The House With A Clock In its Walls: For kids who dig gothic

Review: Octopus tentacles appear from the basement. A flatulent griffin lurks outdoors

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro and Jack Black in The House With a Clock in Its Walls


Director: Eli Roth

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Jack Black, Kyle MacLachlan, Owen Vaccaro, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, Lorenza Izzo

Genre: Family

Running Time: 105 min

Sat, Sep 22, 2018, 13:00


Adapted by Eric Kripke from John Bellairs’s 1973 young adult novel The House with a Clock in its Walls wastes no time in whisking the viewer and its 10-year-old protagonist, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), into a strange new gothic world. It’s 1955, and Lewis has been sent to New Zebedee, Michigan, following the death of his parents, to live with his oddball, kimono-wearing Uncle Jonathan (the always amiable Jack Black).

At his new school, Lewis desperately attempts to impress his classmate, Tarby (Sunny Suljic) and is teased about the goggles he wears in tribute to his favourite TV character, Captain Midnight. But the lad may have bigger problems than getting picked last for team sports.

He quickly learns that his uncle and their quirky, purple-clad neighbour, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are good witches working to undo some bad magic left behind by their enchanted house’s previous owner, Isaac Izzard (Kyle MacLachlan).

Some monstrous moments may scare more genteel tots, but fans of the Goosebumps movie – also starring Jack Black – will find plenty to cheer for.   

Working with production designer John Hutman and Beauty and the Beast SFX supervisor Louis Morin, director Eli Roth ensures the mansion is always the star of the show. And in a film with Cate Blanchett head-butting an animated pumpkin, that’s no mean feat.

A magic chair makes for a charming family pet. Random octopus tentacles appear from the basement. A flatulent griffin stalks the garden. A grand stained-glass window over the staircase changes its images at will.

This is whimsical new territory for the film-maker behind such gory standards as Hostel and The Green Inferno, but he has crafted a very convincing 1980s Spielbergian family entertainment, worthy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with such Amblin Studio label-mates as The Goonies and Gremlins or indeed, Tim Burton’s earlier hits Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.

Do kids still watch films like those? Let’s hope so.