.
Justin: See, I didn’t mind the ending of the movie…necessarily, except that he explains too much. They already very heavy-handedly imply that he is the devil.
Justin: To the point where the one guy goes, “Jesus Christ!” And he goes, “Oh, the young carpenter? He died poorly.” Like, “Whoa. Okay. I get it. He’s the devil.”
But at the end when he basically slow claps his way out of the wreckage and then was like, “Alan! Polly! Your kid’s going to be great. Oh, I can’t wait to meet him in 2053 — I’ve got big plans for him!” You’re just like, “Shut up and leave! Get out!” This would have been so much more effective if you weren’t vaudevilling your way out, like “Nya nya nya nya!”
Stephen King’s biggest problem is he has gigantic, epic ideas for a lot of his stories, but no idea how to wrap that up into a conclusion. So his stuff builds into this ridiculous, insane crescendo, to the point where there’s no way you can come back from that. It’s the same problem with It; it’s the same problem with Under the Dome; it’s the same problem with Needful Things — where it builds into this massive climax, and then you’re like, “And now I have to wrap this up somehow and make it a satisfying conclusion…”
They kind of imply that maybe Gaunt is a Low Man, or maybe he’s some sort of Elder God that’s related to like the Dark Tower, like one of those like outer gods that’s an enemy of the Tower. And…how do you stop that?
Stephen King’s biggest theme is that childhood is innocent and that friendship defeats everything.
Alan likes magic tricks, and he does them throughout the book constantly. He even does them idly, like when he’s thinking. He uses magic tricks to hurt Leland Gaunt because everything that everyone does in the town is selfish. It is to gain something. And when he uses magic, magic is an inherently unselfish thing because it’s illusions. It’s literally entertainment. It’s meant to bring joy to other people. You know how it works, but they don’t. So when you flip the card and hide it wherever you’re hiding it and it disappears from your hand, you are bringing someone wonder and joy in a very innocent form.
So he starts doing magic tricks and then finishes with deploying this really old rickety bouquet that’s supposed to pop a bouquet into his hand. It’s an old, cheesy, cheap trick, but he does it, and instead of producing a regular wilted paper bouquet, it produces this like bouquet of light that he’s able to like shoot at Leland and knock him back long enough to, like you said, get the valise and release all the souls in the town.
The point being that like childlike wonder and innocence and being unselfish is what saves the day and in the movie, what saves the day is…talking rationally. (Laughs)
Brandon: Right. You know, as you were explaining it, I was like, “Actually, I guess the ending of the book makes more sense than the one in the movie…” Because he just starts talking people down… and then all of a sudden they’re going to be like, “Oh, we’re all really shitty?”
Justin: “Oh wait, we’re assholes?” Like they haven’t thought about that for three weeks??
Brandon: (Laughs) Exactly.
Justin: So let’s just compare and contrast Something Wicked the movie and Needful Things the movie.
For example in the movie in Needful Things, Leland Gaunt is very heavily implied to be the devil, whereas with Mr. Dark, it’s a little bit different because he’s not the devil per se. He is evil and definitely an evil creature — not human. But he’s one of the autumn people, which is this sort of fictional race of night monsters — they’re almost like the boogeymen.
Justin: They like feed on your fears and your pain and your sadness.
Brandon: Yeah, I didn’t think about that.
And in terms of like trading something for something else, in Needful Things, everybody is getting something in exchange for like a little money and a task. Like I said before, it doesn’t mean anything to them because it’s like, “Hey, go to this place and slash this guy’s tires.” And they’re like, “Well, I don’t really know that guy, but whatever. It’s not really hurting me and it’s not super hurting him.” It starts off really small and almost unnoticeable, and then it just slowly builds into like, “why don’t you kill them?”
Whereas in Something Wicked, they don’t get a choice. I mean, I don’t really know if they get a choice in Needful Things, but it’s the illusion that there is a choice. Like, “you don’t have to take it, but if you want it, I’ll take a reduced price and you do me a favor.” And in Something Wicked, it’s just like, here’s a thing–
Justin: It’s a full on trick.
Brandon: Yeah, here’s a thing that you’ve always wanted. And they’re like, “Oh, I do want that.” And then something gets taken from them.
