On Sept. 21, horror master Eli Roth, known for his graphic, bloody, filmmaking style, will take his first venture into the realm of the family film, with the PG-rated The House with a Clock in Its Walls, based on the 1973 story by John Bellairs.
In this tale, Lewis, an orphaned ten year old, is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a massive mansion in the town of New Zebedee. Lewis learns that not only are Jonathan and neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), a warlock and witch, but that the mansion’s previous owner, an evil wizard named Isaac Izard (Kyle McLaughlan), has stashed a foreboding clock somewhere in the walls that seems to be counting down to something…horrible.
With the movie coming out just in time for the haunting season, here are a few random and geeky facts about the movie, book, and other creepy clocks.
1. Bellairs’ description of New Zebedee made it seem very real, but it is actually a fictional town, based on Bellairs’ hometown Marshall, Michigan. Uncle Jonathan’s Mansion on High Street, is based on a real place as well, the Jeremiah Cronin house, a historic site in Marshall. The home now has two historic markers nearby, one for Cronin, and one for Bellairs, and the town also now offers walking tours inspired by the book.
2. This is not the first time the book has been adapted to the screen. In 1979, the story was part of a three-part Emmy-winning television anthology Once upon A Midnight Scary, hosted by none other than Vincent Price. The other two stories in the series were The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Ghost Belonged to Me.
3. Roth said he wanted the movie to reflect his love for the “scary” films from Amblin Pictures and Steven Spielberg in the 1980s like Gremlins and Poltergeist. Spielberg even told Roth not to be afraid to make it as scary as possible. Roth said in an IMDB commentary for the film, “I love kids’ scary movies. For me, this is what I would call a ‘gateway horror film.’ It’s a movie you see as a kid that gets you into horror movies.”
4. Also according to IMDB, the Universal Pictures logo used with the film is from the 1970s, as a shout-out to the decade when the book was first published.
5. Visitors can explore the House and learn some magic tricks on the movie’s official website, and there are plenty of ticking…ticking…ticking clocks, both hidden and in plain site, throughout.
6. The screenplay is written by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, who said reading this book as a kid helped inspire the show. Many viewers may not be aware, but there is a clock somewhat stalking a Winchesters. One particular retro “Starburst Clock” shows up in nearly every episode. It has been in motel rooms, victims’ homes, diners, and other assorted businesses and locations. Be on the look out for it if binging old episodes.
7. As an important instrument in timekeeping, clocks have been notable features in the Doctor Who series. The Master’s TARDIS took on the form of a grandfather clock more than once, and Captain Jack Harkness’s first appearance was at London’s Big Ben.
8. The Twelfth Doctor’s reign was especially clock oriented. Not only did clock and clockwork images appear in the title sequence, “Mummy on the Orient Express” featured a clock that ticked down the time of a victim’s demise. In “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” the alien Monks used Earth clocks to show as a “doomsday clock.”
Of course, the creepiest haunting clock reference followed the Eleventh Doctor through much of his era, first heard sung by the dolls in the “Night Terrors” episode:
Tick-tock goes the clock; And all the years they fly
Tick-tock and all too soon; You and I must die…
….Tick-tock goes the clock….Even for the Doctor…
9. Since 1947, a group of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project created what a they call a real “Doomsday Clock,” which is a hypothetical representation of how close the world is to global catastrophe. It has jumped around more than 23, times and is currently set at “two minutes” until midnight. The clock is merely a metaphor for the risks facing humankind, but pop culture loves it. The clock has been referenced in movies, songs, television shows, and was the inspiration of the titles of Iron Maiden’s 1984 album Two Minutes to Midnight and Linkin Park’s 2007 album Minutes to Midnight. Alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkin’s song, “Doomsday Clock” from their 2007 album Zeitgeist, reached 81 on the Billboard Pop charts and was featured on the 2007 Transformers movie soundtrack.
10. DC characters including Superman and Batman, did a crossover with The Watchmen for a 12-issue series Doomsday Clock, written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank, marking the end of the “DC Rebirth” storyline. The first issue was released in November 2017, with the story continuing until the summer of 2019.
11. The creepy grandfather clock seen in the hallway of Disneyland Park’s Haunted Mansion, was originally going to have a ghostly image in it, but imagineers wanted there to be not ghosts present in the ride until Madame Leota summoned them. The clock is still plenty weird. Its face strikes “13,” has devil’s tail pendulum, sharp teeth surrounding the face, and a shadow of a nightmarish hand falling across it. Disney fan site The Disney Experience has a paper model of the Demon Clock for free download, along with a mod to make it an actual working clock. A printable mini version is also available.
12. The anti-hero, Time, portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen in Disney’s 2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, runs Wonderland’s Grand Clock, controlling the world’s time. He doesn’t appear in the original book, which is a completely different story from the movie, although clocks are common symbol in the Carroll’s Alice, from often-checked pocket watch of the White Rabbit, to the question posed “which is better, a clock that is right only once a year, or a clock that is right twice every day?”
13. The 1991 movie adaptation of The Addams Family, features the clock with a little mechanical Gomez and Morticia getting amorous at the top of the hour. However, the family favorite clock that made several appearances in the original television show was the Wolf’s Head Clock, with a taxidermy wolf (or wildcat) growling at the top of the hour in place of the standard cuckoo. The clock even came in handy, licking envelopes for Morticia.
14. The heart-shaped ticking clock given to the Tin Woodsman was part of the 1939 movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” but L. Frank Baum’s true clockwork character was Tik-Tok. He first appeared in 1907 in Ozma of Oz, and is considered to be one of the first “robots” in modern literature, which even preceded the word robot coined in the 1920s in the Capek play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots). The character has been depicted in many more sinister ways in other fiction, including John Sladek’s award-winning 1983 science fiction Tik-Tok, in which he is an intelligent, but violent killer.
15. Disney’s 1953 animated Peter Pan, the Crocodile with the clock in his belly who voraciously pursues Captain Hook, is also named “Tick-Tock.” Many critics feel the crocodile in the original J.M. Barrie book is a symbol of time itself, especially the span of a human life, slowly ticking down to the end.
“Some day,” Smee said to Hook in the story, “the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you.”
Hook answered, “Aye, that’s the fear that haunts me.”