May 16, 1983 12:00 PM

The Walt Disney conglomerate has been trying to shake its image as a maker of Goody Two-shoes movies, but that’s exactly what this one is, despite some fancy special effects at the end. Two boys, wonderfully played by Shawn Carson and Vidal Petersen, are growing up in a beautiful, bucolic town in the Midwest. Suddenly they get a strange feeling something eerie is about to happen. That something is a carnival, and with it comes the malevolent Mr. Dark. The curious boys sneak under the tent after the show to see Mr. Dark doing some strange things to people—he makes them disappear, he makes them revert to childhood, he makes them go blind. Pretty nasty stuff. Then Mr. Dark sees the boys—and the chase is on. Dark, played with a Dracula-like leer by Jonathan Pryce, a British stage actor, enlists the help of the beautiful but evil Dust Witch, played by sexy Pam Grier, late of Fort Apache, the Bronx. Their showdown with good comes late at night during a raging thunderstorm. Yes, this is a morality tale—the good guys and the bad guys, although one problem is that the film never makes clear why the bad guys are bad. Even Jason Robards, who plays the sympathetic father of one of the boys, seems a bit befuddled by it all. Those who have read the 1962 Ray Bradbury novel on which the film is based know the villains represent Evil with a capital E. Bradbury hoped François Truffaut would direct this film, which might have given it more emotional strength. Steven Spielberg and Sam Peckinpah were interested too, which might have made it more exciting. But Jack Clayton ended up with it, his first film since 1974’s The Great Gatsby. His climactic scenes, after a slow, almost agonizing start, are all special effects, and here the Disney technologists are clearly light-years behind such modern-day wizards as Spielberg and George Lucas. The sky rolls ominously, the ghosts fly all over the place, the glass shatters—today’s moviegoers have seen it before. This is the kind of spooky movie that would have been considered pretty scary in the 1950s; now, unhappily, it’s just boring. (PG)

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