There is an art to making a good Halloween movie, an art that is lost on most who try. I’m not talking about adult hour fare, there are plenty of good ones on that front, I am talking about the scares for kids, well the right aged ones anyway. The last one that did anything for me was 2015’s Goosebumps which gave just enough creepy ideas to haunt some dreams and still told an interesting story. Since then and quite frankly most of the time before that, there has been a void for this type of film. So acclaimed adult horror director Eli Roth is attempting to fill said void with the sounds of a ticking clock.
Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) has lost his parents and is on his way to stay with an uncle he has never met. Upon meeting long lost relative Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black), Lewis can tell Jonathan is different from anyone he has ever met. Together they go to Lewis’s new home, an old house that feels like it has more than a few secrets behind its walls. Little does he know how right he is, as it’s not just the house that has things to share but also his uncle and his purple loving next door neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), who makes a killer chocolate chip cookie. What Lewis discovers is his Uncle Jonathan is a Warlock, or a boy witch in simpler terms. Also that the house he lives in is magical as well. Things though are not all rosy as there is a clock that ticks from within the walls of the house and it’s up to the three of them to figure it out and stop whatever is coming their way before time is up.
I don’t know why there isn’t more good Halloween movies that get it right, I mean it is the perfect time to tell a spine-tingling story, which every kids loves. Eric Kripk, the creator of TV’s Supernatural found a good one to tell based a novel by John Bellairs, but for me it’s the addition of Eli Roth that puts The House with a Clock in Its Walls at the right volume. The point of these movies are not just to tell an engaging story that will keep a kids attention, but to creep them out when it can, and this film does that extremely well. From subtle images to full out haunting of your dreams at night with a room full of dolls and such. Roth’s fingerprints are all over this film, he obviously pulls back from what made him famous but stays in his wheelhouse enough for a younger audience to handle the scares. What is also an important element for success in this kind of film would be the performances of Black and Blanchett. Together, they make a better team than you might imagine would be possible. In this House you will laugh, you will shiver with fear, but the end result will be pure delight. I am hoping we won’t have to wait another three years for spooky fun like this that’s perfect for all ages, but even if we do, it’s nice to see that this one is right on time.