[Early Review] The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Director: Eli Roth

Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renee Elise Goldsberg, Sunny Suljic, Kyle MacLachlan

Screenplay: Eric Kripke

104 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor, and language.

 

I never would’ve expected Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Death Wish) to direct a family film. I did expect him to cameo in it.

The House with a Clock in its Walls is based on the 1970s book of the same name, and it is set in 1955 after Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro, Daddy’s Home, Fun Mom Dinner) is sent to live with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, School of Rock, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) at his home in New Zebedee, Michigan. Uncle Jonathan’s home is considered to be one of the strangest in town, and Lewis quickly learns his uncle is a warlock, and his neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett, Carol, How to Train Your Dragon 2) is a witch, and a year earlier, a very tortured warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan, Inside Out, TV’s Twin Peaks) died in the house. As Lewis begins training to become a warlock like his uncle, he struggles with the task of not revealing his new powers to a popular boy in school named Tarby (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot), and Lewis makes a grave mistake that risks the lives of not just his newfound family, but all life on Earth.

Let me tell you about the things I didn’t like in The House with a Clock in its Walls because overall, I rather enjoyed myself. I think Owen Vaccaro really struggles to play the leading role here, and most of the best scenes in the film are based around Black, Blanchett, and MacLachlan. His performance tends to fall back on back theatrics and disappointing crying and screaming. I understand that may be how he is portrayed in the book, but it just doesn’t work here.

The pacing is a little chunky as well, particularly in the middle of the film. There’s a lot going on, but most of the scenes at Lewis’s new school simply bog down the film and should’ve been drastically trimmed to keep the pace going.

All that being said, I had a grin on my face for a large portion of the movie. I was reminded of children’s horror from the 1990s like the Goosebumps TV show and films like Hocus Pocus, Casper, and The Witches. The movie was actually rather creepy and discussed some gruesome things, and I saw kids in the theater with me covering their eyes and keeping two fingers split so as to keep watching. Some kids really love being scared, and I’m glad that Hollywood is recognizing that again. Eli Roth does a fine job of mixing the horror with the fun, aided by a nice screenplay from Eric Kripke (Boogeyman, TV’s Supernatural).

Most of the scenes outside of the school actually left me wanting more mythology. Lewis keeps bringing up a character from television called Captain Midnight and I feel like we only barely scratched the surface. I wanted more Captain Midnight, I wanted more creatures and spells in the house, I wanted more backstory from Izard. I just wanted more. Learning that the book is part of a series makes me really want to see this become a franchise.

The House with a Clock in its Walls stumbles a bit here and there, but I still had fun watching it. It’s the kind of film that you can bring your kids to and still have fun. It feels like it could be the Hocus Pocus of this generation, staying with youths as they grow up and show their kids, and I hope you give it a try. I mean, they are releasing it with Thriller in 3D (something I did not get to see last night), so go for that at the very least.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, click here.

 

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[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 13 – [Friday the 13th] Friday the 13th (2009)

Director: Marcus Nispel

Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis van Winkle, Derek Mears

Screenplay: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift

97 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material.

 

Hey all, I figured that we could talk about the 2009 iteration of Friday the 13th today in honor of this holiday. I watched the entire Friday the 13th franchise several times this year and felt that I haven’t visited this reboot in some time, and no time better than the present.

Now, describing the film may be a spoiler in some ways, so I’m going to keep this thing real tight. A bunch of youths visit Camp Crystal Lake, the sight of a horrific killing spree that took place back in the 80s involving the mother of a boy who drowned in the lake. The youths are interested in drinking, drugs, and fornicating, as they should be. Then, Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) shows up and starts picking them off one by one as vengeance for the death of his mother. Who will survive, who will get laid, and who will get slayed?

I actually really like this reboot. I say reboot because this is, in the truest sense of the word, a restart to the franchise as it takes elements from the first four films and then forges a new path. I think Jared Padalecki (Phantom Boy, TV’s Supernatural) is a great lead with a motive and a likeable personality. I think Travis van Winkle (Bound & Babysitting, TV’s The Last Ship) is a monster-asshole and I prayed that he get his.

I think what Friday the 13th gets right is that it is a reboot of a franchise that pays homage to the entire series rather than just a carbon copy of replica of the original. This is something A Nightmare on Elm Street just couldn’t crack. Director Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Exeter) and screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Baywatch) melded together a brand new layer or two to the mythology while respecting what came before. Fans were pissed at some of the decisions regarding this reboot to which I always point out that Godzilla has been rebooted numerous times, not always the same way, and fans rejoice at every opportunity for more.

The film faults when it takes its humor further than its frights, and it has some hiccups because of it. I would say 90% of Kyle Davis’s scenes should have been cut as well as some of the more disgusting humor that took me out of the experience as it just wasn’t funny.

I would tell you to give this film a try again. I think Friday the 13th is a pretty solid reboot to the franchise that we all know and love, and it saddens me that we are about to pass the longest waiting period for a new installment. Sadness. Please, Jason. Please.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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