Mankind unknowingly teeters on the brink of destruction and a 10-year-old boy holds the key to our salvation in the family-friendly adventure The House With A Clock In Its Walls, writes Damon Smith.

Adapted from John Bellairs’ novel, director Eli Roth’s fantastical foray into a wondrous world of witches and warlocks is far removed from the glistening gore and entrails of his gruesome horrors Cabin Fever, Hostel and Knock Knock.

Admittedly, there are some scary moments here involving an army of snarling pumpkin heads and a reanimated corpse, which might have very young audiences seeking the soothing protection of a parent.

However, Eric Kripke’s script predominantly spooks rather than scares and a modicum of suspense is dissipated with childish humour courtesy of a topiary winged lion that stands guard over a back garden and has a habit of loudly evacuating its leafy bowels.

Poop jokes evidently never go out of fashion.

A tattered armchair, which bounds around like an excitable puppy, adds to the cuteness and Jack Black and Cate Blanchett spark a delightful on-screen partnership as two members of a secret magical order, whose relationship is founded on affectionate insults.

Youngster Owen Vaccaro wrings out copious tears on cue and he plays scaredy-cat Lewis Barnavelt, who travels by bus to the sleepy 1950s community of Zebedee in Michigan to live with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Black).

The boy’s quixotic relative wears a kimono and lives in a creepy house full of ticking clocks.

“You’ll see it’s quite different here,” Jonathan cryptically informs his nephew. It transpires that the building used to belong to a deranged couple who concealed a Doomsday clock within the walls.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is an entertaining and outlandish yarn, which delights until a freaky final 15 minutes when madness takes hold and Roth flings digital trickery at the screen in the hope something will stick.