In the first chapter of John Bellairs’ strange and wonderful young-adult novel The House With a Clock in Its Walls, the protagonist, a ten-year-old boy named Lewis, stays up late reading the ninth volume of John L. Stoddard’s lectures, a late-19th century travelogue that he finds in his eccentric uncle’s library.Slate
That passage captures bookish children’s fascination with horrible things, as well as their ability to set them aside—the peppermint patty is a great touch—but it also tells you something important about Bellairs’ project.
Whether Bellairs didn’t have a copy of Stoddard at hand and misremembered the passage or deliberately altered it, the result is the same: he made his source material bloodier and ghastlier, confident children would come along for the ride. And they did, in droves.
Which brings us to the first trailer for Universal Pictures’ adaptation of the book, directed by Hostel’s Eli Roth. The previous adaptation, narrated by Vincent Price for his TV special Once Upon a Midnight Scary, set the bar very, very low, so it’s no surprise Roth looks to have filmed the definitive version of Bellairs’ novel. Giving this movie to a horror director was a great idea, the set design looks top notch, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are in fine form, and it looks like Roth has nailed the puzzle-box aspect of the novel without making it look too video-gamey. And even in the trailer, it’s clear that there’s plenty of nightmare-fuel for kids, from dead-eyed dolls to the hand of glory.But the scene in which Jack Black says, “You’re perfectly safe,” right before purple tentacles erupt from a door behind him and Lewis asks, “That’s safe?” in disbelief? That’s exactly the kind of broad, kid’s movie comedy The House With a Clock in Its Walls doesn’t need. Kids know when they’re being condescended to, and with a PG-13 rating, not many children young enough to appreciate that joke are going to see it anyway. We’ll find out in September what Roth learned from Bellairs, but let’s hope that line is an anomaly. Give the kids their purple-velvet plums spurting plum juice. Some of them are going to love it.
Mar. 27, 2018