A Monster (Haunted) House

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In the spirit of the Halloween Season we have been watching atmospheric films. But when my parents came for a visit, we had to hunt for a Friday Evening Fare the whole family could enjoy. Monster House (2006) was an easy pick.

DJ has been watching the house across the street, keeping a detailed log of its strange behavior. The house and its inmate, Mr. Nebbercracker, seem to be child-hating monsters taking anything that lands on the lawn.

Bones: When I was 10 years old. I had a kite. Awesome kite. I could fly it so high you couldn’t see it. One day, it crashed down, I followed the string, and it landed right over there, across the street right on the edge of his lawn.
Zee: Awww, did he take your kite?
Bones: Yeah, he takes everything that lands on his lawn. But that’s not the point, the point is, I saw him talking to his house.

Halloween has always been a particularly horrible time of year for the Monster House, and as the House’s threatening behavior increases leading up to the big day, DJ becomes fearful for the trick-or-treaters—even once Mr. Nebbercracker is gone.

DJ enlists the help of his best friend (the idiot) Chowder in his surveillance of the House. After rescuing Jenny from the House, she joins the duo in saving the neighborhood.

Monster House uses the same performance capture technology as Polar Express (2004, dir. Robert Zemeckis), but the movement appears smoother, and the animated less doll-ish. The visuals are pleasing, enhanced by great shots and good editing.

The setting and costume makes me think late 1970, early ‘80s (though I am terrible with dates). While I couldn’t find an intended year, I think the childhood of suburbia-past is the targeted year. However, I may be placing the film in the ‘80s is due to the fact that Chowder reminds me of Chunk from Goonies (1985). “Chowder: I paid 28 dollars for that ball! I had to mow ten lawns and ask my mom for a dollar 26 times!” Even the character DJ is not unlike Mikey. Fortunately for current audiences, Jenny, however, is not the simpering girl in the group.

Jenny: Jenny Bennett. Two-term class president at Westbrook Prep.
DJ: That’s a tough school to get into.
Chowder: Yeah, I got in but decided not to go.
Jenny: It’s a girl’s school.
Chowder: [nervous pause] … Which is why I didn’t…
[another nervous pause]
Chowder: … You know there’s a… there’s a great taco stand near there…

Besides the comedic idiocy of Chowder, there is the added humor of Jenny’s presence amidst the two boys. Both have a desire to impress her and their attempts are–clumsy.

DJ mentions more than once that he is “practically a grown-up.” (Love that his room is that charming mixture of childhood and Teen.) He longs to be taken seriously, or at least be less awkward. But who can help it at that age…

Zee: What is your problem?
DJ: Uh… puberty! Yeah, I’m having lots and lots of puberty.

Though said in an effort to distract Zee from going up to the Nebbercracker House, DJ’s claims that puberty is rampant is not untrue. The adolescent awkwardness is surely another nuance to the horrors enjoyed in the film.

The Monster House is scary. It is an intelligent, sly opponent, forcing DJ and gang to face it without aide of the Police or Babysitter (caregiver). It is a hunter, determined, and ultimately enraged. But it isn’t only the House that is terrifying. Steve Buscemi as Nebbercracker is excellent. He warns off anyone who touches the lawn—dismantling tricycles before a child’s eyes if necessary, yelling and hobbling and putting up signs. He makes the viewer squirm with his physical and tormenting presence.

Of course, the exteriors that terrify, the things we don’t understand, have more to their core. With understanding, determination, and TNT that which we fear is not insurmountable.

DJ: I kissed a girl! I kissed a girl on the lips!

Monster House is rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language. Natalya (albeit sensitive) was genuinely frightened of this film more than a year ago when we first watched it. She is now 10 and her desire to be frightened has kicked in, but I just want to caution prospective audiences. As for the humor, crude or otherwise, is perfect for middle-grade upward.

Monster House is attached to Amblin Entertainment. Those of us who grew up on (or parented during) Amblin Entertainment Films will view Monster House as an easy favorite, a great family pick. Monster House is certainly a Halloween favorite.

*****

Directed by Gil Kenan (who has since gone on to City of Ember (2008)).

Executively Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg

Editing by Fabienne Rawley

Written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler

Starring: Mitchel Musso (DJ), Sam Lerner (Chowder), Spencer Locke (Jenny), Steve Buscemi (Nebbercracker), Nick Cannon (Officer Lister), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Zee), Kevin James (Officer Landers), Jason Lee (Bones), Catherine O’Hara (Mom), Kathleen Turner (Constance), Fred Willard (Dad)

Music by Douglas Pipes

Cinematography Paul C. Babin

Studios: Relativity Media, ImageMovers, and Amblin Entertainment.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Running Time 91 minutes.

IMDb link. Wiki link: Monster House, Amblin Entertainment. A.O. Scott's NY Times Review.

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s been a while since I watched this, but I remember enjoying it quite a bit. It seems like it had a touch of melancholy and a hearty splash of fun if I remember correctly. It’s my kind of animated film.

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