Young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is the type of kid that takes to memorizing dictionaries rather than engaging in the folly of youth. Anyway, Lewis soon takes up residence with his eccentric clock obsessed uncle Jonathon (Jack Black) in his Victorian mansion…a mansion filled with living furniture and more magic than most households (which admittedly hover somewhere around zero on the magic-o-meter). It doesn’t take Lewis long to learn that Jonathan is a real life warlock, and his associate Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is no slouch in that department either, which is a damn good thing as the house was once owned by an evil warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) who left a clock hidden within the mansion walls that can bring about doomsday when it’s countdown ends. Can our erstwhile heroes find the demonic timepiece before the end of the world…and before Izard himself arrives from the afterlife?
Filled with magic, monsters, re-animated corpses, a heartfelt story-line involving the importance of family, and of course, vomiting jack-o-lanterns; The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a work of irresistible fun for the young and young at heart. The stellar cast give it absolutely everything they have, with the chemistry between Black and Blanchett taking center stage…their relationship as ages old bickering friends is absolutely believable, but credit must also be given to young Vaccaro for portraying a child hero one can root for instead of being annoyed by (as is often the case in genre films with youthful protagonists), and MacLachlan makes for a devilishly good villain (aided and abetted by some fantastic make-up effects).
Speaking of effects; this film is loaded with ’em with magic energy crackling through the air, to living hedge sculptures, to the aforementioned possessed pumpkins…and beyond. While I am not really the biggest proponent of digital effects work (which comprises the bulk of the film’s visual and creature effects), it works well in this instance given the more over-the-top, cartoonish world the film presents. Additionally the clash of 1950’s costume and design (the film takes place in 1955) with Gothic Victorian trappings and architecture, and the window dressing of the occult make for a visually distinct and unique aesthetic that make the film stand out.
Along with the magical movie, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have included a nice assortment of bonus features as well. First up we have alternate opening and ending sequences (with optional commentary by director Eli Roth and Black), a collection of deleted scenes (also with optional commentary by Roth and Black), a gag reel, featurettes on Vaccaro, Black, Blanchette, and MacLachlan, featurettes on the films special effects and set design, a featurette on adapting the novel to the screen, behind-the-scenes video journals by Roth and Vaccaro, ridiculous (and fun) pieces where Roth and some of the cast try and come up with a theme song for the film, compete to see who knows Black the best, a segment where Roth performs a magic trick for Vaccaro, and a piece where Roth and Vaccaro pull a prank on Black, and an interview with Composer Nathan Barr on the film’s score.
Also included is an audio commentary featuring Roth and Black that contains plenty of info on the film’s production, but also contains enough spirited banter to make it an amazingly engaging listen.
If you love flicks like The Goonies or A Series of Unfortunate Events then The House with a Clock in Its Walls will be right up your arcane alley; it’s a fun and frightful family flick that actually can entertain viewers of all ages while presenting a world and mythology all it’s own!
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