For example, with the elementary school teacher, they make it a point at the beginning of the movie that she was at one time one of the most beautiful women in the town, yada, yada, yada. And there’s a couple of times where you see her looking at herself in the mirror or in a reflection, and you can tell she has a nostalgic look on her face like she wishes to be beautiful again. So at one point she looks in the mirror and she was like, “I want to be beautiful again.” And they kind of grant her wish, and she turns beautiful and she gets to enjoy it for about five seconds. And then she goes blind.
Justin: She’s the only one that has a sort of EC Comics twist to her story, really. In Needful Things, they are getting some thing. It’s not an abstract concept. It’s not like, “I’m younger!” necessarily. It’s always some thing, first.
Brandon: A desirable object.
Justin: The only person who has an abstract concept is Polly. Her thing is “I don’t want to hurt anymore,” and so she gets a trinket that cures her arthritis. But even then though, the actual thing that she’s getting is relief from pain, but what she is physically getting is a trinket.
Nobody in Something Wicked gets a thing. It’s all a wish granted. She is the only one that gets the sort of like Twilight Zone/Tales from the Crypt-esque twist of, “Ha ha! You got it! And now you look pretty, but you’ll never get to look at yourself, which is what you really wanted was to look at yourself and see you were beautiful.”
Everyone else…Mr. Tetley just wanted to win a bunch of money, and he wins money at a carnival game. He’d wanted to win like a hundred thousand dollars in the lottery, but instead he got a thousand dollars, but he was freaking out about it. And then he gets on the ferris wheel and he just disappears. And then later they see him and he was dressed up in like a, like a native American–
Brandon: Is he??
Justin: –because he sells cigars. And the Native American statue outside of his store was like the brand of cigar.
Brandon: Oh, I didn’t even notice that.
Justin: And then, uh, Mr. Crosetti, I think was his name?
Brandon: I don’t know. That barber?
Justin: Yeah, the horn dog? He just really wants women? And then he goes to the belly dancing thing, and then later he’s dressed up as a bearded lady. I guess that’s ironic?
Brandon: That’s a weird scene. Speaking of that, like for a kid’s movie, I was like, “this is a little weird…”
Justin: The belly dancing scene? Yeah, man, that was…whooo…
Brandon: Because it’s almost like an orgy. Yeah, and I was like… what is this? It was just as bad as when Jim and Will are running away and they see that guillotine? And it goes down and it’s one of the kids gets decapitated and they see it? I was like, what the fuck??
Justin: (Laughs) One of the key differences I noticed between Needful Things and Something Wicked, as far as the deal that they make with their perspective devil, is that in Needful Things, like you were saying, they get something, but they have to not only pay, they have to do something. There is a task they get assigned as well.
So the message of that story to a point is: what will you do to get what you want? Because they could say no. It’s not like they get the product and then later he’s like, “actually you got to do this thing.” He tells them, “I’ll give it to you, but you gotta do me a favor, also. Just a prank.”
Whereas in Something Wicked, the question is more, what will you give up to get what you want? The lady gives up her sight in order to become young. That one guy gives up… sort of his autonomy to gain his arm and leg back. Because he gets de-aged into a kid, so now he kind of is at their whim. He’s not an adult anymore. He can’t fight them off. So in a way, he gives up his autonomy to get that arm and leg back because he was self-sufficient when he was missing an arm and leg. He was running his own business, cleaning up his own stuff. He was totally good to go. But he gave that up.
Justin: And then I guess… be careful liking the ladies or you’ll become a lady?
Brandon: (Laughs) I don’t know.
Justin: And you don’t win money or you’ll turn into a Native American? Those are the lessons I got from those guys.
Brandon: I literally don’t know. When I got to that part, I was like, “okay, what the fuck is going on? Like what is this movie that I’m watching?” (Both laugh)
Justin: Those were moments where I was like, “This is weird. I feel like you should have spent a little more time explaining why they look like this.”
I mean, I get it in a meta-sense because it’s a carnival, so each of them becomes sort of a sideshow attraction. Mr. Tetley becomes a wooden Native American statue or something. That’s going to be an attraction that will draw people in. And Mr. Crosetti becomes a bearded lady, and a bearded lady is a very classic side show type character. So it makes sense, sort of, but also you’re kind of like, “but what did that have to do with what they wanted?”
Brandon: Yeah. Exactly.
