THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS – Review by Susan Granger

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Heralding the upcoming Halloween season is Eli Roth’s adaptation of John Bellairs’ 1973 young adult novel with illustrations by Edward Gorey.

It begins in 1955, as shyly precocious 10 year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) arrives in (fictional) New Zebedee, Michigan, to live in a Victorian haunted house, surrounded by a spikey wrought-iron fence, with his estranged, eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), who has assumed custody after Lewis’ parents died in a car crash.

Jonathan’s regal BFF/neighbor, widowed Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), soon joins them, gracefully stepping out of the grandfather clock that connects their two homes. Mystic, mechanized figures and macabre symbols abound, including a whimsical chair that acts like a dog, so Lewis quickly realizes that she’s a witch – the good kind – and that his Uncle is a male witch, known as a warlock.

“The house likes you,” Jonathan assures his nerdy nephew. But, clinging to his Magic 8-Ball and determined to wear tanker goggles (in tribute to TV’s Captain Midnight), Lewis is, predictably, bullied at school. He’s an outcast, the last chosen for any sports team. Which is why he’s so flattered when a patronizing, popular kid seeks his approval.

Propelling the plot is a destructive doomsday clock, mysteriously instigated by Jonathan’s former partner in stage magic, a dark wizard named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan).

Screenwriter Eric Kripke recalls that he first read Bellairs’ book when he was 10, crediting that source material to his creation of TV shows like “Supernatural” and “Timeless.”

Utilizing visual effects and CGI, horror-meister Eli Roth (“Hostel”) meshes suspenseful scares with humor, like projectile-vomiting pumpkins.

Originating from a now-defunct 2011 Tumblr post, this genre is now known as “spoopy,” meaning scary-but not-too-scary, like “Beetlejuice,” “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” conjures a sinister, spoopy 7. Shivery, supernatural fun for the whole family.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.