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Eli Roth's "House With a Clock in Its Walls" Has Me Anxious for Autumn

Eli Roth brings the 1973 John Bellairs scary young reader's story to life this fall with his first non-R-rated movie.

As much as I love the summer months, I spend much of it looking forward to the fall, with its cooler weather, changing leaves, and most of all the presence of spooky festivals and holidays for the family.

This September, horror master Eli Roth is giving me another reason to anticipate the season with his first scary film for families, The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Yes, Eli Roth is making a straight up PG-rated (not even PG-13) film allowing fright-seeking families to enjoy some scares together.

I’m not a fan of the straightforward slasher films or “torture porn,” but I love gothic ghost tales and psychological thrillers. I’m also not adverse to some movie gore, especially if there’s a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion with it. Roth’s remake of Death Wish was admittedly a guilty pleasure, and I also really liked his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He has a mischievous a twinkle in his eye, and a knack for storytelling that I can’t wait to see him exhibit in a family film.

Roth isn’t the only notable involved on the impressive list of talent on this film. Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kyle MacLachlan and Renée Elise Goldsberry make up some of the primary cast, and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke wrote the screenplay. Kripke even said in his Twitter feed Bellairs's story was a significant influence on him as a writer.

One reason I’m excited about this film is I love the source material. It is one of books responsible for getting me into reading scary adventures and mysteries, long before the Hogwarts professors were zipping around spells. Bellairs had a sense of creating an atmosphere that was both eerie and inviting. I still want to visit the fictional New Zebedee and wander up High Street to the mansion at the top of the hill. Earlier this year, I found an old version of the book at a used bookstore, complete with the Edward Gorey illustrations, and I read it my youngest despite the fact she is already reading books on her own. I just wanted to read this one aloud. She was immediately hooked with the humor and horror Bellairs delivered in this slim story, and now the whole family is awaiting the movie adaptation.

This wouldn’t be the first time a filmmaker best known for R-rated fare has created a film open to all ages. In 1999, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks creator David Lynch gave veteran actor Richard Farnsworth the opportunity to give an Oscar-nominated performance in the G-rated Walt Disney Picture’s film The Straight Story. Gross-out comedy masters Bobby and Peter Farrelly turned their style into a fun way to learn about the human immune system in the PG-rated Osmosis Jones.

Roth, from the looks of the latest trailer, is channeling the magic of the Amblin Entertainment films that drew so many of us 80s kids into weird and wonderful worlds of fantasy and adventure.

Roth explained in a director-commentary version of his trailer that he grew up loving the Amblin films like Gremlins, Poltergeist and E.T., and he wanted to create a good family-film that was extremely scary. He wanted to “introduce a whole new generation” to scary movies through this film.

“(Steven Spielberg) said to me, ‘Eli, make this as scary as possible. Do not be afraid to make it scary,’” Roth said in the comments. “And we sure we did.”

I’ve long learned not to trust trailers as a judge of a film, but it looks like Roth kept most of the plot of Bellair’s 1973 novel in tact, with a few additions tossed in for fun and frights.

I am hoping Roth’s latest will deliver the spirit — and spirits — of this young reader’s scary classic when the leaves begin to fall and the cool air brings in its ghostly cheer. Until then, spooky movie lovers everywhere are watching and listening to their clocks with anticipation…

Can’t you hear them ticking….ticking….ticking…

The House with a Clock in Its Walls arrives in theatres Sept. 21, just in time for the haunting season.

Poster © Amblin Entertainment

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