Justin: It took me a minute to notice it, but I really liked that Pam Greer, the dust witch, is all of the women in the carnival. In that sequence where they’re in the carnival, and then you see Mr. Tetley, he wins those winnings and then he gets on the Ferris wheel, and she’s sitting there waiting for him. They don’t frame her necessarily as sinister; you just kind of have to recognize her face. And he’s like, “well, lucky me, I’m sitting next to this pretty lady and I just won all this money.”
And I think it’s Mr. Crosetti that goes to the fortune teller. And she was like, “you want ladies?” And he’s like, “yeah, yeah, I want ladies.” And it’s Pam Grier. And then when he goes to the belly dancer show, it’s her again as one of the belly dancers! I really liked that like each time they interacted with a woman, it was her.
Justin: I liked that. It made it feel very eerie and sort of dreamlike.
Brandon: Another reason that I thought these two movies paired well together was because they both feature aspects of the Faustian bargain. The idea of the devil’s pact probably dates back to the fourth century, so that’s not a super new or unique idea at all. But this particular capitalization of that idea and tying it to Faust has been a very strong connection because that legend came about in like the 16th century.
So as far as I know, Faust was a real person. It was somebody named Johan George Faust who lived from like 1466 to 1541-ish. They’re kind of unclear on both his birth and death dates. They’re kind of unclear if it’s even just one person, because it’s possible that it could have been two people around the same time, one Johann Faust and one George Faust.
Anyway, this person was supposed to be an alchemist astrologer and a magician during the German Renaissance, so he was a kind of well-known person. And after he died, I guess his personality got transformed into a legend and it had been passed down after that as a legend for so long, it’s almost impossible with the way records were kept to figure out which parts of his life were true and which parts were obviously legend.
So the Faust legend is basically: he was a very erudite man, and was highly educated and very successful, but he was always wishing for something more. He felt like he didn’t have a very fulfilling life. He makes a deal with the devil, and he gets worldly pleasures by trading in his soul. And I think in both versions, the deal is technically with the devil, but it is like contracted through one of the devil’s lackeys, so they’re almost always the agent of the devil or the demon Mephistopheles, and he was always the one that initiates the bargain or whatever.
I guess one of the earliest and most famous iterations of the Faust legend was made popular by Christopher Marlowe. He published this novel: The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. In that one, it’s unique because it’s not one, I guess, that people nowadays are super familiar with. Most people are familiar with a different, later version of Faust, but this one came out in the 1500s not too long after Faust, the actual person, died. Not too long after he died, this story was published, and that’s kind of why everything kind of blends together after that.
So in this version, Faust is the one that suggests the wager with the demon, and he accepts. But at the end of the legend, Faust is unable to break the contract with the devil and is carried off by demons.
The most famous version of the Faust legend for me, and it’s because I studied music obviously in college, is Goethe’s Faust. And that was written in the 1800s, I think. 1808, maybe. And it was hugely influential, not only on German literature and folklore and stuff, but just literature in general because it was very popular and it inspired a lot of people, particularly music composers of the Romantic era. Notably, like Schubert, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Wagner. They were all in some way inspired by Goethe’s Faust.
Anyway, in Goethe’s Faust, it’s Mephistopheles that suggests the wager, so it’s all on the part of the demon. It’s not Faust being so cocky, like, “I bet you couldn’t fulfill my wish.” You know? It’s more like Mephistopheles being like, “I bet I could fulfill your wish, and if I can bring you a moment of happiness, then I get your soul.” And Faust is like deal because obviously he doesn’t believe that’s possible.
The story I believe takes place in two parts. In the second part, he finally achieved this one brief moment of happiness after they’ve explored time and history and classical figures and all this stuff. Once they’ve explored all that, he experiences a brief moment of happiness and actually dies.
In that moment, Mephistopheles is like, “yes, I get this bitch soul now! Yeah!” And then doesn’t get it because, you know, deus ex machina, God just kind of comes in and is like, “no, you know, he was actually pretty good the whole time, so we’ll take him back.” And Mephistopheles is like, “no, he’s mine. We had a deal.” And then God was like, “but I’m God.” And then they take him back.
So yeah, he doesn’t get dragged off by demons in Goethe’s Faust, as far as I know, he gets saved and he still gets to go to heaven anyway, so it’s a happy ending, which is weird for the romantic era, but whatever.
Those two tales introduce the idea of the Faustian bargain, in which a person surrenders moral integrity in order to obtain an object or power or success or a hidden desire or something like that.
