Film, Halloween Review

“Monster House” is an underrated horror gem

Monster House (2006) occupies a weird space in animation. I know I’ve probably said that in other reviews, but it’s true so it’s worth repeating. It’s an honest-to-goodness horror movie, just you know for kids.

A lot of children’s films could be seen as horror movies in the eyes of adults, like Coraline, but for many children are simply another kind of fantasy. Yes, it’s dark and dangerous and Coraline could have easily been trapped in the Other World for eternity, but the movie has none of the standard horror movie tropes nor does it follow the horror movie formula.

And while the film itself is quite good, it never kicked off the child-oriented horror movie

revolution it so clearly intended to.  Sure, you have things like Goosebumps, The Haunting Hour and the new series Creeped Out on Netflix. But those are anthology shows, with many of the stories being Aesop like The Twilight Zone,, with few true horror tropes being utilized.

Monster House sticks to some of the oldest, most tried and true horror film tropes but just kind of toned down, and in cartoon form.

The movie focuses on DJ, your average middle-school-ish aged boy and his best friend, the chubby and clumsy Chowder. DJ spends most of his free time spying on his crabby neighbor,Mr. Nebbercracker. Nebbercracker seems to be your pretty typical child-hating old man. He yells at kids who come near his house, and confiscates any toys that fall into his yard.

But DJ believes there’s more to it. He thinks there’s something up with Nebbercracker’s house itself. He’s soon proven right. Around the same time, Mr. Nebbercracker is hospitalized meaning there’s nobody to stop the house from devouring everyone on Halloween night.

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The main three:  DJ, Jenny and Chowder

With the help of a girl named Jenny who they rescue from being eaten by the house, the boys decide they need to destroy the home before it’s too late. And to do that, the three kids must go inside.

If the horror of being possibly eaten by a sentient house isn’t enough to give the average eight-year old nightmares for a month, the movie includes the origin of houses terrifying existence. There were a lot of options they could have gone with here, and they chose one of the creepiest: The house is possessed by the soul of Mr. Nebbercracker’s dead wife, Constance, a fat lady from a circus. She was constantly harassed by children and died after trying to chase a few away, but instead fell into the then unfinished house’s foundation. Nebbercracker was forced to stay to make Constance didn’t harm anyone, and he still loved her.

This leads to a very an epic climax where the possessed house breaks away from its foundation and the kids and Nebbercracker must throw a stick of dynamite through the chimney, which they somehow figure is the only way to truly stop Constance.

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Mr. Nebbercracker lights the dynamite

Of course, unlike other horror films, there’s actually a happy ending. Constance moves on, Mr. Nebbercracker is free, Jenny and DJ kinda sorta becomes a couple, everybody who was eaten by the house is fine and the main four spend Halloween night returning everyone’s toys.

It’s a kids’ movie, so the ending works and its satisfying.

Animation is not this movie’s strong point. While it uses motion capture, it’s very stylized to avoid the mistakes of other films like The Polar Express and Mars Needs Moms but it’s just kind of ‘meh.’ I don’t like motion capture, so I’m glad the movie doesn’t look like most motion captured animated films. But I guess I just don’t understand why it was motion captured in the first place.

I think using just computer animation would have made the movie more visually interesting and given the characters more personality. It might have fit the tone better. When the film was made in 2006, computer animation was a thing. Sure, it was pretty expensive but if you’re using motion capture, you don’t really have an excuse.

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Mitchel Musso (DJ) and Sam Lerner (Chowder) in their motion capture suits

But honestly, if there were more films like this, I think I would enjoy it. I’m not a huge fan of horror. I tend to lean towards really cheesy SyFy-like productions like Attack of the Killer Doughnuts, or Three Headed Shark Attack. I’m interested in checking out films like A Quiet Place, but haven’t gotten the chance. To be honest, I don’t like being scared but I do like suspense.

Animation tends to lessen the blow, of horror, somehow.

With animation you can so much more. I love the dissonance you can create between content and style. Like the chibi characters and the actual content of Made in Abyss. I think it’s just easier for me to separate it from reality.

But still, I’m sad that Monster House didn’t start the children’s traditional horror genre it so desperately and obviously wanted to. There’s definitely a niche for it, probably mostly for children of adult horror fans who want to share their passion but might find some of the stuff traumatizing or inappropriate for younger kids. It would also be great for kids with darker interests, as an easily accessible kind of media.

Or even just as something new.

It’s something to think about. If somebody wants to start this up again, I’d be all for it.

And that’s the scoop!

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Score: 7/10

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If you enjoyed this review, read: Mission Critical is a Critical Failure.

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Rating: PG

Length: 91 minutes

Available: DVD, for purchase on YouTube, Amazon Prime and other streaming services

Producer: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey

Director: Gil Kenan

Story by: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab

Voice Actors: Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner, Spencer Locke, Steve Buscemi, Kathleen Turner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, Nick Cannon, Kevin James, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard

1 thought on ““Monster House” is an underrated horror gem”

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