The glory days of Amblin Entertainment will be revived when The House With A Clock In Its Walls comes to theaters on September 21. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star in the adaptation of a fan-favorite young adult novel, and with a blend of dark mystery and unexpected humor, the film looks to have all the appeal of classic Amblin films like The Goonies, Back to the Future, and Gremlins.

The story revolves around 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt, played by Owen Vaccaro. Lewis goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and finds himself in a most unusual house, with a ticking sound coming from behind the walls. Oh, and Jonathan turns out to be a warlock, and his next door neighbor is a witch.

Together, they’ll all explore the mystery of the ticking sound (hint: there’s a clock in the walls) and the house’s dreadful past. Before the film opens, let’s explore its past, and the novel that inspired it.

The Book With The House With A Clock In Its Walls

[Credit: Universal Pictures]

The House With A Clock In Its Walls began life as a novel written by John Bellairs. Published in 1973, the book introduced us to Lewis Barnavelt and the vividly supernatural world around him. With its mature tone and an interesting blend of fantasy gothic themes it quickly established a reputation as one of the great children’s horror novels.

Fortunately, the book was a success. (A good reputation doesn’t automatically ensure sales.) Having a cover by Edward Gorey probably didn’t hurt. A series of books followed, all focusing on the adventures of Lewis and his friends. Sequels The Figure In The Shadows and The Letter, The Witch, And The Ring were written by Bellairs in 1975 and 1976 respectively.

When Bellairs died in 1991, he left behind two unfinished manuscripts and two story outlines. Author Brad Strickland was hired to turn those artifacts into full novels – and went on to create even more original stories featuring Lewis Barnavelt and friends.  

Interestingly, Bellairs wrote The House With A Clock In Its Walls as an adult fantasy, but the second publisher to read it suggested he rewrite the novel as a young adult story. He did just that, and the result kickstarted his career as a young adult writer. He went on to write 15 YA novels.

Bringing The House To The Screen

[Credit: Universal Pictures]

Six years after publication, the novel was adapted for the small screen. This first version was brief, at only about 20 minutes long. It was produced as one of three segments for the 1979 TV special Once Upon A Midnight Scary, hosted and narrated by Vincent Price. That adaptation starred Severn Darden and Mike Brick as Jonathan and Lewis Barnavelt.

The short TV version has great intentions, but it was clearly made on a tight budget, with only a few actors and the sensibilities of 1970’s children’s TV. All of which is to say that there’s plenty of room for a new version.

Now, almost 40 years later, The House With A Clock In Its Walls finally gets to the big screen. This adaptation certainly has more of a budget to play with, and consequently seems to lean a lot more towards the fantastic. The trailers demonstrate, however, that the film pays tribute to the world Bellairs created, and to the spirit of the great ’80s Amblin movies that flows through this new version of the house.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls hits theaters on September 21, 2018.