Justin: Well, that’s really interesting. I really dig the way that this structure has permeated throughout history, and there’s so many different versions.
Brandon: I do, too. And I liked it because in both of those instances, it’s just one person. And in these two interpretations of that story, the Faustian Bargain, it’s an entire group of people. It’s like how many people can they bring into this rather than just one really good person? They’re like, I just want quantity over quality, I guess. (Laughs)
I liked the two villains — the people that they got to play them in Needful Things and Something Wicked. Obviously, the one in Needful Things is Max Von Sydow, and he’s a very famous actor.
Justin: Doing his best Ian McKellan.
Brandon: Yes, exactly.
And in Something Wicked, Ray Bradbury had written the part of Mr. Dark for either Christopher Lee or Peter O’Toole.
Justin: Which makes sense.
Brandon: Right. And then the studio was like, “no, let’s bring in somebody who’s not very well known.” So they brought in Jonathan Price, who’s now a very famous actor, but at that time, he wasn’t super well known — in movies anyway. But I thought he did a great job because I think Jonathan Price is a great actor.
Justin: I did, too. I mean, I wish I could have seen the version of the movie where Christopher Lee is Mr. Dark because I just can’t imagine the Christopher Lee performance. It would have been pants-wetting. But Jonathan Price did a really good job.
I kept thinking I had seen him in other things? But I think I’ve just seen other performances sort of inspired by him because he reminded me performance-wise of the guy from The Last Action Hero that had the glass eye, and he kind of reminded me of Loveless from Wild, Wild West.
Brandon: Oh yeah! The thing that I know him from is he played the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones, which is funny because I believe in that same season or maybe the next season, they brought in Max von Sydow to play the Three-eyed Raven. So they’re both playing like these big rolls, you know?
Justin: One of the neat differences between Something Wicked and Needful Things is the choice of who the point of view character is — because it colors the way the movie plays. Both movies feature a main character that sees through the bad guy’s illusions to a point.
In Needful Things, the point of view character is Alan Pangborn, the sheriff played by Ed Harris. It’s a different perspective than Something Wicked because Alan is an adult, so the way he is able to sort of see through the illusions of Leland Gaunt is that he’s an outsider.
Leland’s entire shtick is that he sells people things that they really need or really want, and then he plays on their petty squabbles — their small town bigotries and biases and prejudices. Alan isn’t a part of that community, so he’s not as easily swayed as everyone else. He’s not as easily like taken. Because he’s an outsider, he’s able to bring this objective perspective. Everyone else was like, “well, yeah, of course. Nettie killed Wilma. Wilma killed Netty. They hated each other,” and he’s the only one who’s like, “I don’t know. That seems weird, right? Like they haven’t killed each other yet, so why would they now?”
Whereas in Something Wicked, the reason that Will is able to see through Mr. Dark’s phantasmagoria is that he’s a child, and children have this magical thinking which means that they believe in magic more, but also they’re able to see through magic more. They’re innocent enough to be able to be like, “Oh, this magical carnival! It can’t be, but it is!”
Will especially is able to see through a lot of this stuff because he’s kind of young and naive. He’s still very innocent, and he has a child’s classical perspective on the world.
Jim is clearly the one maturing slightly faster. And Jim is the one who is clearly sort of maturing before Will because Will doesn’t have interest in peeking into the sexy lady dancing show. But Jim does. Jim peeks to this little peephole, and he’s actually the one that sees what happens to Mr. Crosetti — where he’s suddenly naked and surrounded by women. Jim is also the one that gets tempted by Mr. Dark.
To me it’s implying that children are innocent, and we become less innocent as we grow older because adults experience more of the world and that innocence gets shattered.
A great example of a scene where Jim is clearly a little more world-wise than Will is when they go to the school teacher’s house. They see that carnival worker who had been de-aged into a kid, and she’s like, this is my nephew. Will says, “Ma’am, I have to warn you,” and then Jim like jumps in and interrupts him and was like, “ah, just uh that he’s got to warn you that we have to go.”
Jim clearly sort of gets it faster than Will. Will sees through the illusion. Jim understands their sly thinking. But because of that, he’s also the one who is like, “I don’t know, maybe I could join them?”
