Jack Black and Cate Blanchett
An aspiring new family franchise based on the first book in the series by John Bellairs, The House With a Clock in Its Walls harkens back to the family-friendly horror on which director Eli Roth, writer Eric Kripke (he created the seemingly immortal “Supernatural”) and I grew up.
Jack Black is a better fit for this junior horror flick than he was for Goosebumps. His Uncle Jonathan, a kimono-wearing warlock tasked with caring for his late sister’s orphan, Lewis Barnavelt (little charmer Owen Vaccaro), is more energetic than manic as he trades barbs with witchy neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett, who even adds a touch of class to this flick). As the peals of the mysterious ticking clock hidden in the walls of Jonathan’s home by the previous owner, an evil warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle McLachlan), counts down, Jonathan, Florence and Lewis must team up to stop whatever nefarious spell was cast by the late Izard.
Roth has spent most of his career peddling exploitative schlock that never quite delivers on its overhyped grotesquerie. Like fellow grindhouse filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, he has found success in children’s cinema. Roth has always promised more horror than he has delivered; what better way is there to make a horror movie for kids? Every night Lewis spends in this old, dark house should get kids to the edge of their seats without ejecting them from those seats.
Still, the movie sears the year’s most alarming image in viewers’ minds without even meaning to; you will know the freakish CGI that continues to give me chills when you see it. The House With a Clock in Its Walls boasts a couple of gags that will make today’s audiences cringe, at best, or nauseous, at worst. But those minor missteps should not scare anyone away from a potential new addition to the annual Halloween movie-viewing ritual.