Watch Wednesday

Watch Wednesday #15: Halloween Movie Countdown — Monster House

If you’re looking for family friendly horror flicks, you’ll find very quickly that the pool you get to pick from is quite small, and those pickings are, more often than not, quite disappointing.  Yes, there’s the ever-entertaining Hocus Pocus, and The Nightmare Before Christmas is incredible, but then we get down to Spookly the Square Pumpkin (yes, this exists) and Halloween Town 3?  Meh.

Everyone deserves the thrill of a scary film–you know, without scarring the the younger folks for life.  We talked about Coraline last week, a G-rated family horror flick that hits the mark.  This week I’m going to highlight a film with a PG-rating that hold enough creeps and scares to entertain a wide range of ages.

Halloween Movie Countdown — Monster House

Monster House is a true horror flick.  It is a family friendly scare, but it’s not focused on a moral tale, or worried about sending some sort of positive message.  It is everything that genre-lovers ask for:  scary, a little disturbing, and keeps you on the edge of your seat, all under a running theme about growing up.

Based off a scripted penned by Dan Harmon (of Rick and Morty fame) and Rob Scharb (CommunityMindy Project, and many more), Monster House centers around DJ, who holds heavy suspicions about the creepy house across the street.  The home in inhabited by an old man, Old Man Nebbercracker.  When the elderly man passes away (right in front of DJ, no less), DJ and his best friend, Chowder, alongside young candy salesman, Jenny, decide to investigate the old, rickety home.  Very quickly they realize that the house is not only alive, but it’s out for revenge for the death of its previous owner–as in, it’s literally eating people straight off its lawn.

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Monster House takes that classic “creepy house on the street” idea, with that crazy neighbor that you swear is out to get someone, and turns it into a very compelling watch.

Don’t get me wrong, while Monster House is, in essence, a family horror film, it deals with some very adult themes.  In fact, the entirety of the film centers around death and how it affects those around them.  Including is the house owner dealing with his wife’s death, and then in turn the house dealing with the death of its owner, as well as the children witnessing what is perceived as many deaths firsthand.  Even as the kids discover the secrets behind the house and how to stop it, again we are confronted with the realities of death, as well as how our actions affect those around us.

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The events of a horror films find separate grounding when viewed through the eyes of children.  Much like in the stories of It and even Hocus Pocus, we are given the image that kids are not taken seriously.  Much like those two classic horror films, Monster House displays a cast of unreliable adult characters.  Although this may seem like an overused trope, it’s a valid plot point to any film.  I mean, if you’re kid was insisting that the house across the street was eating people, would you believe them?  Probably not.

Monster House takes that trope and uses it as an effective piece into the growth of the younger characters.  We mature most as people when we face things on our own.  As lead character, DJ, struggles with the onset of puberty (squeaking voice and all), he is forced to step out from his childish dreaming and to use his creativity outside of his head.  Jenny, in contrast, has to admit that she’s not as mature as she puts off, as she must address the fear that only a child can really feel.  I enjoy that juxtaposition that Monster House puts forth, as we see a kid who is reluctant to mature and another who wants to mature too quickly.

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While Monster House doesn’t necessarily run for the goal of some moral lesson, to me it does offer a lot through its thematic approach to the story.  DJ’s experiences alongside Chowder and Jenny displays that gap between kids and their adult counterparts, and how that age gap displays itself in more ways in one, including an emotional gap.

Growing up is a distinct experience and it rips you from what is a very pure and light world, sometimes way too soon.  I think that Monster House touches on the thought that things like love and friendship don’t have to be blackened by dark experiences.  The example of Nebbercracker’s ending is filled with the idea to me because, even through a negative experience that would rightfully leave him feeling disenchanted, he chooses to embrace the brighter parts of his story.  This shows the three young leads that we can choose to move on, even through the realities of death.

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The film’s ending makes this deeper theme set of adulthood hit with a softer blow.  Let’s just say Monster House ends with everyone better off and–ahem–maybe not as dead as you think.

I’m not a huge fan of Zemeckis’ insistence on using the motion capture system (you know, the animation style that made Polar Express slightly frightening), but Monster House utilizes it quite well.  The setting is beautifully rendered, it just gives us a few weird facial expressions, but the characters are still well-rendered, so just ignore that.  The house is the star pupil here, anyhow, and its animated in perfectly depicted horror.  LOVE IT.

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For those reading who are considering to watch Monster House with their kids, make no question about it:  this is a scary movie.  Monster House is meant to leave you feeling a little uncomfortable because, hey, that’s what the horror genre is all about.  If you’re looking to make this a family affair, watch it first and decide for yourself whether your kids can handle it.  I’d at least recommend ages 9+, but that’s just me.  And for all of you who aren’t exactly a scary movie veteran, I think this is an excellent film to try out.

Monster House has a star voice cast, a fully structured story, and a wonderful twist to the ending.  It is, much like Coraline, scary enough to make even older viewers jump, but not so disturbing as to scar your elementary age viewers.  I love films like this, that provide you that scary movie around Halloween time, but are appropriate for a wider range of people.  Even better, this film has a very Goonies like humor, bringing a lot of laughs in some very intense situations.  I love Monster House.

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What’s your go-to family horror film?

 

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