All of the desires, both in Needful Things and in Something Wicked, that the evil men try to meet are adult desires. Mr Crosetti — lust. Mr Tetley desired to be successful — I feel like Tetley’s wasn’t necessarily lustful as much as it was status, whereas Crosetti is just like, “I want lady. I want…sex…”
But then you’ve got Will’s dad, Charlie. He’s older and he wants youth again. He wants to be able to play with his son, and that’s the kind of stuff that kids just aren’t going to get. They haven’t lived life enough to be beaten down or to have not met a lifelong dream. As far as a 13 year old is concerned, the world is their damn oyster — to an extent. They play with that idea somewhat in Needful Things as well.
With Will, that innocence sort of keeps him from being corrupted. He is able to see through the illusions. In Needful Things, everyone else that gets roped in is an adult. Their lure is tied to some sort of moment of joy, usually from, like, childhood. It somehow links back to a more innocent time for them, where they’re trying to recapture that nostalgic happiness that they had. So it’s like a doll from when you were a kid, a jacket from when you were in high school. For Nettie, it’s a porcelain figure which it implies was her only happiness in a terrible, abusive marriage. For Polly, it’s a cure for constant crippling pain. And it’s not that no kids know that kind of stuff. Some kids are born with like unfortunate situations. But generally kids don’t know the pain of aging — because arthritis is very much an aging disease most of the time.
For Brian, the lure that he gets drawn in with is this fancy baseball card. But for Leland Gaunt, that’s sort of the worst deal he makes because that baseball card is just a baseball card to Brian. Brian likes sports and therefore he wants the card. But that doesn’t have like this deep emotional tie like, “When I was a kid, I got to see Mickey Mantle play! And this is me reliving my happiest moment.”
Brandon: Right, but at the same time, he does mention that he used to collect baseball cards with his dad before his dad passed away. And that was the only one from the Yankees lineup that they were not able to get ahold of was the Mickey Mantle card.
Justin: Oh definitely. Like it’s definitely linked to his dad, but it’s not the same sort of deep nostalgia. For all of the adults, it’s sort of like recapturing some sort of youthful joy, whereas with Brian, it’s an emotional connection to his dad.
Which is also, I think, why he tries to commit suicide — because everyone else is older. They’ve gotten much better at rationalizing: “I deserve this because life sucks.” Brian is young enough that he’s like, “Oh, I did this thing wrong and these people died for it. I’m a monster.” And then he tries to kill himself for it.
So that got me to thinking about childhood innocence in general — because childhood is innocent and kids are not corruptible, and it’s only when we become adults and gross and wrinkly that we become corrupted.
Some historians have posited that childhood in general is a modern concept in Western society. That’s not really accurate because from records of the way we’ve treated kids throughout history and written records in Western society, it’s pretty clear that adults understand that kids are a different thing than adults. Some people have posited that kids were treated as mini adults, and that’s not really true. But it’s not entirely inaccurate either, in that what childhood meant was a little bit different.
This idea that kids were more innocent wasn’t introduced until John Locke, who was one of the earlier philosophers to sort of bring that concept into light. He basically thought of kids as tabula rasas. He had this idea that basically kids were blank slates that had to be taught how to be people, essentially. Kids come into the world and they know literally nothing. Then we have to teach them how to walk; we have to teach them how to be moral; we have to teach them about God and religion because otherwise they could be easily tempted by these other things. So it’s our job to teach kids. They’re blank slates, which also means that they’re kind of innocent.
One of the things he argued is that whipping and beating kids for not studying hard enough wasn’t effective, that it was more effective to treat learning like a game. Then kids would just naturally start soaking in those lessons without even realizing it because it’s disguised as fun for them.
During the Enlightenment Period and during the Romantic Periods, the idea of childhood innocence became more developed. It wasn’t just that kids needed to be taught things, but that that innocence should be protected. That was sort of aided by this rise of the wealthy middle class.
Jean Jacques Russo, he sort of picked up John Locke’s philosophies and he even wrote, “Why rob these innocents of the joy which passed so quickly? Why fill with bitterness the fleeting early days of childhood, days which no more return for them than for you?” So this idea that, “Remember when you were a kid? Remember how great that was? Don’t fuck it up for them, too.”
All that said, this idea that childhood is innocent has never entirely been true. It’s only been an idea for wealthy people, for people that are more well to do. Because in basically every period of society, even when you have this idea that kids should be innocent, you have kids that volunteer to go to war because they have to; kids that drop out of school and start working because their families are poor and they need the money.
