Eli Roth makes movies of varying degrees of watchability. For every Knock Knock there is an unwatchable Green Inferno, and his latest movie, the ill-advised Death Wish remake, fell on the “thoroughly unwatchable” end of the scale. But he’s already rebounding with a new movie due in September, and this one looks EXTREMELY watchable. It’s an adaptation of John Bellairs’ children’s book The House with a Clock in Its Walls. I remember the book for its illustrations by Edward Gorey—any excuse to link the Gashlycrumb Tinies— but if memory serves it’s about a boy who lives with his uncle who is a warlock and their neighbor is a witch. It’s proto-Lemony Snicket if Lemony Snicket was more concerned with ending the world than finding a lost fortune.
The movie looks cool, and not at all like anything Eli Roth has done since…ever. Jack Black must be the uncle, and Cate Blanchett his witch neighbor. This is the kind of movie where everyone wears funny spectacles—of course Blanchett looks GREAT with funny specs—but the steampunk vibe fits with the vaguely Victorian stylings of Edward Gorey. This is a book I picked up solely based on its wild cover art, so the movie has to come in strong with some cool-scary visuals. Nothing here is especially scary, but that constantly ticking clock is low-key creepy, and the house looks sufficiently cool at a glance.
And I am super interested to see what a dyed-in-the-wool horror guy like Roth does with a children’s property, especially since he usually goes for hardcore torture porn. He’s always frustrated me because he is a good director, he just insists on making the most unwatchable dreck. But this time there is no place for sensationalism or shock for shock’s sake. It’s a children’s movie, Roth will have to display actual restraint. I want to see what he does when his considerable talent for practical horror isn’t working in service of, like, peeling skin from caged college co-eds, but in creating the kind of haunted-house scares that will work for children. Also, Roth did okay working with Keanu Reeves, an actor not everyone can direct. So what can he do with Cate Blanchett, who could probably take direction from a wall? And what’s the over/under on how many amazing steampunk getups Blanchett can wear in one movie? Ten?