The innocence of childhood is a privilege, basically, that only some people get, and it’s especially a white privilege because especially in American countries, black people for a long time weren’t even considered human. This idea that kids are innocent and that innocence needs to be protected is one that doesn’t get passed on to children of color and especially black kids.
Nicole Dennis Ben wrote an article about the idea that innocence is privilege, and it’s one reserved for white kids. She talks about how — this was written in 2016, which I’ll link to on our site, this was in the wake of a lot of police shootings — and so she was talking about how black children are taught that they have to be twice as good as other kids. They have to go above and beyond. But they also have to be respectful, but that white people still won’t respect you enough. They still won’t think of it as enough, but you have to do that to get by. And that’s this sort of toxic message that gets taught to black kids — because it’s essentially true.
Black people are considered more rude, regardless of their behavior. Studies have shown that they’re considered louder, regardless of how loud they’re being. They’re considered more disruptive. Black children are perceived as older than they actually are by white people. Black kids are often considered less innocent.
At the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, which I read a couple of years ago, a lot of the book talks about the talk that black parents have with their children. And I’ve read several articles, especially back in 2016 when a lot of those police shootings were hitting the news, where black folks talked about how white people don’t have to have The Talk with their kids. The talk of what do you do when police stop you? Because for a white person, a police encounter is not necessarily going to go south. It’s not a great situation, a lot of white interactions with police aren’t great, but black people in particular are taught from an early age to keep your hands on the wheel; yes sir, no sir; don’t make any sudden movements; make sure that you’ve got your documentation easily reachable; don’t like go for a cell phone in your pocket, make sure that’s out.
So, the beginning of Between the World and Me, I think it’s the first few pages, he says, “I write to you in your 15th year. I am writing you because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes; because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help; that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you know now, if you did not before, the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction.”
And the entire book is like a meditation on that. And it really highlights how white kids don’t have to have this conversation.
As I was doing research on the concept of childhood innocence, it was inescapable that it is a concept that’s really only afforded to white kids. And it’s not insignificant that this town — both towns — are overwhelmingly white, and that the main characters are overwhelmingly white boys. That’s an innocence that can really only be afforded to white boys. And I mean, it’s still an interesting and thematic subject to talk about. And it’s not that everyone doesn’t have nostalgia and think back to their more innocent times. It’s just that this concept that innocence needs to be protected is honestly sort of a very white concept.
Brandon: If you’ve heard any of our previous episodes, you know I almost always talk about a great score sets the tone for the film right off the bat and includes like some hidden gems that music people would be like, “That’s really awesome!” and is foreshadowing and stuff like that. Both of these scores do that.
The score to Needful Things was written by Patrick Doyle. I was trying to figure out why this kind of unknown shitty movie from the 90s had this huge epic score. And I was like, “This score is awesome. Why is it so awesome?” It’s because Patrick Doyle, the person that did the score for Needful Things, collaborated a lot with Kenneth Branagh, who did Henry V, and Patrick Doyle did the score. And he did Hamlet, and Patrick Doyle did the score to Hamlet. And he also did the score to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And he also did the score to Murder on the Orient Express. And he also did the score to Thor. And so I was like, well, that explains why it’s so portentous and very grand.
One of my favorite clips from the Needful Things score is the opening cue, which is called “The Arrival.” Obviously it’s mimicking the arrival of Leland Gaunt to Castle Rock. And it’s also set to these swooping camera shots that show somebody arriving. You know, it’s always on this journey and it’s constantly arriving in Castle Rock.
“The Arrival,” if you listen to it, there’s a chorus accompanying the orchestra. It’s like big orchestra, and then a chorus integrated with the orchestra. And they are actually singing words. They’re not just oohs and aahs. The words that they’re singing are Latin, and they’re often singing Sanctus Dominus and they’re singing Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison.
Sanctus Dominus is a style of chant or song that they would often use in Catholic masses in like the Middle Ages, close to the Renaissance era, maybe. It was very popular for them to be set to all different kinds of melodies and stuff, and often a Sanctus hymn or chant that was performed in church was referred to as a hymn of victory, which makes sense because Leland Gaunt is about to terrorize the shit out of this town. He’s going to have his victory.
And then there’s the Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison, which means “Lord have mercy on us; Christ have mercy on us.” And those were also popular. Everybody has written their own version of a Kyrie. A Kyrie is also an important part of a Catholic mass. And that obviously makes sense because that would be like from the point of view of the townspeople, I suppose, asking for forgiveness for their actions. When it builds to its big climax moment and it’s like all the tension is ratcheting up, the text that they’re singing is Deus irae, which is “day of wrath.” It’s also “day of reckoning.”
All of these things are incorporated in some way into a Catholic mass, but particularly a Deus irae is incorporated into a requiem and a requiem is a Catholic mass for the dead. And a lot of famous requiems have been written by like Mozart and Brahms and Verdi. And what’s particularly funny about “The Arrival” is the way that it ratchets up the tension and incorporates these syncopated jerky choral motives with heavy percussion and stuff. It’s very reminiscent of Verdi’s Deus irae from Verdi’s Requiem.
This is a day of reckoning, a day of wrath for Castle Rock.
Patrick Doyle also makes an interesting use towards the end as it’s building to a climax of the hemiola effect, which in music is when you have basically a three against two or two against three feeling.
So most songs are, let’s say, in 4:4 time, which basically means there are four beats in a measure, and each beat is a note — is a quarter note. And if you split that quarter note into two eighth notes, that means you get a beat and an off beat per beat. Does that make sense? Am I making any sense right now?
Justin: Like, bum-BA bum-BA bum-BA?
Brandon: Yeah, so you get like bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum. Like if you had “one, two, three, four,” if you split it up into eighth notes, it would be one-and, two-and, three-and, four-and. And then it would be like putting three eighth notes in the space of one beat on top of two eighth notes already being there. So it would be a triplet, which is what they call it: three 1/8th notes on top of the two 1/8th notes that already exists there.
So it’s a very jarring effect. It has a jerky feeling and it’s syncopated, but it also driving the melody and the tension.
[“The Arrival” sample plays]
A lot of times when those are used, it’s to create more chaos within the score.
But he doesn’t use all of his own original score. He also uses clips from other famous scores, and they make sense within the context of the film. For example, there’s a scene where Nettie is going into Buster’s house. She is putting up all these fake tickets everywhere that have dumb things written on them. He’s supposed to suspect the deputy. So she’s sneaking around and putting up all these parking tickets, and as she’s doing that, the accompanying score is Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which you would know what it was. (Laughs)You might not know the title “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” but you definitely know it because you’ve heard it in I don’t know how many commercials or movies or whatever.
[“In the Hall of the Mountain King” sample plays]
And it’s perfect for that moment because the melody is very sneaky, and it’s also very mischievous sounding. Which makes sense because within the context of the play that it was written for, which is Peer Gynt, this is the moment in the play where Peer Gynt is sneaking into the hall of the trolls and the trolls are singing about what they’re going to do to him. The trolls are gross and mischievous, and there’s some sneaking involved because that’s what Nettie’s doing.
Then there’s a completely different scene where Nettie confronts, what’s her name? Wilma? And they like battle to the death. And instead of there being this huge epic battle score, it’s set to Schubert’s arrangement of “Ave Maria” because that song is absolutely beautiful and it’s this very poignant prayer asking…well…
Okay, so, side note: in the Catholic church, you don’t really pray to the Virgin Mary because it’s weird and that’s idolatry. You actually are asking her to put in a good word to Jesus on your behalf.
So anyway, that’s what Ave Maria is for. It’s basically like a prayer, not specifically to Maria, but saying, “Hey, can you please ask Jesus to forgive me?” The text is a prayer seeking forgiveness at the time of a death. And that’s what’s going on in that scene, they’re fixing to die because they’re going to battle it out to the death.
The score to Something Wicked This Way Comes is actually more interesting in its genesis because the score was supposed to be written by… I believe it’s Georges Delaroux. I’m not good at French. I didn’t do a lot of French. I only did German stuff in college. Anyway, he composed a really long score, stuff that was supposed to be used in the movie, and then even stuff that was cut out of the movie. I think it was like 51 minutes or 54 minutes in total. And he actually completed all of the score and it was cut into a final version with his score, and then it was screened for Disney executives. They hated it because of the whole movie, with Jack Clayton’s vision and the score, was really dark.
[“Something Wicked Main Title” by Georges Delaroux sample plays]
Mr. Delaroux’s score is very dark. He doesn’t really use a lot of like light motifs, which are little individual melodies that signify a person or an idea or something like that. For example, “Hedwig’s Theme” comes up a lot in Harry Potter, but it’s not always identified with Hedwig. It’s also identified with innocence and childlike wonder and good things, you know? Mr. Delaroux doesn’t really use that in his score for Something Wicked This Way Comes. They’ve got very jarring harmonics, and they’re very abstract, and it’s very visceral. And I mean, it definitely sets a dark tone for the movie. So much so that the Disney executives were like, “No. Too dark. It needs to be a family movie,” even though they were trying to reach to a more adult audience at the time. It was too adult.
So they basically delayed the entire project for a year, pushed Jack Clayton aside, pushed Ray Bradbury aside too, and brought in somebody to like re-edit the film. And the person that they brought in to re-score the film was James Horner.
He did the score for Apollo 13, Braveheart, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, Avatar, Land Before Time, Jumanji, Casper, and he also did the score to Titanic. And he’s also responsible for “My Heart Will Go On.” It was him and some other guy that wrote ” My Heart Will Go On ” for Celine Dion.
So…not complaining. He knows what he’s doing. (Laughs)
Two of the things that he’s known for is basing melodies on Celtic themes, which is very prevalent in Titanic, and he’s also known for borrowing — which means you take music ideas from famous composers or pieces and you incorporate them or hide them into your score so well that it sounds like it’s an original thing, even though it’s based on an idea, which is not a new thing. A lot of people have done it. A lot of people have done it in such an obvious way that they actually get sued for plagiarism.
One of the most notable examples of borrowing is John Williams. He borrows a lot for almost every score that he’s ever done, but he is an expert at hiding it.
Borrowing happens all the time. Some people are good at it; some people are not so good, and James Horner is one of those people that I think is very good at it. Because the opening theme to Something Wicked This Way Comes is wonderful because not only does it have this dark mischievous aspect to it, it’s also kind of light. It has an airiness about it that doesn’t make it extremely heavy. It’s still feels like family fare.
[“Something Wicked Main Title” by James Horner sample plays]
The reason it sounds so familiar is because it’s drawing from basically like three separate source materials.
One, for example, I know, Justin, you had mentioned when you heard it, you thought immediately of the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, which makes sense. So it’s possible that he drew that from John Williams’ “Imperial March.” But it’s even more possible — because John Williams didn’t just pull that out of his ass — he based that on Gustaf Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer of War” from his Planets suite.
[“Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst sample plays]
And it has that same marching tempo and very similar melody.
But more importantly, some of the string effects and the tempo and pacing are more kin to two different pieces, which I don’t think get referenced very often, but they’re fantastic. One of them is the fifth movement from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. In the fifth movement, it’s called “The Witches Sabbath,” it’s basically about this guy who falls in love with a girl and then takes a whole bunch of opium, has like a giant opium nap because he doesn’t take enough to actually kill him, and hallucinates that he kills this lady that he loves and then descends to hell. They both descend into hell, and then she is part of a witch’s sabbath and is frolicking. The whole fifth movement has this very frolicking, mischievious sound.
[“Witch’s Sabbath” by Hector Berlioz sample plays]
And you can definitely hear that in the opening of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
So it’s a combination of that, and it’s also clearly from the introduction of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”
[“Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussorgsky sample plays]
Especially some of the string trills and things like that.
And it also borrows a little bit in tone from Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre.”
[“Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saëns sample plays]
So there’s at least four huge orchestral pieces that music people nerd out about all the time and love that this score is being based on and is borrowing tone and instrumental color and possibly even melodies from.
Justin: Okay. I think that just about does it. Thank you very much for being here today, Brandon.
Brandon: Thank you.
Justin: It’s good to have you back.
You can follow us on Twitter @eerie_earfuls. Email us firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit us on the web at eerieearfuls.wordpress.com.
Brandon: You can subscribe to us on Castbox and iTunes. Give us a review. It helps other people find the show and it lets us know how we’re doing.
Justin: Our theme music is “Baba Yaga” by Kevin MacLeod. Our synopsis music is “Anxiety” and “Night of Chaos”, also by Kevin MacLeod. Find more music at Incompetech.com.
Thank you for listening and stay scared everyone.
[Outro — “Baba Yaga” by Kevin MacLeod — plays]
Justin: Hey everyone! (Laughs) Shit…
(More laughter from both)
Brandon: We’re off to a great start. So glad I’m back.
Justin: Off to a great start — can’t even do the intro.
(More laughing from both)